Sociology Mind
2011. Vol.1, No.1, 1-15
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/sm.2011.11001
Terrorism from Above and Below in the Age of Globalization*
Asafa Jalata
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA
Received December 20th, 2010; revised January 10th, 2011; accepted January 24th, 2011.
This paper explains how the intensification of globalization as the modern world system has increased the oc-
currence of terrorism from above (i.e. state actors) and from below (i.e. non-state actors). We cannot adequately
grasp the essence and characteristics of modern terrorism without understanding the larger cultural, social, eco-
nomic, and political contexts in which it takes place. Since terrorism has been conceptualized, defined, and theo-
rized by those who have contradictory interests and objectives and since the subject matter of terrorism is com-
plex, difficult, and elusive, there is a wide gap in establishing a common understanding among the scholars of
terrorism studies. Most experts on the subject look at this issue from a narrow perspective by ignoring the reality
that terrorism is a “social cancer” for all human groups affected by it. First, this paper defines the concept of
terrorism in relation to different forms of terrorism, and explains how it has increased with the intensification of
globalization. Second, taking the events of 9/11 and the case of Ethiopian state terrorism, the piece explores the
general impacts of all forms of terrorism.
Keywords: Terrorism, Globalization, 9/11, Capitalism, Terrorism Studies, Genocide, Colonial Terrorism
This paper explains how the intensification of globalization
as the modern world system with its ideological intensity of
racism and religious extremism has increased the danger of all
forms of terrorism. In this world system, the contestation over
economic resources and power, the resistance to domination
and repression, and religious and ideological extremism have
increased the occurrence of terrorism from above (i.e. state
actors) and from below (i.e. non-state actors). However, terror-
ism as a “technique is as old as warfare contrary to the wide-
spread notion that [it] was the offspring of nineteenth-century
nationalist movements. The confusion may be a result of the
late [emergence] of the term in the French Revolution and its
Terror” (Chaliand and Blin, 2007: 5-6). Although there have
been human groups that have engaged in peaceful co-existence
and cooperation and have shared their available resources, his-
tory demonstrates that since time immemorial, individuals,
groups or organizations have engaged in conflict, war, terror-
ism, and genocide over economic interests such as land, water,
and commerce (Wilkinson, 1979: 45-72; Black, 2004: 21-22).
But the intensity and danger of terrorism and genocide have
increased with the advancement of technology - first with gun
making and subsequently with the production of other powerful
weapons. Furthermore, currently rapid technological revolu-
tions and advancements have more globalized the threat of
terrorism from a distance and have multiplied its destructive
capacity. According to Donald Black (2004: 21-22), “Rapid
transportation and electronic communication shrink the world
by shortening the time needed to travel and interact across the
physical world . . . As physical distance loses its relevance,
terrorists can more easily plan and launch attacks thousands of
miles from home, illustrated by the American attacks of Sep-
tember 11, 2001 - literally impossible less than a century earli-
Unfortunately, at this historical moment our understanding
about the origins and causes of human violence and terrorism is
very limited (Wilkinson, 1986: 45). The main intention of this
paper is to present a critique of terrorism studies, identifying
the shortcomings of this area of study, and to increase our
comprehension of all forms of terrorism and its devastating
consequences in different parts of the modern world. First, the
paper deals with some historical and theoretical issues in order
to lay down the foundation of my discussion. Second, it identi-
fies two forms of terrorism, explaining how it has increased
with the intensification of globalization, and provides a prag-
matic and practical definition of the subject matter. Third, tak-
ing the events of 9/11 and the case of Ethiopian state terrorism,
the paper explores the general impacts of terrorism from both
below and above.
Historical and Theoretical Issues in
Terrorism Studies
Since the frequency, intensity, and the volume of terrorism
have increased alongside the development of global capitalism,
(Hochschild, 1999; Kiernan, 2007; Thoronton, 1987), we can-
not adequately understand the full essence and characteristics
of terrorism without considering the existence of links between
increased incidences of terrorism and the racialized capitalist
world system (Jalata, 2001). As capitalism developed in West-
ern Europe in the late 15th century and expanded to the rest of
the world through colonialism, state-sponsored terrorism and
genocide also spread as integral parts of the capitalist world
system. Beginning in 1492, European colonialists engaged in
terrorism, genocide, and enforced servitude in the Americas
and later extended their practices into Africa through racial
slavery and colonialism (De Las Casas, 1992; Kiernan, 2007;
*Paper presented at the Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning
Philosophical Society, November 7, 2008.
Thoronton, 1987). Then, in the 19th, the colonialists fully in-
corporated other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia into
this system through colonial terrorism and genocidal wars (De
Las Casas, 1992; Hochschild, 1999).
Bartolomé De Las Casas (1992: 15), a priest who traveled to
the New World in 1502 with the Spaniards in their quest to
colonize and rob the treasures and lands of the indigenous
peoples of the Indies, provides an eyewitness account of the
anatomy of colonial terrorism and genocide:
They forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering
everyone they found there, including small children, old men,
pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth.
They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with
their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into
a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could manage
to slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual‟s head
from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of
their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and,
ripping them from their mothers‟ breasts, dashed them head-
long against the rocks. They spared no one, erecting espe-
cially wide gibbets on which they could string their victims
up with their feet just off the ground and then burn them
alive thirteen at a time, in honor of our Savior and the twelve
Apostles, or tie dry straw to their bodies and set fire to it.
Some they chose to keep alive and simply cut their wrists,
leaving their hands dangling, saying to them: „Take this let-
ter‟—meaning that their sorry condition would act as a
warning to those hiding in the hills.
The criminal acts that De Las Casas describes above were
guided and financed by the government of Spain (Cohen, 1986:
32-36). De Las Casas explained that the crimes committed
against humanity in the Indies for gold, silver, food, land and
other resources were committed in the name of Christianity
and/or European civilization. Most mainstream and leftist
scholars have conveniently ignored the terrorism and genocide
committed against such indigenous groups during the expan-
sion of the European-dominated racialized capitalist world
system. According to Martin Shaw (2003: 65), a “larger con-
centration of state power grew with the expansion of European
empires in the „Orient‟ and the „New World,‟ accompanied by
waves of slaughter of people who were often seen, in the reli-
gious ideology of the time, as less human than Christian Euro-
peans. In the Americas, the most „advanced‟ European societies
waged genocidal war, wiped out whole civilizations and insti-
tuted the most extensive slave system.”
When “state terrorism can be seen as a method of rule where-
by some groups of people are victimized with great brutality,
and more or less arbitrarily by the state or state supported ac-
tors, so that others who have reason to identify with those
murdered, will despair, obey or comply” (Schmid, 1991: 31),
genocide can be defined as the elimination in part or in whole a
certain group of people in order to expropriate their resources
or to stop their resistance to the state or the agents of the state.
In the example above, the colonial Spaniards committed terror-
ism and genocide in order to transfer the territories and re-
sources of the indigenous peoples to themselves and their des-
cendants. Similarly, several European governments had en-
gaged in such crimes (Kiernan, 2007). While the colonizing
nations of the West and their collaborators had justified “their
scramble for foreign territories as fulfillment of a sacred duty to
spread their form of civilization to the world” (Bodley, 1990:
12), the genocide and ethnocide committed by such na-
tion-states was called by John H. Bodley “an immense human
tragedy” (Bodley, 1992: 37). According to this scholar, be-
tween 1820 and 1920, Western Europeans and their descen-
dants terrorized and massacred about 50 million people (Bod-
ley, 1990).
The more human beings became advanced in technology and
organizational capacity, the more they engaged in terrorism and
genocide in order to satisfy their group‟s or country‟s economic
interests. Western European countries such as Spain, Portugal,
England, France, Holland, Germany, and Belgium increasingly
committed crimes against humanity during their capitalist co-
lonial expansion to the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia,
and used the discourses of the superiority of their race, culture,
civilization, and Christian religion to promote and justify their
destructive and exploitative policies. The experiences of indi-
genous peoples from various continents illustrate that most of
them that survived colonial terrorism and genocide were re-
duced to the status of slavery or semi-slavery and were forced
to serve the colonizers and their descendants.
Unfortunately, most social scientists of the 19th century justi-
fied “a deliberate and violent political act carried out as nation-
al policy in order to gain access to the natural resources con-
trolled by” indigenous peoples, and “espoused „scientific‟ evo-
lutionary theories that explained the destruction and suggested
that it was inevitable” (Bodley, 1992: 38). The West and their
collaborators also used the ideologies of racism (Jalata, 2001: 8)
and religious absolutism to justify colonial terrorism, war, sla-
very, and genocide. Despite the fact that “ideologies [as] qua
abstract doctrine do not in themselves directly cause violence,
ideological movements, which define enemies and incite to
combat, do frequently instigate political violence, wars, and
„crusades” (Wilkinson, 1979: 62).
Under the guise of “scientific” theories, some scholars have
justified the destruction of indigenous peoples (Wilkinson,
1979; Bodley, 1990). “Scientific” claims have been made to
promote personal and group interests at the cost of humanity.
