Tom Goldstein, "Does Terrorism Have a History?"


Dr. Gordon was the last panel member to speak and he addressed the very loose definition of terrorism in 19th and 20th century African history. The late 19th century, he argued that Africans were terrorized by Europeans in wars of conquest. He also mentioned the 1967 Biafran war and the 1994 Rwandan genocide where 800,000 civilians were killed. None of these were called terrorist acts even though they perhaps should have been. They are instead called "rebel army" actions.

He then arrived at the main point of his talk - the ambiguous definition of which people are terrorists in African history. The African National Congress, for example, was identified as a terrorist group at one point by the apartheid South African government. Dr. Gordon then stated that there is a relative definition of terrorism in Africa - what one person sees as a terrorist another person can see as a freedom fighter. The term "terrorism" was used to label small groups of individuals with more or less power than the government. These groups would use hit-and-run tactics against the military or citizens. "Terrorists" was a label used for Africans fighting colonial powers. He concludes by stating that terrorism has certain meanings in African history that will linger as the United States fights a war against terrorism.

After each of the panel participants had spoken, the floor was opened up for questions from the audience. The first question concerned the definition of terrorism, upon which Dr. Herf reasserted his definition of the attempted or actual murder of any non-military person for a political purpose. The next question concerned whether the United States

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