October 8, 2001, less than a month after the September 11 terrorist
attacks, the Center for Historical Studies sponsored a panel discussion
entitled "Does Terrorism Have a History?" On the panel were Middle East
historian Madeleine Zilfi, Russian historian Michael David-Fox, European
historian Jeffrey Herf, and African historian David Gordon. Each historian
spoke individually about terrorism in his or her region of expertise,
placing that terrorism within a historical context. The presentations
were then followed by questions from the audience.
After a brief introduction by University of Maryland History Department
Chair John Lampe, Dr. Zilfi began the discussion by speaking about the
history of terror in the Middle East, focusing specifically on the Wahabism
movement. Wahabism is a movement of religious radicals growing out of
Saudi Arabia who promote a word for word interpretation of the Koran.
Wahabism also claims to have the sole proper interpreters of the Koran
and any that disagree are subject to death or forced conversion. Wahabism
grew to prominence in the 18th century, attacking pilgrimage caravans
to Mecca. In these attacks, Dr. Zilfi explained, 10,000 people were
killed. These massacres continued into the 19th century, and the Wahabis
even destroyed two Shiite cities including Medina, the place where the
Islamic prophet Mohammed was buried. Soon after these attacks, though,
the Wahabis were put down by force and many were executed.