The Edwardian Terrorist Redux

The Beltway Sniper, the Mumbai attacks, Charlie Hebdo, the Paris attacks. This is a hideous trend. We no longer face terrorists just planting bombs or shooting dignitaries with a pistol–they now come in gangs armed with military weapons and suicide vests. They attack whole cities. This is their version of strategic bombing.

This modus operandi is not new to anyone who reads. Edwardian fiction is replete with characters dreaming of mass destruction. Like Joseph Conrad’s archetypal terrorist, the professor in The Secret Agent, today’s Muslim terrorist’s thwarted ambitions have crystalized into a delusion of moral superiority and a desire to destroy modernity.

The Muslim terrorists want to change our religion and our liberal ways. Like the professor, they want a crackdown on suspected terrorists to destroy our individual liberties and to motivate potential recruits. They want the exigencies of our counter-terrorism efforts to serve these perverse objectives.

This terrorist strategy is not new, nor is our current response to it. From 1881 to 1901, two U.S. Presidents, a French President, a Spanish Prime Minister, and an Italian King fell to anarchist terrorists. In Paris, they hurled bombs onto the floor to the Bourse and bombed theatres and cafes. In the early years of the twentieth century, newspapers printed daily lists of political assassinations and bombings. Arguably, a terrorist started the Great War.

While the political plots and conspiracies of the Islamic world seem irrational to us, they are real in the minds of the people who commit the violence these plots demand. To them, violent action bears testament to their sincerity. Today’s cult of the suicide bomber is not new. One only has to read Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes to see today’s Muslim terrorist.

Under Western Eyes was written in 1911, yet it tells us clearly that despotism breeds terrorism and the tolerant west that shelters refugees becomes a laboratory for terrorists to perfect their paranoias and grievances along with murderous weapons created from modern western technology.

Anarchist Assassinations & Bombings

  • 1881: the assassination of Russian Tsar Alexander II, by the group Narodnaya Volya
  • 1894: the assassination of the French president Marie-Francois Sadi Carnot
  • 1894: Bombing of Greenwich Observatory in London
  • 1901: the assassination of American president William McKinley in September 1901, by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz.

Violence by anarchists was historically directed at political figures, not civilians, as in the current eruption of terrorist violence. However, the reasons for Islamic terrorism now and anarchism then are similar. Muslims worldwide are being united by a growing sense of fear and hatred of the West due to propaganda that Islam itself is in danger. This is fertile ground for a fanatical minority who are using terrorism to gain power in the Muslim world.