Generally speaking, my critique of mainstream literature on
terrorism is intended to suggest that most scholars from both
the right and the left have yet to establish a single practical,
moral, legal, and scholarly standard to promote and protect
human rights that would enable them to go beyond the dis-
courses of commerce or money, culture, religion, and civiliza-
tion in order to critically understand the root causes of terror-
ism from above and below and to develop appropriate policy
suggestions. By focusing on non-state terrorism (Netanyahu,
1995) or state terrorism, scholars of global and terrorism stu-
dies have avoided providing comprehensive and critical ana-
lyses and an objective definition and theorization of this subject.
By dealing with all forms of terrorism as aspects of the capital-
ist world system, this paper seeks to close this gap in scholar-
Even critical scholars such as Karl Marx, Andre Gunder
Frank, Immanuel Wallerstein, and others who have studied the
emergence, development, and expansion of the racialized capi-
talist world system have primarily focused on trade, the inter-
national division of labor, exploitation, capital accumulation,
political structures, development and underdevelopment, and
social inequality and thus have ignored the role of terrorism in
creating and maintaining the system. According to Karl Marx
(1967: 753-754), “The colonies secured a market for the bud-
ding, manufactures and, through the monopoly of the market,
an increasing accumulation. As a matter of fact, the methods
of primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic. In actual
history it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery,
murder, briefly force, plays the great part. In fact, the veiled
slavery of the wage workers in Europe needed, for its pedestal,
slavery pure and simple in the new world. Capital comes [into
the world] dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with
blood and dirt.” Similarly, Andre Gunder Frank (1979) wrote
about the global accumulation of capital between 1492 and
1789. Immanuel Wallerstein also published several books and
articles to explain how capitalism became the global system.
Despite this, he too has not adequately explained the role of
terrorism in creating and maintaining the capitalist world sys-
Such critical scholars have not adequately addressed the role
of state-centered or state-sponsored terrorism in destroying or
enslaving the indigenous peoples of the world and in creating,
developing, and maintaining the racialized capitalist world
system. Despite the fact that Marx did recognize the cruelty and
consequences of the capitalist world system, he did not explore
the idea that terrorism was an integral part of the broadening of
the system. Marx focused on capitalist development in Europe
and indirectly studied its relations to colonized societies. Other
critical scholars have also followed his Euro-centric paradigm.
We learn from history that political violence has increased as
different societies with improved techniques of production have
produced surplus wealth, developed their organizational capac-
ity, and attained further technological innovations. In the 16th
century, with such economic and technological advancements
countries such as England, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and
the Netherlands formed the nation-states (Frank, 1978: 51-52).
The emergence of the nation-state with the development of
capitalism in Europe created the organizational and technolo-
gical capacity to engage in more lethal violence and war. In the
16th century, capitalism had “witnessed the first long, sustained,
and widespread quantitative and qualitative development . . . in
its mercantile stage and the first period of concentrated capital
accumulation in Europe” (Frank, 1978: 52). As competition
increased among individuals, groups, and states over scarce and
valued resources, political violence, terrorism, and war in-
As capitalism developed in Western Europe, the need for
raw materials, minerals such as gold and silver, markets, and
free or cheap labor expanded due to the desire to minimize the
cost of production and to increase the accumulation of capital
or wealth. “The treasures captured outside of Europe by undis-
guised looting, enslavement, and murder,” Karl Marx (1967:
753-754) writes, “floated back to the mother-country and were
there turned to capital.” Most liberal and leftist scholars have
failed to identify and explain the role of state-sponsored or state
terrorism that colonial officials, European companies, and ex-
peditionary forces used during the expansion of the racialized
capitalist world system to transfer the economic resources of
the indigenous peoples to European colonial forces or settlers
and their collaborators. The development of the nation-state
and the capitalist world system occurred through war making,
violence and organized crime (Tilly, 1985: 170). We cannot
clearly understand the essence and meaning of global terrorism
without comprehending the essence and characteristics of state
terrorism since states were born and consolidated through vi-
Under the guises of “free markets,” “civilization,” and Chris-
tianity, forces of European states or state-sponsored companies
committed acts of terrorism and genocide that were, more or
less, ignored. In fact, the issue of terrorism only started to be
addressed when, after World War I, colonized peoples in Africa
and Asia began their liberation struggles against European co-
lonial states. The terrorist attack on the life and liberty of
American indigenous peoples by European colonial powers and
their collaborators destroyed existing institutions and econo-
mies and exposed the conquered peoples to poverty and fa-
mine-induced “holocausts” (Davis, 2001). Discussing how the
cultural destruction of indigenous peoples resulted in massive
deaths, Karl Polanyi (1944: 159-160) argues, “The catastrophe
of the native community is a direct result of the rapid and vio-
lent disruption of the basic institutions of the victim. These
institutions are disrupted by the very fact that a market econo-
my is foisted upon an entirely differently organized community;
labor and land are made into a commodity, which, again, is
only a short formula for the liquidation of every … cultural
institution in an organic society.”
The capitalist world economy that in the 19th century was
permanently eliminating famine from Western Europe was
simultaneously accelerating famine and famine-induced deaths
in the rest of the world: “Millions died, not outside the „modern
world system,‟ but in the very process of being forcibly incor-
porated into its economic and political structures. They died in
the golden age of Liberal Capitalism; indeed, many were mur-
dered by the theological application of the sacred principles of
[Adam] Smith” (Davis, 2001: 9). Today, mainstream Eu-
ro-American scholars gloss over such crimes and refer to them
as actions of “discovery” and “civilization.” State terrorism,
genocide, and the destruction of indigenous institutions and the
devastating consequences of famine have been closely inter-
connected in the global capitalist world system. In addition, the
international community rarely holds accountable its members
that engage in state terrorism and genocide. Kurt Jonassohn
(1998: 24) recently noted that terrorist state leaders in develop-
ing countries “not only go unpunished, they are even rewarded.
On the international scene they are accorded all the respect and
courtesies due to government officials. They are treated in ac-
cordance with diplomatic protocol in negotiations and are
treated in the General Assembly of the United Nations. When
they are finally ousted from their offices, they are offered asylum
by countries that lack respect for international law, but have a
great deal of respect for the ill-gotten wealth that such perpetra-
tors bring with them.”
Despite the fact that some government elites claim that the
state provides protection from domestic and external violence,
“governments organize and, wherever possible, monopolize the
concentrated means of violence. The distinction between „legi-
timate‟ and „illegitimate‟ force makes no difference” (Tilly,
1985: 171). Political violence has always been involved in
producing and maintaining structures, institutions, and organi-
zations of privileged hierarchy and domination in society.
Those who have state power, which incorporates the power to
define terrorism, deny their involvement in political violence or
terrorism and confuse abstract theories about the state with
reality. Based on an idealized relationship between the state
and society, philosophers and thinkers such as Hobbes, Hegel,
Rousseau, and Plato have identified three functions of the state
that would earn it legitimacy. According to state theories, the
state protects and maintains internal peace and order in society;
it organizes and protects national economic activities; it de-
fends national sovereignty and national interests (Bushnell, et
al., 1991: 6). In reality, most states violate most of these theo-
retical principles by engaging in political repression and state
terrorism in order to defend the interests of a few powerful
elites. Furthermore, the revolutionary theories of the state by
Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin (1971) remain a dream because
states failed to introduce revolutionary social transformations
that would eliminate oppression, repression, state terrorism,
and the exploitation of people (Maguire, 1978).
The occurrence of political repression, oppression, state ter-
rorism, and dictatorship in the former Soviet Union, China and
other former revolutionary countries demonstrate that the state
has remained the site of violence despite its legitimating dis-
course. As Charles Tilly (985: 18-19) puts it, political violence
is closely related to the art of statecraft, and most of the time,
“the state, like an unchained beast, ferociously [attacks] those
who claim to be its master, its own citizens” (Tilly, 1985: 7).
Annamarie Oliverio (1998) criticizes scholars who produce
definitions of terrorism on behalf of the state and promote
outmoded concepts, analyses, and theories in state bureaucracy,
the media, and in academia.
The motivations of those who hold state power and engage
in state terrorism are to maintain the global economy, structures
of politics, and hierarchies of cultures and peoples in order to
extract economic resources. The main objective of those who
engage in non-state terrorism is mainly to politically respond to
economic, political, and cultural inequalities. One common
denominator of the theories of non-state terrorism is that it is
mainly caused by grievances of one kind or another. These
grievances involve national/religious/cultural oppression, eco-
nomic exploitation, political repression, massive human rights
violations, attacks on life and liberty, state terrorism, and vari-
ous forms of social injustices. Yet, whilst it is acknowledged
that revolutions, social movements, and non-state terrorism
generally involve grievances, all grievances do not result in
revolutionary or social movements, nor do they all cause sub-
versive terrorism. There must therefore be some intervening
structural, conjunctural, and behavioral factors particularly that
act to transform some grievances into non-state terrorism
through some agencies of the aggrieved population.
The combination of factors such as collective grievances, the
continued oppressive and exploitative policies of state elites,
the refusal of state actors to address longstanding grievances
peacefully and fairly, the development of extreme ideologies in
the form of religion or another ideology, and the emergence of
leaders, ideologues, and cadres in aggrieved populations can
facilitate the emergence of subversive terrorism. We cannot
adequately grasp the essence and characteristics of modern
terrorism without understanding the larger cultural, social,
economic, and political contexts in which it takes place. Since
terrorism has been conceptualized, defined, and theorized by
those who have contradictory interests and objectives and since
the subject matter of terrorism is complex and elusive, there
currently is a wide gap in establishing a common understanding
of terrorism among scholars of terrorism studies. Most experts
on the subject look at this issue from a narrow perspective by
ignoring what I argue to be the reality: that terrorism is a social
cancer for all human groups affected by it.
