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Terrorism

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I don't believe in any form of unjustified extremism! But when a man is exercising extremism-a human being is exercising extremism in defense of liberty for human beings it's no vice, and one is moderate in the pursuit of justice for human beings I say he is a sinner – Malcolm X

Extremism: The New Patriotism

The recent rise of Islamic extremism on the international stage has alarmed many individuals around the world. Theories about the cause of its rapid and often time’s violent expansion have ranged from reactions to US foreign policy to the fall of “moderate secular” rulers in the Middle East. While these may be important contributing factors to the rise of Islamic extremism it is important that it is recognize for what it truly is: a form of patriotism. This is true for all other forms of radical extremism existing today and in the near past. Whether it is in defense of a nation-state, religion, or region extremists of all stripes, whether morally right or wrong can be viewed as being deeply patriotic regarding their cause. This can be seen not only in today’s contemporary Islamic extremists, but also in the Irish Republican Army during the 20th century, and even as far back as the French Revolution.

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Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism simply as “a devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.” It also defines terrorism as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” It must also be understood that these definitions are not universal, as these interpretations of the words depend on the geographic location, as well as the context of which it’s being used and the political ideology. As referenced above, the IRA is a perfect example of how patriotism and terrorism can be used to describe the same group, depending on your views politically and geographically. The Irish Republican Army to themselves were patriots, wanting Ireland to be a nation free of British rule; but to the British they were terrorists who used violence and fear to eventually help gain independence (Cowell-Meyers). The guerrilla tactics used by the IRA to combat the British police force and the Black and Tans, as well as the destruction of homes and other buildings, can be compared to the actions of “terrorist” groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Another instance in which patriotism and terrorism can be defined in the eye of the beholder is the American Revolution. While it may be accurate to say that the revolution itself wasn’t an act of terrorism the actions of many individual revolutionaries and revolutionary groups such as the sons of liberty were incredibly violent and can be seen as acts of terror. The largest and most infamous act that can be viewed as terroristic in nature was the Boston Tea Party in which members of the Sons of Liberty proceeded to empty three ships worth and 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Was this a terrorist action? Only perspective can answer that question. The British by and large saw this as a treasonous action punishable by death. However, the perpetrators and American Colonists viewed it as a patriotic act by noble and brave freedom fighters. “Attempts by the British government to raise revenue by taxing the colonies (notably Judd 3

the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Tariffs of 1767 and the Tea Act of 1773) met with heated protest among many colonists, who resented their lack of representation in Parliament and demanded the same rights as other British subjects” (History.com) In addition the American Colonists responded to the Stamp Act of 1765 in many different often terroristic ways. The New York Sons of Liberty for example, stated that they would “go to the last extremity” to prevent the enforcement of the Stamp Act. Occasionally, their protests took extremely violent turns. In April, 1765 violence broke out with the arrival of a shipment of stamped paper to the Royal Governor’s residence and a raucous mob captured the governor’s coach and burned it to the ground. The mob of extremist “patriots” then proceeded to smash numerous windows and commit acts of vandalism throughout the city including tarring and feathering Loyalists. In the end, no universal conclusions, the British certainly believed that the Sons of Liberty were terrorists and not the patriots that they viewed themselves to be. The Sons of Liberty were advocating the overthrow of the British government in the American colonies, an act that was surely treasonous at the least. However, can they also be seen as a patriotic organization? There were many American Colonists who believed that they were and viewed them not as agitators or terrorists but freedom fighters advocating for their natural rights. Once again, perspective shows us that the distinction between two can be murky at best.

"Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible", these are the words of one of the most polarizing individuals ever to be named patriot and or terrorist, Maximillian Robespierre. Robespierre was the architect of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. As the leader of the Committee of Public Safety and the executive committee of the National Judd 4

Convention, he was the most powerful man in France. The Terror was designed to fight the enemies of the French Revolution and to prevent a counter-revolution. “Over 17,000 people were officially tried and executed during the Reign of Terror, and an unknown number of others died in prison or without trial” (History). In this aspect it can be seen as a patriotic event and its mastermind a patriot of the highest order. However, the majority of the people sent to the guillotine were not enemies of the state, but common people. If an informer happened to overhear a person say words contrary to the revolution, then he could be hauled off to await his deadly fate. Watch Committees around the nation were encouraged to arrest individuals who spoke there mind or acted contrary to the revolutions founding principles, thereby subjecting the nation to a state of terror. Civil liberties were suspended and the lofty promises of the Declaration of the Rights of Man were discarded. The Terror and Robespierre ruled the day. Robespierre said of the Terror that "Softness to traitors will destroy us all". In many ways he and the Terror can be seen as a patriot vanguard set in place to secure the ideals of the revolution. However, his willingness to drape the nation of France in a cloak of killing and bloodshed can also be viewed as an act of terror and he himself a terrorist.

Through the examples of the Irish republican Army, Sons of Liberty, and French Revolutionaries we can see that the distinction between patriot and terrorist can be muddied by perspective. The actions of certain groups in effort to gain religious or political freedoms can oftentimes have dire and deadly outcomes. However we must not be quick to blindly label these acts without first thoroughly reviewing them. And while doing so may not justify the acts themselves it lends a unique perspective on the individuals and groups committing them and Judd 5

their reasons for doing so. Through this we might be able to temper our own passions and think twice before resorting to a violent means of settling our political/religious differences, lest we be willing to be labeled patriot or terrorist.

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Works Cited
Arthur, Paul. Irish Republican Army (IRA). Encyclopedia Britannica. 13FEB2014. Web. 1APR2015
Cowell-Meyers, Kimberly. Irish Republican Army (IRA). Encyclopedia Britannica. 13FEB2014. Web. 1APR2015
History.com Staff. French Revolution. History.com. 2009. Web. 1APR2015
History.com Staff. American Revolution. History.com. 2009. Web. 1APR2015
Wallace, Willard M. American Revolution: United States History. Encyclopedia Britannica. 29OCT2014. Web. 1APR2015

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