They are much the same as terrorists in all parts of the world and in all periods of history — whether the Spanish under Napoleon, the IRA under England, the under Darius I of Persia, the ScythiansBoers under England, the Vietcong under the French and the United States, or the Shining Path under Peru.
Why does terrorism occur? The seeds of today’s terrorism are not found in the Muslim religion, but rather in the extreme poverty of most citizens, a poverty that has been among the most heartbreaking and ruinous in the world.
The U.S. State Department's definition of terrorism is: "The unlawful use of force or violence, committed by a group(s) or two or more individuals, against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
Such a difference in perception can be seen in Northern Ireland, a British province that has been plagued by violence for nearly 30 years. On one side is the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is fighting to unite Northern Ireland with Ireland. The IRA has set off bombs throughout Great Britain for three decades, killing many civilians.
The British government, the Irish government and many people within Northern Ireland itself consider the IRA a terrorist organization. However, to many Irish people, including those of Irish descent living elsewhere, the IRA is a valiant group that is fighting to release Northern Ireland from British tyranny. In their minds, the IRA's goals, and even its tactics, are valid. Many Americans of Irish descent back the IRA and give the organization money.
Another example is the African National Congress (ANC), an organization that at times used violence and sabotage to oppose apartheid, the now-defunct system in which South Africa's white minority government forcibly segregated all races and held all political power.
Many Americans, most of whom consider themselves opposed to terrorism, supported the ANC's goals and were willing to provide funds. Were the ANC's actions terrorism, or was the ANC justified in using violence to overthrow the South African government, even if civilians were affected?
In the end, global pressure forced the downfall of the white-dominated South African government. The ANC is now the ruling party in South Africa.
"What is Terrorism? (sidebar)." Issues & Controversies On File: n. pag. Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services, 16 Aug. 1996. Web. 4 Sept. 2010.