There are many different definitions for terrorism, depending on the country or organization. Broadly speaking, the first deliberate acts of violence registered in the history of the human civilization that were conducted with no regard for human life or dignity, aiming at spreading and controlling though fear could be labeled as acts of terror. Terrorism is generally thought to include the idea of spreading fear for the purpose of controlling a group of people, communities or entire populations and influencing decision making at different levels. So, terrorist acts are the result of radical, extremist thinking, being produced because some people need to make their voices heard and think that fear is the best, most efficient, the only way to do it.
Government officials and academics alike, have a hard time coming to a consensus when it comes to a definition of terrorism, especially for the purpose of reaching conclusions related to how to deal with those who will be labeled as terrorists. Because terrorists use unusual ways to attain their goals, so they fall out of every rule that might govern warfare in its conventional form, the responses they get from those fighting them vary in intensity and greatly depend from country to country.
There are some contemporary terrorist acts that will remain imprinted in the public's minds all over the world, such as the 9/11 tragedy. This terrorist act has been so far the most efficient, impressive and well conducted of the terrorism acts of all times. It got all the attention and coverage the organization and persons who had planned it had hoped for and something more: it made the U.S.A. rethink its global position. Moreover, names like: Al-Quaeda and Osama Bin-Laden became almost house labels, as well-known as Xerox or Channel. Although, there were no official claims or justifications for their acts from the part of those who planned it, the U.S. government officials declared "war on terror," pointing the finger to the al-Quaeda movement and Osama bin-Laden.
According to Randall Law, the first time the word "terrorism" was used in the sense that we understand it today, was during the French Revolution. This consideration leads one to another point: there are terrorists and terrorists. Totalitarian regimes have reigned through terror, which would qualify them as terrorists, but there are also organizations such as al-Quaeda, Hamas, ETA, IRA, Irish People's Liberation Organization, Palestine Liberation Front, Japanese Red Army, Khmer Rouge, Taliban, Ku Klux Klan etc. that are qualified as terrorists as well. There are also individuals, who claim they produce terrorist acts on their own. The last ones are to a certain degree, the epitome of terrorism since they are, in fact, the result of some "education" from the part of an organization. This "training" however, can happen these day thorough the exclusive use of materials available from the Internet, for example, making the technical advancements of the twenty first century the most effective means of propagating this kind of "knowledge" and getting proselytes. Thus, the fight against this type of unknown, hard to locate, enemy, renders the prevention part very difficult.
Going back to ancient times, terror was closely linked to tyranny. Empire leaders always needed firm hands, big armies, mercenaries and a great deal of fear to be able to subject and rule over many different peoples. Randal Law takes the Assyrians as the most illustrative model of an ancient government ruling through terror. To destroy any kind of resistance that could have endangered their empire, the Assyrian rulers were merciless. They killed, tortured and destroyed, making everyone, even their closest friends, fear their vengeance. Ever since then, there were leaders who chose fear as the best repressive means to rule.
Closer to us, in Medieval times, the Viking raids and their invasions to overtake the rule of states, were also involving a great deal of terror. The World Wars, the Russian and French revolutions were events that involved a huge deal of terrorist acts meant to intimidate. Those were exceptional situations, though, needing to be treated as a separate chapter. Reaching our times, the most popular and widely known terrorist acts are those that got media coverage in the age of radio, television and then, the Internet. The media outlets provided the best tools for organizations fighting for any cause to go big, make their voices heard internationally.
Terrorism in the contemporary world has many faces or none at all. The Palestine Liberation Organization gained international attention through spectacular, carefully planned attacks. The PLO is an organization that justifies its existence by fighting for several causes: nationalist, religious and pan-Arabism.
9/11 overshadows every piece of writing about terrorism written after that. It is a burden not only for its proportions, but because the spectacular horrifying way the two towers collapsed under the attack of terrorists will burn the retina of those who saw it live or on television. It was a master disaster fit for the best film, that made any other terrorist attack seem somehow small by comparison. Yes, the number of victims in one master blow was fantastic, yes, the image of the two towers of WTC collapsing in the middle of Manhattan was unprecedented, yes, those who planned it were geniuses who took advantage of the shortcomings of a security system in a world that would have never imagined something like that could be possible. This kind of strike made everyone rethink the idea of terrorism. The resulting paradox: the more civilized and technically advanced a society is, the more vulnerable it seems. Attacks such as 9/11 prove that no matter how civilized a nation is, how high the GDP is, how powerful that nation is, as long as there will be poverty and unsolved religious and nationalist quarrels in this world, there will be fundamentalism and people ready to take a stand and enroll for a cause that will involve killing innocents in order to get attention.
Terrorists need attention, they crave it and they have proven ready to go to any length to get it. The mass media lends them a hand every time they strike. Most of the time, it is willingly. Some times, they will twist the hand of the newspapers and TV stations into publishing their messages and explaining their cause to the public. Unfortunately, most of the times, thy will not need that. Newspapers and TV stations will go crazy after juicy, bloody stories. One look at a few headlines in the press today and it will reveal the insatiable thirst for blood nowadays. It appears that after 9/11 nothing can be bloody and spectacular enough. Who can top that? It may be true that "The audience wants to be captivated by what it sees in the media"(Terrorism and the Media, 20), but this is, after all a false dilemma of which one was the first: the hen or the egg? The press has the power to manipulate and politicians, activists of all sorts and terrorists have always aspired to use it in order to get their messages across, change public opinion in their favor and get the sympathy, the approval of the targeted public and finally, the legitimization they ultimately crave.
In addition to the mass media that will immediately react and broadcast or publish news about a terrorist organization's actions, terrorist organizations that benefit form heavy funding have the possibility to come up with their own TV networks. Therefore, "a combination of Internet, television, and possibly other media, as Hezbollah employs, can be a potent weapon for a terrorist organization"(Terrorism and the Media, 23).
One example in the recent history of terrorist strikes that comes to mind is that of the two Tsarnaev brothers and the bombings in Boston, in 2013. The public was able to follow the…