"Does Terrorism Have a History?"
A Panel Discussion Sponsored
by the Center for Historical Studies

Tom Goldstein


On 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.

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