Conceptualizing, Defining, and Understanding
Terrorism is a contested concept due to the failure of scho-
lars of terrorism studies in establishing a commonly accepted
definition because of their self- and group-centeredness or li-
mited perspectives. Despite the fact that the scholars of terror-
ism studies agree that terrorism primarily involves the unleash-
ing of lethal violence primarily on civilians in order to influ-
ence an audience, they do not agree on who and what the agen-
cies of all forms of terrorism are. Referring to the case of con-
temporary sub-state terrorism, for instance, Omar Lizardo
(2008: 102) attempts to provide a definition: “Modern terror-
ism refers to a type of violent interaction initiated by a
non-state actor, which is not formally recognized as a legiti-
mate wielder of the means of violence or a valid initiator of
violent interactions, directed against the representatives (hu-
man, material or symbolic) of a formally recognized state actor
in the international system, which does not follow the institu-
tionalized rules and conventions of military engagement” [au-
thor‟s emphasis].
Since Lizardo‟s definition focuses only on bottom-up terror-
ism, he is not addressing all forms of terrorism. For Martha
Crenshaw (1981: 379), terrorism is “the premeditated use or
threat of symbolic, low-level violence by conspiratorial organ-
izations.” For scholars such as Lizardo and Crenshaw, terror-
ism is defined as premeditated or intentional violence carried
out by non-state actors in order to impose fear on a target pop-
ulation and to achieve certain political objectives. And accord-
ing to Walter Enders and Todd Sandler (2006: 3), states do not
perpetrate terrorism; only individuals or sub-national groups
commit terrorism. Many other scholars define terrorism with-
out identifying whether states or non-state actors commit it
(Oots, 1986; Cooper, 2001: 881-893; Tilly, 1985: 169-191).
Explaining the challenges of conceptualizing terrorism, Leo-
nard Weinberg, Ami Pendahzur, and Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler
(2004: 786) define terrorism as follows: “Terrorism is a politi-
cally motivated tactic involving the threat or use of force or
violence in which the pursuit of publicity plays a significant
role,” [author‟s emphasis]. Overall, most scholars do not ad-
dress how many states do engage in terrorist activities, but do
not publicize their illegal activities due to the fear of repercus-
sion from the international system. For instance, states that
openly engage in terrorist activities and gross human rights
violations could be indicted by the International Criminal
Yet, there are scholars who acknowledge that state terrorism
begets non-state terrorism: “When terrorism is theoretically
examined as a form of social control, fundamental controlling
apparatuses of the state may be viewed as terroristic. Organiza-
tions, groups, and individuals who legitimate the use of vi-
olence to achieve their goals may be viewed as products, ex-
tensions, or models of the essential structure of a state when its
purpose is to regulate behavior via various forms of repression,
domination, and terror” (Oliverio, 1998: 7). Furthermore, as
Eqbal Ahmad (1998: 5) argues, “state terror very often breeds
collective terror.”
Although several representative definitions of terrorism
converge on the notion that terrorism is “the deliberate use of
violence in order to influence some audience (or audiences)
[author‟s emphasis],” the definitions diverge on several issues
such as which agencies engage in terrorism and who exactly
the targets of terrorism are (Goodwin, 2006: 2028). Some ig-
nore the issue of state terrorism altogether while others “seek to
denounce a focus on state terrorism as „skewed,‟ „biased,‟
ideological and „out of touch with real political events‟” (Stohl
and Lopez, 1984: 3). Those who study terrorism do not ade-
quately explain why certain human elements, groups, organiza-
tions or states seek to impose control over other human beings
through violence, nor do they include in their definitions the
specific characteristics of the varied forms of terrorism.
Commentators and scholars such as Samih K. Farsoun and
Naseer H. Aruri (2006), who are sympathetic towards libera-
tion fronts such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization or
other oppositional organizations, have not denounced their
terrorist activities, preferring to endorse the idea that “one
man‟s terrorist is another man‟s freedom fighter.” Brian M.
Jenkins (1981: 6-7) challenges this notion on the grounds that it
“implies that there can be no objective definition of terrorism
and that there are no universal standards of conduct in peace or
war.” On the other hand, scholars and politicians such as Ben-
jamin Netanyahu (1995) have disregarded the alternate prin-
ciple that “one man‟s terrorist is everyone‟s terrorist.” Neta-
nyahu never recognizes that the Israeli state engages in terror-
ism against Palestinians. Those who take these extreme posi-
tions ignore the crimes committed against humanity. I argue
that any balanced definition of and theory about terrorism must
consider all attacks by both state and non-state actors as attacks
on the life and liberty of noncombatant civilians as terrorist. To
illustrate my point, let me briefly introduce such terrorist epi-
Before Nazi Germany committed large-scale genocide on
Jews, it engaged in small-scale terrorist episodes in its prepara-
tion to attempt to annihilate an entire people. For example, on
November 11, 1938, known as Kristelnacht or the “night of
broken glass”, the Nazis murdered ninety-one Jews. In this case,
terrorism was the first phase of genocide, and the German state
and its supporters committed it. In the two following cases,
terrorism did not lead to genocide, and non-state actors com-
mitted it. One of these terrorist events deals with the attack by a
Jewish terrorist group on Palestinian Arabs. On the night of
December 18, 1947, armed Jewish men threw grenades on the
homes of sleeping Palestinian families, killing ten people in-
cluding women and children, and wounding five in the village
Khisas in Palestine. This terrorist act was committed to frighten
the surviving Palestinian families into leaving their homes so
that the Jews could implement their Zionist plan of ethnic/racial
“cleansing.” As Jamal R. Nassar (2005: 46) describes,
The most frequently mentioned incident between the many
contributing to a panic flight of the Palestinian inhabitants
was the terrorist massacre of Deir Yassan. On April 9, 1948,
Irgum attackers massacred 254 men, women, and children in
the village of Deir Yassin. The Irgun was a militant Zionist
group led by Menachem Begin, who became Israel‟ prime
minster in 1977. Under British rule in Palestine, Begin was a
wanted terrorist. His group, the Irgun, committed hundreds of
acts of violence targeting both civilians and public sites. The
Irgun also involved itself in assassinations and sabotage. Such
incidents contributed to a massive exodus of the Palestinian
Arab population and opened the door for the creation of the
Jewish state.
Another terrorist episode involved a Palestinian group called
Black September. At the 1972 Summer Olympics, this group
broke into the dormitory rooms of an Israeli sport team in Mu-
nich, Germany, and took eleven athletes and coaches hostage.
Despite the fact that this event was being viewed on television
by about 900 million people around the world, the terrorist
group killed all the hostages. Whether states or non-state actors
commit terrorist acts as such or whether Germans or Jews or
Palestinians commit them, regardless of their claims, the vio-
lent attacks on noncombatants are terrorism of one form or
another. Of course, in most cases, it is oppressive state policies
and actions that facilitate the emergence of non-state terrorism.
Hence, it is impossible to understand the essence and characte-
ristics of all forms of terrorism and to challenge it without
making state terrorists accountable for their crimes against
It is generally accepted among the experts of terrorism stu-
dies that there is a lack of consensus on a precise definition of
terrorism (Hoffman, 2006[1998]: 28). Despite his recognition
of the elusiveness of defining of terrorism, Bruce Hoffman
(1998: 40) conceptualizes terrorism as “the deliberate creation
and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of vi-
olence in the pursuit of political change. Terrorism is specifi-
cally designed to have far-reaching psychological effects
beyond the immediate victim(s) or object of the terrorist at-
tack.” He goes on to explain the roles of state and non-state
terrorism and the difference between state and international
terrorism. Hoffman argues that “one of the fundamental [reason]
of international terrorism is a refusal to be bound by such rules
of warfare and codes of conduct. International terrorism dis-
dains any concept of delimited areas of combat or demarcated
battlefields, much less respect of neutral territory.” It is true
that non-state terrorists care less about international rules of
warfare and codes of conduct. Yet, what he does not address is
that although states claim to abide by these rules and codes of
conduct during wars, they also frequently violate them and
frame their terrorist attacks on noncombatant populations as
“collateral damage,” as we shall see below. Furthermore, de-
spite the fact that he associates the emergence of contemporary
terrorism with the end of empires, he fails to discuss the es-
sence and impact of colonial terrorism that the West and its
collaborators imposed on indigenous peoples in the Americas,
Australia, Africa, and Asia.
