Spontaneous, violent attacks committed on civilian populations are nothing new. Since the late 1800s, acts of harm perpetrated against innocent citizens in the name of an ideological cause have existed, most infamously demonstrated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood active from 1858 until 1924. Now, in the modern era, countries both West and East have faced this terrible spectre known as terrorism in one form or another, often exacerbating nations already suffering from internal unrest or hostilities from the outside.
Terrorism is particularly vile, as it justifies the murder of uninvolved, aloof denizens in the name of misguided ideals. It is no wonder, then, that such radicalism breeds in tumultuous countries facing a domestic crisis, where militant extremism can find rapid growth and support as it fills the power vacuum left by receding authorities. From there, they can gain a broad following – most recently demonstrated by the recent surge in religious extremism that then manifests in disaster, as evidenced by the terrorist attack near the British Parliament committed by a supporter of the radical Islamic terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This has been merely the most recent event after years of significant attacks across Western countries in the past few decades.
To be fair, religious terrorism has occupied the whole spotlight of public attention, but it doesn’t encapsulate the variety of ideologies which, once radicalized, can result in terrorism. It has had varying forms of severity, and throughout history more mild acts of random violence have been committed. The first recorded “terrorist” group in history were known as the Siqari’im [Hebrew: סיקריים] or Sicarii – a collection of dissatisfied Jewish zealots who would assassinate citizens and officials they suspected of assisting their Roman overlords. Their tactics backfired: the Romans were notorious for their policies of retribution, rounding up and executing groups of local Jews as punishment for every attack by the Sicarii. Even despite this, the Sicarii continued in their acts, in one case raiding a Hebrew village in order to massacre 700 Roman women and children.
These same spontaneous methods would be emulated later on in a different manner, anarchists would take up their violent, extremist cause in the 19th century, particularly in the infamous bombing of the Liceu opera house in the Spanish city of Barcelona, 1893. During this period, single deeds of great destruction and chaos were popular by those who wanted to leave behind an impact in the minds of locals. Justifications are always abundant for these acts.
In the modern era, terrorist groups have adopted both tactics – acting as militant forces subjugating entire regions of nations torn asunder, while also inspiring supporters abroad to take up their fight in the countries they reside in. They leave only disorder in their wake, coercing even more recruits to their ranks in the hopes of expanding their bloody orchestra.
In the ideological crusade waged by these terrorist groups and their followers, thousands of innocents are caught in the debris – whether it be a single attack in a modernized city or the daily chaos unfolding in a province that hasn’t seen peace for a century, the victims are widespread no matter the situation. Thousands are displaced while even more are unable to leave, intimated into compliance by the new powers in charge. Some wonder which fate is worse: to be executed by these extremists, or continually extorted by them every day.
During, or in the aftermath of these violent outbursts, it can be easy to become blase to the whole ordeal when viewed from far away. Many people will simply content themselves with sending out a short message on social media saying they stand with the victims, decrying the violence as “senseless,” calling for an end to it, and then returning to their lives without a thought on the topic. Comparatively few wish to analyze the origin, impetus, or method of these attacks, and even fewer deign to contemplate the implications. The only long-term solution to terrorism is to destroy it at the source – root out the ideological dens where it is cultivated, secure a stable and popular government where it has taken over, and return normalcy to potential recruiting grounds. The more immediate solution is to render it inert through force-of-arms – no greater sacrifice can be made than by those who would heed the call. Idleness and ignorance is the poison that accelerates terrorism’s spread, and risks the lives of more helpless bystanders each day. On an individual level, the best action to take is to be vigilant, yet undaunted.