The human being throughout his existence has been witness and protagonist of the struggle between good and evil. History illustrates from different perspectives how man has evolved and has become a being of knowledge, ideals and interests. When these are not fulfilled or satisfied, different mechanisms are established to obtain them.
In this context, terrorism is not a new phenomenon; it has been used either to exercise the power of the State in an excessive way or to claim interests in a violent way when groups of different kinds have felt threatened or affected. Psychological imbalance is not a critical factor in explaining terrorism, nor is an angry mob. Rather, it is a phenomenon linked to important political situations in different periods of history.
Thus, David C. Rapoport, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California, argues in an article published in 2004 that modern terrorism has manifested itself in waves defined as: “a cycle of events in a given time, a cycle characterized by phases of contraction and expansion, in which a series of terrorist groups from different states commit terrorist actions”.
This theory and the postulation of the four waves would gain importance after the event that marked a before and after in the conception of terrorism, since it made it of worldwide significance and with the need for global strategies to eliminate it: September 11, 2001. The September 11 attacks triggered the invasion of Afghanistan and the beginning of an unprecedented terrorist struggle.
In the 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, then U.S. President George W. Bush defined the terrorist struggle. “We are engaged in a global struggle against the followers of a murderous ideology that despises freedom, eliminates all dissent, has territorial ambitions, and pursues totalitarian goals (…). And against such an enemy, there is only one effective response; we will never retreat, never yield, and never accept anything less than total victory (…). We will defeat the terrorists and their ideology of hate by spreading the hope of freedom around the world (…). The security of our nation depends on the advancement of freedom in other nations,” he said.
According to Rapoport, each of these waves are repeated over time but the motivations and doctrines are different; they are led by organizations that have the possibility of enduring or not over time, and this is determined by their ability to transform and adapt to changes. Their duration is approximately 40 years, except for the third wave for reasons that we will explain later. The above are common characteristics that could determine factors of comparison of the waves of modern terrorism. Added to these are the type of organizational structure: the first three with a hierarchical structure and the last one with a reticular or network structure.
In order to establish their differences within this comparative study, it is necessary to quickly conceptualize each of the waves, in order to subsequently determine some factors that will make it possible to establish their differences.
The first of them, according to Rapoport, began in 1879 and he calls it “anarchist”. It is produced against the terrorism of the State or the power that represents it, be it the government or the monarch, and seeks as its ultimate goal the abolition of the State as a form of government and power.
The second wave, known as “anti-colonial”, began in 1920. Rapoport indicates that terrorism is produced against colonial domination; it is given for national liberation and ends with the formation of some of the new states that sought this goal.
Since 1960, with a more organized hierarchical structure, the so-called “new left” appears, as a result of the ideological confrontation produced in the Cold War and logically, according to the same author, of the geopolitical and strategic changes that caused the end of the struggle of capitalism against communism. This wave ended in 20 years, unlike the others with this type of terrorist struggle. Although their objectives were not completely fulfilled, these terrorist groups have remained in force due to the immersion of other types of crimes in these organizations, such as drug trafficking and transnational organized crime.
Finally, from 1979 onwards, the “religious wave” began, whose international dimension was achieved, among other things, by a change in the structure of the organization, which became reticular. This has made it difficult to capture the ringleaders and the phenomenon has become global in scope. Jihadism and the level of victims of its acts are the most representative of this wave, which apparently would be the one we are experiencing at this time.
From the above, the following comparison factors can be inferred:
As a conclusion of this work it is evident that the systematization carried out by Rapoport allows the analysis and comparison of the coincidences and differences, as well as the motivations and doctrines that terrorism has employed from 1879 to the present day. This analysis is interesting because it provides a clear understanding of this political phenomenon, which has attempted to achieve its objectives throughout the world by means of violence. It is paradoxical to think that this political struggle will end someday, considering that the interests of human beings will always be unsatisfied to the extent of their own nature, which makes us think that it is quite possible that various factors such as the transnational nature of threats, technological progress, global warming and its impact on the ecosystem, the effects of viral agents that have managed to paralyze the world, could be shaping the birth or already the effective presence of a fifth wave. In the not too distant future, it will be the scholars of our present who will answer these questions.
- Rapoport, D. C. (2004). The four waves of insurgent terror and 9/11. In F. Reinares and A. Elorza (Eds.).
- National Strategy for Combating Terrorism USA, 2006.
- The new Islamist terrorism. From 9/11 to 9/11 (pp. 45-74).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, Diálogo magazine, or its members. This Academia article was machine-translated.