Terrorism in the 21st Century

Essay by simplegirl123A+, June 2008

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Terrorism can be defined as the use of violence against civilians in order to achieve political goals. Unlike other forms of protest, such as strikes and peaceful demonstrations, terrorist acts always involve violence or the treat of violence. Terrorism differs from an act of war against enemy soldiers or military targets because its targets are noncombatants or civilians. In addition, terrorism is different from criminal acts or random forms of violence because its goals are political; concerned with how a state is governed or how its people are treated. Terrorism has changed a great deal since the 1960s. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the end of Cold War, the global banking network, and the telecommunications revolution have all played their part in changing the motives and methods of international terrorism. With the launch of the war on terrorism, it is likely to change again, adapting itself to a more hostile environment.

Until the 1980s, the major players in international politics were nation-states. The security system of the United States and its allies were set up to guard against military strikes by other countries, especially the Soviet Union or China. Terrorism was not seen as a significant threat to internal security, and terrorists were viewed more as pawns in global chess game between the superpowers. During the 1990s, there were signs that terrorist groups were outgrowing this lowly status, as more ambitious attacks were launched against Western interests around the world. But it was not until September 11, 2001, that the world finally woke up to the new threat. The new threat comes not from the nation-states, but from social, ethnic, or religious groups living within those states, who feel their interests have been ignored. This is particularly true of Islamic fundamentalists in Arab states, but there are other examples. For...