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18 September 2014
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The Changing Faces of Terrorism

By Professor Adam Roberts
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'...ANC's use of violence had been discriminate and had constituted only a small part of the ANC's overall strategy.'

The facile and oft-repeated statement 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' reflects genuine doubts about the term. In the past there have been strong disagreements about whether certain movements were or were not terrorist: for example, the Jewish extremist group Irgun in Palestine in the 1940s, the Viet Cong in South Vietnam from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, and the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s onwards. Famously, in 1987-8 the UK and US governments labelled the African National Congress of South Africa 'terrorist': a questionable attribution even at the time not because there had been no violence, but because the ANC's use of violence had been discriminate and had constituted only a small part of the ANC's overall strategy.

Flag of the African National Congress
ANC Flag ©
The new face of terrorism as mass murder is significantly changing such debates. The extremism of the September 11 attacks has led to a strong international reaction. As a result, none of the 189 member states of the UN opposed the USA's right to take military action in Afghanistan after the events of September 11, and none has offered explicit support for Al-Qaida. While there remain numerous concerns about the direction of the US and international moves against terrorism, and it is too early to say that the new face of terrorism is on the retreat, it is not too early to hazard the guess that, by engaging in crimes against humanity, the new face of terrorism may have contributed to its own eventual demise.

Published: 2002-08-27

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