Alex P. Schmid and Albert J. Jongman (1988: 1) agree that
the “search for an adequate definition is still on,” even after
examining more than one hundred pages of 108 definitions of
terrorism in order to formulate a broadly acceptable and com-
prehensive definition. What is a key to recognize is that this
comprehensive and clear definition cannot be established
without a critical understanding of the role of the state in the
capitalist world system. Theoretically speaking, the state “is
often considered as an impartial arbiter between the groups and
classes in society, wielding the legitimate monopoly of vi-
olence to maintain public order (Schmid, 1991: 27). Practical-
ly, however, the state can be a terrorist agency. Schmid (1991:
3-4) clearly understands the role and impact of state terrorism
when he writes:
State terrorism goes beyond the legitimate use of violence by
those holding the reins of power, just as war crimes go
beyond what is considered permissible in warfare. Many acts
of terrorism such as hostage taking, killing of prisoners, and
deliberate attacks on civilians are prohibited by the rules of
war. If a state deals with political opponents by tactics which
include selective and random murder, abduction and secret
torture, massacres, and the use of concentration camps, it
engages in methods which might be legalized by the state‟s
own lawmaking machinery, but which are widely considered
as contrary to humane and civilized behavior. These violent
methods of control are also contrary to covenants of interna-
tional law that most states have signed.
However, Schmid does not explain how dictatorial or co-
lonial regimes also ignore international rules of warfare and
codes of conduct and engage in organized terror. He also
glosses over the fact that Western countries protect the rights of
their respective citizens to some degree while violating the
rights of the people of the Global South previously through
colonial terrorism and currently by allying with and supporting
post-colonial state terrorist regimes. Furthermore, this percep-
tive scholar does not explain why state or non-state agencies
engage in terrorism. In South and Central America, Africa, and
Asia, powerful Western countries have directly or indirectly
supported the policies and practices of state terrorism while
giving lip service to the principles of democracy and human
rights. Focusing on state-sponsored terrorism that emerged in
the peripheral world with the help of the West and naming it
“the real terrorist network”, Edward S. Herman (1982: 3) notes
the following:
There is huge tacit conspiracy between the U.S. government,
its agencies and its multinational corporations, on the one
hand, and local business and military cliques in [the Global
South], on the other, to assume complete control of these
countries and „develop‟ them on a joint venture basis. The
U.S. security establishment to serve as the „enforcers‟ of this
joint venture partnership carefully nurtured the military
leaders of the [peripheral] World, and they have been duly
supplied with machine guns and the latest data on methods
of interrogation of subversives.
With the support of powerful countries from the West and the
East, terrorist regimes in peripheral nations have used various
forms of terror such as rape, physical and psychological torture,
violent arrest, secret or open imprisonment and usually death,
disappearances, assassinations, and castration (Herman, 1982: 3).
Claiming that they would promote “socialism” and social justice,
the former Soviet Union, China, and other states have also been
involved in assisting terrorist regimes in developing countries
(Adelman, 1991: 99-112).
Large-scale state violence and terrorism have been practiced
in societies where so-called socialist revolutions and national
liberation movements have emerged. In order to win a war or to
get publicity, these warriors sometimes engaged in terrorism by
violently attacking civilian populations (Waltzer, 1977). The
perpetrators call such casualties “collateral damage.” Some
scholars, commentators, and leaders fail to expose such terror-
ism and consider them to be legitimate acts of war. However,
killing noncombatant people is both morally and legally wrong
and must be exposed and criminalized. As Michael Waltzer
argues, we should “regard life and liberty as something like
absolute values and then try to understand the moral and polit-
ical processes through which these values are challenged and
defended” (Waltzer, 1977: xvi).
Since the international system, particularly the United Na-
tions, lacks a single standard for humanity in practice (Jonas-
sohn, 1998: 24), almost all states get away with the crimes they
commit against their own citizens and other peoples. What
some powerful countries did during the WWII demonstrate this
reality as Virginia Held (2004: 68) notes: “ordinary warfare
often uses terror as a tactic, and we should remember that the
terror bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki undoub-
tedly killed far more people than have been killed by all terror-
ists, as conventionally so labeled throughout the world in all of
the years since.” Although the regimes of Germany, Japan, and
Italy inflicted millions of deaths on various population groups
during WWII which I argue were terrorist and genocidal acts,
these criminal acts do not justify the bombing and the killing of
innocent children and women in these countries.
Similarly, the recently U.S. war in Iraq resulted in the deaths
of millions of noncombatant individuals and groups. The U.S.
arguably has a legitimate right to attack Al Qaeda since the
latter opened war on the American people. Although it is ac-
ceptable to attack the base of this terrorist organization in Afg-
hanistan, I argue that it is morally and politically wrong to at-
tack and kill noncombatant Afghans. Michael Waltzer and John
Rawls put forward the principle of “supreme emergence”
which suggests that soldiers and state-persons can override the
rights of innocent, noncombatant people under the rule of ne-
Justifying Great Britain‟s bombing of German cities and
killing of women and children in the early 1940s, Waltzer
(1977: 253) argues that Nazism‟s “threat to human values [was]
so radical that its imminence would surely constitute a supreme
emergency; and this example can help us understand why lesser
threats might not do so.” I argue that this principle must be
rejected since it ignores the victimization of noncombatants
during wars. It is more agreeable that, as C. A. J. (Tony) Coady
(2004: 93) writes:
The discussion of terrorism and supreme emergency does in
any event clearly face us with two options. Either we insist
that terrorism is always morally wrong and [should] never be
allowed, or we accept that there can be circumstances in
which the values served by terrorist acts are so important that
it is right to do them. If [we exempt a terrorist act], then this
exemption cannot be allowed only to states. Its legitimacy
must in principle be more widely available, and decided on a
case-by-case basis. My own conviction is that we surely
[would] do better to condemn the resort to terrorism outright
with no leeway for exemptions, be they for states, revolutio-
naries or religious and ideological zealots.
Since the main sources of terrorism have been states (Perdue,
1989) states should not be exempted from being morally, le-
gally and politically held responsible for engaging in any kind
of terrorism. The same standard should be applied when criti-
cizing and challenging non-state actors and their acts of terror-
Once we accept that policies and actions of states can beget
bottom-up terrorism, we must, through international court, hold
accountable, both morally and legally, all entities that engage in
crimes against humanity in the name of religion, civilization,
progress, revolution or ideology. This is the first step toward
establishing a clear and acceptable boundary between legiti-
mate and illegitimate political violence in the modern world
system. Practically, the boundary is blurred, and people take
various positions on the issues of terrorism. We need a broader
and more critical understanding of the complexity and multip-
licity of terrorism in order to establish a clear boundary be-
tween legitimate and illegitimate violence. There is no question
this raises a serious challenge for defining and theorizing ter-
Despite scholars and commentators recognize the existence
of different forms of terrorism, they have yet to define and
study them in a balanced way. “Just as an increasing number of
commentators seem to be able to even-handedly apply the term
„terrorist‟ to non-state and state actors,” Grant Wardlaw (1989:
4) notes, “they will have to apply it even-handedly to those
groups with whose cause they agree and those with whose
cause they conflict.” Having made this significant point, War-
dlaw fails to explain why liberation fronts such as the Algerian
FLN, the Vietnamese NLF and other liberation fronts in the
Middle East, Africa, South America, and Europe are called
terrorist organizations (Wardlaw, 1989: 24). The failure to un-
derstand or the refusal to recognize how state terrorism begets
the non-state terrorism of liberation fronts and other organiza-
tions denies the opportunity to understand the challenge of
terrorism. Commentators and scholars who fail to understand
the complexity and multiplicity of terrorism characterize revo-
lutionary leaders who challenge state terrorism as terrorists
(Alexander, Browne and Nanes, 1979: 9-10). The failure to
differentiate those who have legitimate grievances and are fight-
ing against the injustice of the state from right wing terrorist
leaders or organizations and the failure to differentiate the
non-terrorist activities of revolutionary forces from terrorist ones
results in commentators and scholars engaging in an ideological
struggles to maintain the status quo rather than in the studying
and understanding of terrorism in order to deal with this lethal
When state terrorism is committed on indigenous peoples
who do not have their own states, their victimization does not
receive political attention. However, whenever such peoples
organize themselves into liberation movements and engage in a
struggle or whenever they start to use tactics similar to those of
the state in order to defend their political and economic interests,
they are labeled as “terrorists” and condemned by states. In a
moral and legal sense, however, the colonized peoples have the
right to self-defense without engaging in terrorism. According to
the moral theorist Michael Waltzer (1977: 62), “Aggression
justifies two kinds of violent response: a war of self-defense by
the victim and a war of law enforcement by the victim and any
other member of international society” [author‟s emphasis].
If we accept the position of mainstream commentators and
scholars, then we should view the founding fathers of the U.S.
as terrorists since they engaged in the American Revolution of
1776 to liberate their country from British domination. The
failure to draw a clear boundary between a revolutionary activ-
ity and a terrorist practice has resulted in “irreconcilable anta-
gonism” among researchers of terrorism and has complicated
and frustrated the process of defining and theorizing terrorism
(Cooper, 2001: 882). There is no wonder that the United Na-
tions “could not reach any agreement on the definition of „ter-
rorism,‟ its root causes, or the appropriate steps necessary to be
taken to cope with it” (Cline, 1970). In the modern world sys-
tem in which “might is right” and in which states protect one
another in the United Nations to avoid moral and political re-
sponsibilities (Jonassohn, 1998: 24) issues of terrorism are
partially understood since the problem of state terrorism is
Members of the United Nations disagree on defining terror-
ism due to the emergence of three different approaches in un-
derstanding terrorism:
1). The position that terrorism is defined and constituted
by the „criminal acts‟ taken against governments by in-
dividuals or groups. Most of the advanced industrial
Western states and some Latin governments support
this position.
