Chapter 8 Discussion Question Pointers

End of Chapter Question Pointers

Chapter 8 – The History of Terrorism

Bernhard Blumenau and Tim Wilson

  1. Is there an end to terrorism, or is it here to stay?
  2. Given the wide variety of phenomena that tend to be understood as ‘terrorism’, it is a good idea to make clear what you understand by the term: and to defend that interpretation.

    It is worth reflecting on past periods when (anti-state) terrorism seemed to be declining such as the 1990s (see discussion in Chapter 2): they might tell us something about the future of terrorism. Rapoport’s work suggests that each wave of terrorism dies away more or less of its own accord as generations age. But he is much less clear why each wave is followed automatically by another one.

  3. Do social scientists and historians need one another to properly research terrorism?
  4. This is a question that invites you to think deeply about what insights historians can offer that are unique. What does ‘properly research’ terrorism mean in your opinion? That is worth spelling out.

    Given that there is relatively little collaborative research done by social scientists and historians together, they do not seem to think they need one another. Are they wrong?

  5. How can the knowledge of the joint histories of terror and terrorism help with dealing with such phenomena today?
  6. It is challenging to consider state and anti-state violence together because they often take very different forms. Often (though not always) modern states tend to be far more powerful than their challengers. 

    Usually, political leaders and civil servants are busy people. They have no time to read up on history. But such amnesia risks repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Long-running anti-state terrorist campaigns often have small beginnings. So, it’s worth asking: how do they get going? Under what circumstances does state repression simply make more terrorists?

  7. Why have forms of terrorism changed so radically over time?
  8. An obvious part of the answer must be changing technology. But it is worth thinking about technology and its impacts broadly. It is not just weaponry and communications that evolve, but cultural values as well. Technology changes society.

    Changing ideas also matter. The ideologies that terrorist groups believe in help structure targeting (at least to some degree). As older militant ideologies fade (and new ones arise), we should therefore expect terrorist tactics to change as well.

    Regardless of ideology, it is hard to miss the significance of imitation. Some terrorist tactics emerge and spread very quickly across very different groups – dynamite bombings in the 1880s; aircraft hijackings in the 1960s; vehicle-ramming attacks after 2015. Terrorism is about getting attention. Terrorist groups need to vary their tactics to keep winning media attention. 

  9. What alternatives to Rapoport’s model could you think of to categorize the history of terrorism?
  10. As the names of his waves suggest, at heart Rapoport’s model privileges ideology as the prime driver of change. What might a model that privileged technology as the driver of change look like? What would be the key turning points?

    Rapoport discusses what he calls ‘rebel terrorism’ only. A more comprehensive history of terrorism arguably also needs to find room to analyse the power of the modern state. If one tried to write a history of right-wing terrorism, how would it modify Rapoport’s model? Does it make sense to start in the late 19th century as Rapoport does? Why not go much further back?

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