“Terrorism” is not a simple term to define. Too often we think of the terrorist as a dark skinned Arab with a blood lust in his eye, ranting unintelligible words and waving an automatic weapon around while he pushes some sweet old man out of an airplane door. The movies and television have almost stereotyped the terrorist; it has been done to such a degree that the term has become trite. And the trite concept of the terrorist also lessens the threat: the “terrorist” is always a wild-eyed fanatic in a distant part of the world.
As Lenin said, “The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize.” To terrorize means to frighten, and usually for some end, not necessarily political. The truly effective terrorist is able to frighten the greatest number of people – and the living who have been terrorized are the true victims of terrorism. This is one of the reasons the terrorist hits at innocent targets – children, tourists, the elderly. The helpless target is so much more of a victim, and most people can identify with being victimized in the same way. To the public a random bombing of a school bus full of children is far more threatening than the assassination of a ranking officer in the military. The bombing in Oklahoma City was even more terrifying because it destroyed a day care center.
The horror of a school bus being destroyed hits at our hearts and deepest fears. It’s easily seen that the true victims of terrorism are not the dead in an indiscriminate bombing, but those who have been frightened by it. These are the people the terrorist is sending a message to, a message to get sympathy for a cause, to change a political viewpoint, to gain recognition or notoriety – even perhaps to obtain financial benefits. The purpose of an incident such as the destruction of a school bus is to create enough horror that pressure will be put on a government, or organization, to change its policies. Enough of these acts and the entire world becomes a frightening place even though most people know it will never happen to them–perhaps. It’s a pervading, deep, fear.
Terrorism can be defined as: the use of, or the repeated threat of, violence with the intention of opposing or gaining the support of some authority. Violence is utilized to instill fear in as many random people as possible, at times an entire country, so that a reaction will force someone, or government, to comply with the demands of the terrorist.
There are many elements in our world that can turn this pervading sense of fear into something personal, and those who feel it strongly are not paranoid; they are just realistic. Usually threats are directed at the wealthy, famous, or powerful who are in the fame spotlight. Although, the same pressures can be felt by more ordinary citizens: the wife who has just escaped a brutal marriage and the ex-husband is looking for revenge; the political candidate who has made a seemingly innocent remark and some crazy is holding him accountable; or a young actress like Jodie Foster whom a psychotic wants to impress. There are countless people who are frightened enough to seek out protection. This is only one of the reasons the need for bodyguards has grown so rapidly.
To understand the fear level present in our modern world it is necessary to look at recent history; especially the growth of terrorism as a factor in our life. Terrorist acts, no matter in what part of the world they occur, are frightening. Because of their nature these acts hit home, fill people with dread even though they occurred thousands of miles away: they are usually so random, and the victims so innocent, that it is easy to imagine the same act happening anywhere – even in our own neighborhood. This is another reason they call it terrorism. Its results remain with all of us as a sense of foreboding.