2). The position that terrorism should be defined by acts,
but in a broader context than [the one] above so as to
include acts of governmental groups those violate hu-
man rights and reinforce policies such as apartheid.
This position was advanced primarily by the African
3). The position that the definition of terrorism resides in
the motivation of the actor and the context of the act.
This argument claims that to consider terrorism nar-
rowly is to label inappropriately a freedom fighter as a
terrorist. A variety of developing nations and Arab
states held this view (Stohl and Lopez, 1984: 4).
Describing the disagreement of the members of the United
Nations, Ambassador Charles Yost, the permanent United
States representative to the United Nations in 1972, commented:
“The fact is, of course, that there is a vast amount of hypocrisy
on the subject of political terrorism. We all righteously con-
demn it - except when we or [our] friends are engaging in it.
Then we ignore it or gloss over it or attach to it tags like „libe-
ration‟ or „defense of the free world‟ or „national honor‟ to
make it seem like something [other] than what it is” (The
Christian Science Monitor, 1972: 20). Such contradictory and
dishonest interpretations complicate the problems of conceptu-
alizing and understanding all forms of terrorism.
The problem of terrorism was given less attention until re-
cently when Al Qaeda, a transnational terrorist organization
masterminded by Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, at-
tacked the U.S. and other powerful countries such as Great
Britain and Spain. Even currently, most scholars and non-aca-
demic experts focus on terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda
and fail to engage in a comprehensive study of terrorism. Polit-
ical leaders, non-academic experts, media personalities, as well
as most academics have ignored “the multiple meanings of
terrorism” and focused on “the definition of behaviors, not with
the real relations of domination and subjugation embodied in
social structure” (Perdue, 1989: 10). As some terrorists have
begun to demonstrate their global influence by mastering recent
changes in technologies of communication and transportation
as well as enhancing their organizational skills, the interest in
studying terrorism has expanded (Hamm, 2007: 3). Because the
revolution in technology “makes terrorism easier and deadlier,”
(Black, 2004: 22), the danger of terrorism is now widely felt in
countries that used to be confident in their ability to maintain
security. According to Yonah Alexander, Marjorie Ann
Browne and Allan S. Nanes (1979: 9), “The brutality and glo-
balization of modern violence make it amply clear that we have
entered a unique „Age of Terrorism‟ with all its formidable
problems and frightening ramifications.”
Until recently, only a few political scientists, sociologists,
criminologists and non-academic experts were engaging in
descriptive study of terrorism. Since September 11, 2001, more
scholars and commentators have shown interest in terrorism
studies, and more than one hundred books on terrorism have
been published (Goodwin, 2006: 2027). But these descriptive
studies have not dealt with the political economy of terrorism,
and they have not recognized the importance of ideology in
defining and labeling terrorism. According to William D. Per-
due (1989: 4-5), “For the ideological construction of terrorism
is a function of power; of the ability to control events and to
impose one‟s ways upon others against their will. It follows
from the preliminary and sensitizing argument to this point that
power consists of more than overt force and coercion. Within
its nature must be found an ability to define events and to
broadly disseminate the official view.” The dominant ideology
of terrorism has attempted to dismiss all legitimate national or
revolutionary movements that have attempted to overthrow
oppressive and exploitative institutions and states by labeling
them terrorist movements. In such cases, as Perdue comments:
Terrorism is a label of defamation, a means of excluding those
so branded from human standing. When applied in a one-sided
fashion to those who struggle against established political
structures, it is a means of organizing both the perceptions and
reactions of others in the world community. Once so defined,
those affected may become international lepers. Hence their
objectives, ideology, and historical reason for being will be
dismissed out of hand. Paradoxically then, the very label of
terrorism has of itself assumed a terrifying power (Perdue,
1989: 4).
Although there have been legitimate reasons why colonized
peoples have employed guerrilla methods to liberate them-
selves from colonial institutions, colonial states and their sup-
porters have labeled them “savage” and “terrorist.” “The con-
cept „ideology‟ reflects the one discovery which emerged from
political conflict,” Karl Mannheim (1936: 40) notes, “namely,
that ruling groups can in their thinking become so intensively
interest-bound to a situation that they are simply no longer able
to see certain facts which would undermine their sense of do-
mination.” Since terrorist experts do not deal with the chains of
causation of terrorism, “there is little theoretical knowledge
available about the nature and sources of state organized terror”
(Bushnell et al, 1991: 8) and about other forms of terrorism.
Government officials, journalists, non-academic experts, and
some scholars use the term terrorism without providing either a
rigorous definition or adequate theorization of it. “The domi-
nant ideology of terrorism,” Perdue (1989: 8) notes, “refers to a
specific thought-system held by institutional elite; the higher
circles of political, economic, and military power committed to
the preservation of an existing material and super-structural
This ideology is a roadblock to critically defining and theo-
rizing terrorism. There are scholars who think that we can ade-
quately study terrorism without a comprehensive definition of
it. For example, Walter Laqueur (1977: 5) asserts, “a compre-
hensive definition of terrorism does not exist nor will it be
found in the foreseeable future. To argue that terrorism cannot
be studied without such a definition is manifestly absurd.” Yet,
without an acceptable objective definition of terrorism, our
research into this subject and our effort to deal with it remains
elusive. As Jack P. Gibbs (1989: 329) explains, “Leaving the
definition [of terrorism] implicit is the road to obscurantism.”
This same scholar argues that since “labeling actions as „terror-
ism‟ promotes condemnation of the actors, [and since] a defini-
tion may reflect ideological or political bias,” some scholars
and others have avoided defining terrorism (Gibbs, 1989: 329).
It can be argued that, in the name of political neutrality, most
scholars shy away from comprehensively defining, theorizing,
confronting, and challenging all forms of terrorism as a crime
against humanity.
The life and liberty of all human groups should be recog-
nized and defended on an equal level: morally, politically, and
intellectually. Otherwise, to oppose one form of terrorism while
supporting or promoting another is, I argue, a moral corruption
and self-defeating. To expand our understanding of all forms of
terrorism, we need to broaden our scope by studying the com-
plex subject of terrorism in its global and historical context.
Whether non-state actors, powerful states, or other entities
commit lethal political violence against noncombatant popula-
tions, we must recognize the act as terrorism. However, we
need to know that we cannot adequately understand non-state
terrorism without understanding state terrorism. Paul Wilkinson
(1981: 467) expounds that “we should not lose sight of the
fundamental truth that one couldn‟t adequately understand
terrorist movements without paying some attention to the ef-
fects of the use of force and violence by states. Indeed some of
the best historical case-studies of the use of factional terrorism
as a weapon vividly demonstrate how state violence often helps
to provoke and fuel the violence of terrorist movements.”
The state has the capacity to coordinate and concurrently use
oppression, repression, exploitation, terrorism, and genocide
(Stohl and Lopez, 1984: 7). “Although human rights advocates
have awakened those [who] would listen to the human tragedy
of violation of civil rights and liberties [by every government],”
John F. McCamant (1984: 11) writes, “social scientists have,
by and large, continued to ignore political repression” and state
terrorism. In the globalized world order, state-sponsored terror-
ism still plays a central role in maintaining racial/ethnic hierar-
chies (Jalata, 2001). So without critically comprehending the
causal relationship between bottom-up terrorism and top-down
terrorism and without developing appropriate human
rights-based policies, the so-called war on global terror cannot
effectively address and solve this lethal problem. In the current
global system, the notion of “might is right” is being chal-
lenged with the expansion of modern education, skills, know-
ledge, and technological information in different corners of the
world. With the intensification of globalization and the expan-
sion of knowledge and information, old ideologies that created
and justified double standards among human groups based on
race, culture, religion, and civilization cannot be maintained.
The use of massive human rights violations including terrorism
and genocide are increasingly becoming outdated, unpopular,
unprofitable, and expensive both financially as well as in hu-
man lives, and cannot be sustained.
In an attempt to present a more comprehensive and broader
definition of terrorism, I define terrorism as a systematic go-
vernmental or organizational policy through which lethal vi-
olence is practiced openly or covertly to impose terror on a
given population group, their institutions or symbols, or their
representative members in order to change their behavior of
political resistance to domination or their behavior of domina-
tion for political and economic gains or other reasons. I am not
suggesting that the impact of top-down and bottom-up terror-
ism are the same although all forms of terrorism destroy human
lives, institutions, and properties. Instead, I am arguing that
non-state terrorism is mainly caused by state terrorism directly
or indirectly, and the later is more destructive than the former.
According to John W. Sloan (1984: 84), “Since governmental
groups have the resources of the state at their disposal, they are
usually capable of engaging in higher levels of terrorism than
the guerrillas.” However, transnational terrorist organizations
such as Al Qaeda also have adequate human, financial, and
intellectual resources to impose horrifying terrorist activities on
targeted audiences on a global level.
All forms of terrorists attempt to hide the lethal conse-
quences of terrorism and their crimes against humanity by dis-
coursing over civilization, progress, democracy, national libe-
ration or religion. Some people are easily persuaded by such
discourses and take sides without truly understanding the con-
sequences. Furthermore, the terrorism that powerless or colo-
nized peoples experience receives inadequate attention while
terrorism that is visited upon powerful groups or nations rece-
ives much more attention and publicity. Some states and po-
werful people refuse to address that all human groups have the
right to life and liberty and that they should be protected from
all forms of terrorism.
