The Foundations of Modern Terrorism
The purpose of this course is to explore the historical roots of modern political violence. Contrary to popular belief, terrorism is not a recent phenomenon traceable to extremist factions or pathological individuals. It has, in fact, been an integral part of the policies of many governments and societies around the globe for centuries. Terrorist organizations can be found in ancient Israel, twelfth century Islam, and fourteenth century India. Theories of achieving a more just society through the tactical use of violence abound in Western Europe long before the French revolution among both authorities in power and insurgents who desire it. In the nineteenth century, however, modern terrorism emerged out of these earlier traditions and coalesced into the structure and ideology with which we are familiar today.
The course will proceed chronologically. We shall first read portions of the ancient and medieval discussions of "tyrannicide," and analyze the earliest insurgent groups dedicated to terrorism. The core of the course will focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the emphasis on trends in Western Europe, Russia and America. Distinctions will be made throughout between state terrorism and insurgent movements dedicated to the use of violence. The course will conclude with an analysis of the American terrorist organizations of the 1960s and of the subsequent rise of Islamic jihadi violence.
Readings will include both primary sources and historical analyses mainly in the period between the French Revolution and 9/11. Students will also view a number of documentary films, including the secretly produced “Underground” (1974) in which members of the radical Weather Underground seek to examine and explain their terrorist acts. There will be two papers, one at midterm and on at term’s end.