Those who stays attuned to the current news hear about terrorism and terrorists attacks on a regular basis. If we are fortunate to live far away from the regions that are frequent targets of terrorist attacks, the news and talk about terrorism influence our lives and feelings of security through mass media. Recently, terrorism as a political phenomenon has come to be associated with Muslim religious radicals (sometimes referred to as “Islamists.”) Indeed, the perpetrators of a number of recent attacks in the USA and Europe were natives of predominantly Muslim countries or converts to some form of Islam. However, a brief glance at the history of political terrorism demonstrates that a great number of illegal political groups in various countries across the globe were at some point engaged in acts of terror in order to achieve their political goals.

From the perspective of political science, the causes and roots of terrorism are the subject of an ongoing heated debate. Some of the most plausible explanations for terrorists’ behavior include frustration from the inability to voice political concerns or participate in the political process, poverty, deprivation and lack of education.

The history of terrorism as a means to attain political objectives is a long one, and it is not limited to any particular ethnic, national or religious group. One example of 19th century political terrorism is the activitiy of the so called Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will) in the Russian Empire that launched one of the first known terrorist campaigns in history. In March of 1881, the group assassinated the then-Czar of Russia - Alexander II - at the same time killing and wounding a few innocent people. The ultimate goal of the group was to overthrow the monarchy and the ruling class and carry out a radical agrarian reform distributing the land among the peasants. The psychological climate within the group was brilliantly described by Dostoyevsky in his novel The Possessed.

 Church of “Our Savior on the Blood” in St. Petersburg built on the place of the assassination

The struggle of the Irish for independence and, as the Republic of Ireland was proclaimed, to end the British rule in Northern Ireland, led to the creation of a number of paramilitary groups. A few of them, such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army and Ulster Volunteer Forces resorted to acts of terror and the killing of civilians while trying to advance their political cause.

Another example of a major scale terrorist activity in Europe is the case of ETA, the Basque separatist organization which was trying to gain independence from Spain for the Basque nation. The Basque people have lived within the Spanish state for centuries, and are traditionally Catholic, as are the Spaniards, yet there is a strong pro-independence sentiment in the Basque Country. ETA was considered a terrorist group by a number of governments, including those of Spain and the UK. ETA was active from the late 1960s until 2011 when the group declared it would unilaterally stop any further acts of violence. Over 800 people (many of them civilians) were killed as the result of bombings and shootings perpetrated by the ETA militants.


 Location of the Basque Country

At different periods in time, right-wing, left-wing, religious, nationalist and other terrorist groups acted in Italy, Germany, Colombia, Peru, Canada and many other countries outside the Muslim world. This simply reminds us that any opinions we make on political matters should be well-informed. 

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