In the name of “free markets,” economic liberalization, the
promotion of democracy, and a global war against terrorism,
Western powers and some states in the Global South still en-
gage in terrorism and hidden genocide to implement their eco-
nomic and political policies. “The war on terrorism is being
used as a continuation of the war on social justice,” Hester
Eisenstein (2001: 136) writes, “[it is a war] waged with the
economic weapons of the international financial institutions.”
Western powers, multinational corporations, and state elites in
developing countries have collaborated and engaged in massive
human rights violations and terrorism (Richter, 1990) despite
the fact that Western-based human right organizations have
systematically exposed such crimes in different corners of the
world. Bushnell, Shlapentokh, Vanderpool, and Sundram
(1991:11) identify four conditions that are associated with the
development of state terrorism: “They are: 1) distorted concep-
tions of the state and society and their inter-relationship, 2) the
disarray of state institutions, 3) the presence of deep economic
and/or ethnic conflicts in society or between the society and the
state, and 4) state dependence on foreign power.”
State terrorism begets non-state terrorism. In theorizing
non-state terrorism, Roberta Senechal de la Roche (1996:
97-128) asserts that the accumulation of grievances causes
terrorism and “social polarization” between socially and cultu-
rally distant groups. Long standing collective grievances and the
right social geometry, such as a higher degree of cultural and
religious differences, relational distance, and social inequality
between the aggrieved and dominant population groups can
sometimes contribute to the development of non-state terrorism
(Crenshaw, 1981; Black, 2004). Jeff Goodwin (2006: 2038)
advances a theory of categorical terrorism: “The main strategic
objective - the primary incentive - of categorical terrorism is to
induce complicitous civilians to support, or to proactively de-
mand changes in, certain government policies or the govern-
ment itself. Categorical terrorism, in other words, mainly aims
to apply such intense pressure to complicitous civilians that
they will demand that „their‟ government change or abandon
policies that the revolutionaries oppose.” Using this theory,
Goodwin concludes that Al Qaeda attacked the United States
on September 11, 2001, because they considered American
citizens to be “complicitous citizens” who support the foreign
policy of the U.S. in the Middle East.
Similarly, Ward Churchill (2003) severely criticizes the
American people for not preventing U.S. policies and actions
that have caused massive human rights violations around the
world; he also asserts that claiming “innocence” or ignorance
of the facts cannot absolve them from being accountable for the
government that they put in power through election. Faith At-
taguile (2004: 3) also suggests that “until we take responsibility
for terrorism perpetrated in our name, and until we end that
terror, we can‟t stop the terror returned.” However, I assert that
although the American people have moral and political respon-
sibility to make their government accountable, the failure to do
this cannot justify terrorist attacks on them such as that of 9/11.
Churchill (2003: 10) explains why those who oppose unfair
U.S. policies sometimes decide to engage in terrorism and have
twisted minds: “whoever they might otherwise have been or
become the sheer and unrelenting brutality of the circumstances
compelling their response is all but guaranteed to have twisted
and deformed their outlooks in some truly hideous ways.” So
by fighting against Al Qaeda and other related terrorist organi-
zations without dealing with chains of factors that “twisted and
deformed their outlooks in some truly hideous ways,” we can-
not comprehensively understand and solve the problem of
global terrorism and other forms of terrorism. By focusing on
the case of 9/11 and also that of Ethiopian state terrorism, I will
further elaborate on the impact of terrorism from below and
9/11 and Terrorism Studies
The terrorist event of 9/11 shocked me as it did all Ameri-
cans and the international community as a whole. The destruc-
tion of the American human lives was devastating and con-
vinced Americans and others that no one is safe from the threat
of terrorism in the modern world system. The U.S., the current
superpower of the modern world, with its massive nuclear ar-
senal, complex intelligence networks, and highly advanced
military capabilities, was attacked on its own soil by members
of a terrorist organization willing to commit suicide in order to
murder innocent civilians. Before this, I never imagined the
possibility of this kind of terrorism. The use of commercial
planes for a terrorist warfare was new and unexpected. Attest-
ing to this new reality Noam Chomsky (2002: 11-12) states the
The horrifying atrocities of September 11 are something
quite new in world affairs, not in their scale and character,
but in the target. For the United States, this is the first time
since the War of 1812 that the national territory has been
under attack, or even threatened. Many commentators have
brought up a Pearl Harbor analogy, but that is misleading.
On December 7, 1941, military bases in two U.S. colonies
were attackednot the national territory, which was never
threatened. The U.S. preferred to call Hawaii a „territory,‟
but it was in effect a colony. During the past several hundred
years the U.S. annihilated the indigenous population - inter-
vened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii
and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipi-
nos), and, in the past half century particularly, extended its
resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of
victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been di-
rected the other way. That is a dramatic change.
This new “dramatic change” in world affairs forces us to go
beyond an ideologically and culturally blind lens to understand
the causes and effects of all forms of terrorism in the modern
world system.
On September 11, 2001, nineteen terrorists belonging to the
Al Qaeda network hijacked four U.S. commercial jet planes
and crashed two planes into the twin towers of New York‟s
World Trade Center and one into the headquarters of the De-
partment of Defense, the Pentagon, in Washington D.C. Amer-
ican Flight 11 was crashed into Tower One of the World Trade
Center at 8:45 a. m., tearing a gaping hole into the building and
setting it afire. United Airlines Flight 175 was crashed into
Tower Two at 9:03 a. m. Both buildings started to burn fu-
riously, sending a massive cloud of dust and debris into the air.
Consequently, Tower Two collapsed to the ground at about
10:05 a.m. and Tower One at 10:28 a. m. At 9:43 a. m., a third
plane, American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon,
the U.S. military headquarters, killing 184 people and destroy-
ing a section of the building. After a huge plume of smoke went
up, a portion of the Pentagon collapsed at 10:10 a. m. A fourth
jet crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, at 10:10 a. m.
without reaching its target, which was probably the White
House or the Pentagon or the Capitol. As a result of this crash
in Pennsylvania, 40 people perished. The terrorists who hi-
jacked these four commercial planes attacked American mili-
tary and economic symbols to undermine American confidence
in the modern world system.
These terrorists successfully transformed these commercial
jets into war machines that terrorized the citizens of the United
States and committed horrific crimes against humanity. The
effects of these terrorist attacks were devastating and shocking:
3,000 people were murdered “in these attacks, the vast majority
of them in the collapse of the New York skyscrapers, whose
metal structure melted in the fires caused by the explosion of
the two airliners” (Blin 2007: 413). Furthermore, 343 firefight-
ers lost their lives and 1,337 vehicles were crashed when the
towers collapsed. According to Arnaud Blin (2007: 413), “The
9/11 attacks were the highest achievement yet by a terrorist
group: in media terms (the attacks were broadcast alive around
the world); symbolically (the attacks struck at the core of
America‟s center and military establishment); and statistically,
with the large numbers of victims (the term „mega terrorism‟
was used). There was no doubt that, psychologically, America
and much of the world, especially in the West, was in a state of
Like other forms of terrorism, this terrorism did not spare
children, women, and elders. Thousands of children also lost
their parents. The surviving families and the relatives of terror-
ist victims were denied any closure and comfort that they could
have received from a proper burial “because many of the vic-
tims of the twin towers disaster were burned beyond recogni-
tion and beyond identification by DNA matching” (Gareau,
2004: 11). Although it is very difficult to know exactly the
financial damage inflicted upon the United States by the event
of 9/11, one source estimates it to be about $285 billion. Ac-
cording to the Office of Management and Budget, without in-
cluding Homeland Security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
and other global wars on terroristic operations since 9/11 cost
$110 billion by FY 2007. In the past, it was usually the West
and their client states in the Rest that engaged in state terrorism.
But in the case of 9/11, a terrorist group from the Rest, the
Middle East particularly attacked the United States. The terror-
ist events of 9/11 changed the modern world dramatically;
consequently we have entered into an age of terror. Due to new
technologies and new organizational capacities the West “lost
their virtual monopoly of violence” and “[f]or the first time in
modern history was subjected, on home soil, to the kind of
atrocity that they routinely have carried out elsewhere”
(Chomsky, 2002: 119). This terrorist tragedy would help us in
correctly and profoundly reflecting on the proximate and im-
mediate causes of all forms of terrorism in order to find a last-
ing solution for this crime against humanity.
The 9/11 terrorist episodes renewed in my mind the night-
mares, pain, and frustration that forced me to leave my homel-
and, Oromia. It made me feel that terrorism was following me
to the United States, a place that I thought was immune to ter-
rorism. The terrorism events of 9/11 traumatized the citizens of
the United States as well as me just like successive Ethiopian
regimes have been terrorizing the Oromo and other peoples.
The only difference is that the former was committed by a
transnational terrorist organization and the latter by a state with
support from global powers, particularly the United States. To
illustrate the impact of state terrorism, let us explore the effects
of Ethiopian state terrorism on the Oromo people.
The Impact of Ethiopian State Terrorism
on the Oromos
The Ethiopian colonial terrorism that started during the last
decades of the 19th century still continues into the 21st century.
