Tom Goldstein, "Does Terrorism Have a History?"


In the early 20th century, Wahabism made a comeback. When the Saudi dynasty gained control of what is now Saudi Arabia, the Wahabis wanted Saudi Arabia to become an example of Muslim purity. By the 1970's Islamic revivalism had begun to threaten nationalism in the Middle East.

Dr. Zilfi next addressed the issue of how extremist groups in the Middle East have gained so much strength. She stated that their strength comes from piggybacking their political goals onto pre-existing conflicts and grievances. They redefine those grievances for a much greater audience. For example, the PLO wants a Palestinian national state. Extremists such as Osama Bin Laden redefine this conflict as a religious struggle - Israel is occupying a religious space. These claims are aided by media images of Palestinian casualties, including children. The strength of Bin Laden and others thus comes from their ability to find resonance in the larger Arab population.

Dr. Zilfi concluded her section of the discussion by stating that what is important in understanding the advent of terrorist groups in the Middle East today is that religious goals alone do not create strong terrorist groups - contingent politics are also critical.

Dr. David-Fox spoke next about terrorism in late 19th and early 20th century Russia. He began by agreeing with historian Walter Lacquer's statement that one cannot comprehensively define terrorism because the meaning changes in different contexts. He argued that modern terrorism began in the second half of the 19th century in Russia with a group called The People's Will who conducted numerous assassinations, including

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