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Period: This Generation »


Commentary on: Terrorism »

Prof Andrew Jakubowicz.

Text Commentary

Fear is one of the most powerful and deeply seated human emotions, preparing the body for a survival struggle or energising the body to escape danger – fight or flight. Terror, the use of extreme violence or threats of violence to change the behaviour of the target, focuses on destroying the humanity of its victims through instilling overwhelming fear.

Terrorism can be defined as the use or threat of violence against civilian populations for political ends. The aim is to so frighten a population or group that it will change its behaviour, or pressure its government to change. It is designed to have psychological repercussions beyond the specific target. Terrorism can occur either within or outside a formal declaration of war.

Most totalitarian regimes have used terror against their own populations, controlling them through fear. In the post World War II period terrorism has increasingly come to refer to the practice of “non-state” actors (revolutionary groups, liberation struggles) directing violence against non-combatants. Terrorism is a process for achieving political outcomes – it is not affected by whether the outcomes are those you support or oppose. Many organisations labelled “terrorist” in colonial situations in the past have become part of governments of new nations.

Images of terrorism are everywhere in the modern world – with examples such as Iraq, Palestine/Israel, New York, Darfur in Africa. Terrorism occurs whenever the violence of the terrorist disrupts normal human activities – between ethnic groups, against a state, and between religious communities.

Australians have experienced terrorism, in New York (Australians died in the Twin Towers attacks of 11 September 2001), in Israel, and in Indonesia (the Bali bombings of October 2002). The Australian government has adopted much tighter security laws in response to these events. Some people believe that such laws seriously undermine human rights and give too much power to the government to intrude into peoples’ privacy. Others believe the laws are necessary to protect the freedoms that come from living in a democratic society.

Whichever view you take, there is little doubt that the fear of terrorism has deeply influenced politics, social life, inter-community relations and confidence in the future in Australia.