Ethiopia, formerly known as former Abyssinia, terrorized and
committed genocide on the Oromo and other peoples during the
Scramble for Africa with the help of European imperial powers
and the modern weapons they received from them (Holcomb
and Ibssa, 1990; Jalata, 1993). During Ethiopian colonial ex-
pansion, Oromia, “the charming Oromo land, [would] be
ploughed by the iron and the fire; flooded with blood and the
orgy of pillage” (De Salviac, 2005[1901]: 349). Calling this
event as “the theatre of a great massacre,” Martial De Salviac
(2005: 349) states,
The conduct of Abyssinian armies invading a land is simply
barbaric. They contrive a sudden irruption, more often at
night. At daybreak, the fire begins; surprised men in the huts
or in the fields are three quarter massacred and horribly mu-
tilated; the women and the children and many men are re-
duced to captivity; the soldiers lead the frightened herds to-
ward the camp, take away the grain and the flour which they
load on the shoulders of their prisoners spurred on by blows
of the whip, destroy the harvest, then, glutted with booty and
intoxicated with blood, go to walk a bit further from the de-
vastation. That is what they call „civilizing a land.‟
Oral stories passed down by the Oromo oral story also testi-
fies that Ethiopians/Abyssinians (Amharas and Tigrayans) and
their supporters destroyed and looted the resources of Oromia,
committed genocide against the Oromo people during and after
they colonized Oromia through massacring, enslavement, de-
population, cutting of hands, man-mad famines, and diseases. It
was particularly European firearms that enabled the Abyssi-
nians to defeat their formidable contenders, the Oromos. Ac-
cording to Martial De Salviac (2005: 8), “With equal arms, the
Abyssinia [would] never [conquer] an inch of land. With the
power of firearms imported from Europe, Menelik [Abyssinian
warlord] began a murderous revenge.” The violent colonization
of Oromia, the Oromo country, involved human tragedy and
the merchandizing of the Oromo: “The Abyssinian, in bloody
raids, operated by surprise, mowed down without pity, in the
country of the Oromo population, a mournful harvest of slaves
for which the Muslims were thirsty and whom they bought at
very high price. An Oromo child [boy] would cost up to 800
francs in Cairo; an Oromo girl would well be worth two thou-
sand francs in Constantinople” (De Salviac, 2005: 8).
The Ethiopian colonial government massacred half of the en-
tire Oromo population (five million out of ten million) and their
leadership during its colonial expansion into Oromia (De Sal-
viac, 2005: 6-8, 278; Bulatovich, 2000: 68-69). According to
Alexander Bulatovich (2000: 68-69), “The dreadful annihila-
tion of more than half of the population during the conquest
took away from the Gallas [Oromos] all possibilities of think-
ing about any sort of uprising.” The destruction of Oromo lives,
institutions, and liberty were aspects of Ethiopian colonial ter-
Most Oromos who used to enjoy an egalitarian democratic
system known as the gadaa system (Legessee, 2000) were
forced after colonization to face political repression and an
impoverished life. Before their colonization, the Oromo had the
gadaa system that had the principles of checks and balances,
balanced opposition, and power sharing between higher and
lower administrative organs to prevent the falling power into
the hands of despots. Other aspects included a balanced repre-
sentation of clans, lineages, regions, and confederacies; ac-
countability of leaders; the settlement of disputes through re-
conciliation; and respect for basic rights and liberties.
Alexander Bulatovich (2000: 68) explains about the gadaa
administration, and notes that: The peaceful free way of life,
which could have become the ideal for philosophers and writers
of the eighteenth century, if they had known it, was completely
changed. Their peaceful way of life is broken; freedom is lost;
and the independent, freedom loving Gallas [Oromos] find
themselves under the severe authority of the Abyssinian con-
Ethiopian colonialists also destroyed Oromo natural re-
sources and the beauty of Oromia. Oromia was once “an oasis
luxuriant with large trees” and known for its “opulent and dark
greenery used to shoot up from the soil” (De Salviac, 2005:
21-22). Bulatovich (2000: 21) who visited Oromia between
1892 and 1896 applied to this country the phrase “flowing in
milk and honey” to indicate its abundant wealth in cattle and
honey. De Salviac (2005: 21) also notes that “the greenery and
the shade delight the eyes all over and give the landscape rich-
ness and a variety which make it like a garden without boun-
dary. Healthful climate, uniform and temperate, fertility of the
soil, beauty of the inhabitants, the security in which their hous-
es seem to be situated, makes one dream of remaining in such a
beautiful country.” Yet, the Abyssinian colonialists devastated
“the forests by pulling from it the laths for their houses and
[made] camp fires or firewood for their dwellings…. [They
were] the great destructors of trees, others [accused] them of
exercising their barbarity against the forests for the sole plea-
sure of ravaging” (De Salviac, 2005: 20).
The Ethiopian colonial state established settler colonialism in
Oromia and developed five major types of colonial institutions,
namely, slavery, the colonial landholding system, the naf-
xanya-gabbar system (semi-slavery), the collaborative class,
and garrison and non-garrison cities. It introduced the process
of forced recruitment of labor via slavery and the naf-
xanya-gab- bar (semi-slavery) system (Holcomb and Ibssa,
1990: 135). The colonial state expropriated almost all Oromo
lands and divided up and distributed the land and its inhabitants
among colonial officials, soldiers and their collaborators in
order to extract by force agricultural commodities and food for
both local consumption and the international market. The re-
maining Oromos were reduced to serfs, slaves or semi-slaves
and coerced to work without remuneration for the settlers, in-
termediaries, and the colonial state for certain days every week.
Whenever they failed to provide free labor or pay taxes or tri-
butes, the settlers enslaved their children and wives.
The repression, exploitation, and terrorism started under the
reign of Menelik continued under successive Ethiopian gov-
ernments. The Haile Selassie government continued the poli-
cies of Menelik until it was overthrown by the popular revolt of
1974. The Haile Selassie government terrorized the Oromo of
Raya-Azabo, Wallo, Hararghe, Bale and other regions because
of their political and cultural resistance to the Amhara-Tigray
domination. It also imprisoned, tortured, and hanged prominent
Oromo leaders such as Mamo Mazamir and Haile Mariam Ga-
mada and banded Oromo civic organizations and musical
groups in the 1960s.
The military regime that emerged in 1974 under the leader-
ship of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam to replace the Haile
Selassie government also continued dictatorial rule, colonial
policies and colonial terrorism. When Oromo activists and the
people started to resist the military regime, the regime intensi-
fied its state terrorism. The military regime (derg) and its sup-
porters committed massive human rights violations in the name
of the “Ethiopian Revolution.” According to Norman J. Singer
(1978: 672-673),
Those killed in the first three months of [the] campaign [of]
the „Red Revolutionary Terror‟ numbered around 4000-5000
[in Finfinnee alone], the killings continued in March 1978,
spreading to the rest of the country Those detained for political
instruction numbered from 30,000 upwards Torture methods
emphasized in the Red Terror included severe beating on the
head, soles of the feet and shoulders, with the victim hung by
the wrists or suspended by wrists and feet from a horizontal bar;
sexual torture of boys and girls, including pushing bottles or
red-hot iron bars into girls‟ vaginas; and other cruel methods.
The derg continued its terrorism, mass imprisonments, and
killings throughout its rule. In 1980, one Oromo source men-
tioned that “the Oromo constitutes the majority of the more
than two million prisoners that glut Ethiopia‟s jails today (The
Oromo Relief Association, 1980: 30). In the 1980s, thousands
of Oromo nationalists were murdered or imprisoned; the re-
gime also terrorized other elements of Oromo society. Accord-
ing to Gunnar Hasselblatt (1992: 17-19),
The military government repeatedly held mass shootings
among the Oromo population, hoping to break the free, in-
dependent Oromo spirit. Sometimes a hundred, sometimes
two hundred men were shot on this raised dry field and were
buried with bulldozers. Over years this procedure was re-
peated several times. When the method did not work and the
Oromo population could not be forced into submission, other
methods were used. The victims were made to lie down with
their heads on stone, and their skulls were smashed with
another stone. The government tried everything to consoli-
date its reign of terror and exploitation of Oromia When the
Oromo movement could not be quenched by shooting or by
the smashing of skulls, [the government] came up with a new
idea. Men‟s testicles were smashed between a hammer and
an anvil. Three men tortured and maimed in this way are still
As Ethiopia terrorized and colonized the Oromo nation with
the help of European powers such as Great Britain, France, and
Italy, it has maintained its oppressive and repressive structures
by receiving assistance from successive global powers, namely
Great Britain, the former Soviet Union, and United States (Ja-
lata, 2001). Today, Ethiopian colonial settlers led by the Ti-
grayan-led regime have dominated cities in Oromia and segre-
gated the Oromo national majority in urban and rural areas and
kept them under “Ethiopian political slavery” by using the ar-
my, modern weaponry, the media, communication and infor-
mation apparatus and networks. Using political violence, the
Tigrayan authoritarian-terrorist regime has totally controlled
the Oromo and denied them the freedom of expression, associ-
ation, organization, and the media, and all forms of communi-
cation and information networks.
Since the Tigrayan-dominated Ethiopian government is weak,
illegitimate, and lacks accountability and professionalism, it
engages in terrorism and hidden genocide to protect its power.
This regime is committed to improving the living standards of
the Tigrayan population group at the cost of colonized popula-
tion groups, particularly the Oromos.Since most of the Oromo
people, under the leadership of the Oromo Liberation Front
(OLF), are determined to challenge the racist and terrorist pol-
icy of this regime, this government mainly targets to destruct
and devastate the Oromos (Jalata, 2005: 243-247). Ethiopian
state terrorism manifests itself in different forms. Its obvious
manifestation is violence in the form of unjustified war, assas-
sination, murder, castration, burying alive, throwing off cliffs,
hanging, torture, rape, forcing people to submission by intimi-
dation, beating, and disarmament (Pollock; 1996, 1997; Tru-
eman, 1997).
Former prisoners have testified that their arms and legs were
tied tightly together on their backs and their naked bodies were
whipped. Large containers or bottles filled with water were
fixed to their testicles, or if they were women, bottles or poles
were pushed into their vaginas. There were prisoners who were
locked up in empty steel barrels and tormented with heat in the
tropical sun during the day and with cold at night. There were
also prisoners who were forced into pits so that fire could be
made on top of them. Currently, tens of thousands of Oromos
are imprisoned, tortured, harassed or killed by the Meles re-
gime because of their continuing struggle for national
self-determination and democracy. Although it is not possible
to exactly know at this time how many Oromos have been
murdered because the Meles government keeps this type of
information hidden, the Oromia Support Group in 1996 re-
ported that there were “3,981 extra-judicial killings and 943
disappearances [euphemism for hidden murder] of civilians
suspected of supporting groups opposing the government” (The
Oromia Support Group, 2007: 1). Since 1992, security forces
have imprisoned thousands of Oromos on charges of plotting
armed insurrections on behalf of the Oromo Liberation Front
(OLF). Such accusations have regularly been used as a trans-
parent pretext to imprison individuals who publicly question
government policies or actions. Security forces have tortured
many detainees and subjected them to continuing harassment
and abuse for years after their release. Such harassment has in
turn often destroyed victims‟ ability to earn a livelihood and
has isolated them from their communities.
People like the Oromos who do not have personal safety in
their own homes or public safety in their communities and also
who are denied the freedom of expression, association, and
organization, do not have a good quality of life. In this 21st
century, with quickly changing world due to the intensification
of globalization, social revolutions, and revolutions in technol-
ogy, information, communication, and transportation, the
Oromo people are in the darkness of ignorance and poverty.
When a community or a society lacks independence or auton-
omy to determine its own political destiny, it is confronted with
the problems of underdevelopment, which is characterized by
powerlessness, victimization, illiteracy, poverty, and other
forms of socioeconomic crises. Ethiopian state repression and
violence including terrorism have resulted in deep social, polit-
ical, cultural and economic crises in Oromo society.
Reflecting on Ethiopian and Al Qaeda
The dramatic terrorist event on September 11, 2001, in the
U.S. reminded me about the destruction of human lives and
liberty within the Ethiopia under the terrorist regimes of Men-
gistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi, responsible for the
massacring of millions of Oromos and others because of their
political beliefs and ethnonational backgrounds. The current
Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government practices state terrorism
against the Oromo, Sidama, Annuak, and Somali peoples as a
means of establishing political stability and order.
Despite the fact that Ethiopian terrorism has been committed
by successive Ethiopian governments and the 9/11 terror attack
was committed by a transnational organization, I argue that the
effects of these forms terrorism are very similar. Like the inno-
cent Americans who were burned alive and denied a proper
burial during the terrorist episodes of 9/11, most Oromos who
have been murdered by agents of the Ethiopian government are
eaten by hyenas and denied a proper burial as well. The relatives
of murdered Oromos are not allowed to cry to express their
sadness according to their cultural tradition. Except from human
rights organizations such Amnesty International and Africa
Watch, no attention has been given to the terrorism committed
against the Oromo people. Unfortunately, the stories of millions
of Oromos who have been massacred by successive Ethiopian
regimes are little known by the international community.
While the U.S. and its allies are fighting against Al Qaeda
and also engaging in an offensive war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and
other countries, the Oromo people are mainly engaged in
peaceful resistance without any support from the international
community. Since I have no capacity to change this situation of
the lack of international support for the Oromo, it pains and
frustrates me. Furthermore, what is disturbing to me is that the
U.S. government, my government, financially, militarily, and
diplomatically supports the Ethiopian terrorist regime. My
government assists the Meles regime, a regime that terrorizes
my people, the Oromo, just as it supported the Haile Selassie
regime from the 1950s to the 1970s (Jalata, 2005). When the
Ethiopian military regime was overthrown in 1991, the U.S.
came back to Ethiopia and continued its previous policy of
supporting the Ethiopia state. What frustrates me more are the
claims the U.S. government makes while supporting the Ethio-
pian government. It claims that it is committed to promoting
democracy, human rights, and development in Ethiopia; it also
claims that the Meles regime is one of its allies in fighting
against global terrorism. Most Americans may believe these
claims, but the reality on the ground in Ethiopia falsifies them
(Jalata, 2005: 148-153).
Despite the fact that the U.S. government supports the re-
gime of Ethiopia, a regime that engages in terrorism, it recog-
nizes that the human rights of the Oromo and other peoples in
Ethiopia are being violated. The U. S. State Department has
annually published Country Reports on Human Rights practices
of every country in the world since 1977 to claim that it cares
for human rights. However, the U.S. government only gives lip
service to the issues of human rights violations by terrorist
states because “congress . . . has decreed that the executive cut
off aid to any country that by its actions reveals a consistent
pattern of violating human rights. No matter the restrictions,
administrations determined to provide aid to governments prac-
ticing terrorism or in other ways violating human rights have
usually succeeded. Moreover, the restrictions and the reporting
give the impression that Washington is a firm upholder of hu-
man rights and a foe of terrorism (Gareau, 2004: 16). In his
impressive study, Frederick H. Gareau (2004: 16) demonstrates
how the U. S. government supported state terrorism in Chile, El
Salvador, Argentina, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iraq, Cambodia
(the Khmer Rouge), and South Africa, and has therefore con-
tributed to the terrorist victimization of political and human
rights activists, peasants, workers, union leaders, teachers, and
priests and nuns. He concludes “that Washington was, and
continues to be, an accomplice to state terrorism” (Gareau,
2004: 16).
The U.S. government has supported dictatorial and terrorist
regimes such as Pinochet‟s government of of Chile. Despite the
fact that the terrorist events of 9/11 have forced the U.S. gov-
ernment to reevaluate its position on all forms terrorism, it is
still “an accomplice to” the terrorism of states like that of
Ethiopia. Washington‟s attempt to reevaluate its position is
reflected in National Security Strategy of the United States of
America (2002: 2): “to make clear that all acts of terrorism are
illegitimate so that terrorism will be viewed in the same light as
slavery, piracy, or genocide: behavior that no respectable gov-
ernment can condone or support and all must oppose”. In actu-
ality, if the U.S. government wants to directly confront the
underlying causes of terrorism and oppose all forms of terror-
ism, it must recognize that state terrorism is a crime against
humanity just as terrorism by non-state actors like Al Qaeda is
and that it needs to stop supporting terrorist governments such
as that of Ethiopia. What is a key to recognizing is that it is im-
possible to eliminate one form of terrorism while engaging in
and/or supporting another.
Discussion and Conclusions
This paper has discussed current positions in studies of ter-
rorism in an attempt to highlight the gaps in our knowledge of
terrorism and to push forward an argument that can improve
our understanding of what terrorism is in order to eliminate it. I
have employed multidimensional, comparative methods, case
studies, and critical approaches to examine the dynamic inter-
play among social structures, human agency, and terrorism and
to grasp the issues of terrorism and globalization. I have as-
serted that without employing such approaches in studying
terrorism, we will only continue to hold current dominant in-
tellectual, political, philosophical, and ideological paradigms of
domination and subordination that only perpetuate terrorist
conflicts leading to a breakdown of the current global order.
While some states engage in terrorist activities in order to
promote their economic and political agendas, non-state terror-
ist agencies use similar techniques to oppose and challenge
such policies, behavior, and practices. Therefore, without mak-
ing governments that engage in state terrorism directly or indi-
rectly accountable for their policies and practices and without
understanding and dealing with the root problems of terrorism,
we cannot deal with a branch of terrorism: terrorism from be-
low. As a crime against humanity, terrorism is a dark side of
human civilization. Hence, it is urgent that scholars establish a
single moral, intellectual, legal, and political position in the
study and understanding of all forms of terrorism and suggest
pragmatic policies to reduce and eventually eliminate the prob-
lem of terrorism in all its manifestations.
One of the central problems that all people who believe in
social justice, human rights, peace, and democracy must con-
front is the lack of a single moral, legal, philosophical, intel-
lectual standard to study, understand, and deal with all forms of
terrorism. I have argued that whether terrorism is promoted by
states or subversive organizations, it must be rejected both on
policy and practical levels. The mechanisms of stopping terror-
ism and genocide require human-centric visions that go beyond
self- and group-centered interests and ideologies that accept
and practically implement the Universal Declarations of Hu-
man Rights that expand democracy, and that establish an egali-
tarian and democratic world order.
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