A half century ago, the terrorism and extremist forms of thought were not prevalent in certain sectors of Middle Eastern society as they are today. Up to the years between 1968 through 1979, Middle Eastern countries remained relatively benign with no outstanding threats of violent political Islam (Bar 127). The rise of international Islamic terrorism was born in the fragmentation of society brought on by the departure of colonialism. Economies had by this time been fundamentally disrupted. In major urban centers, oil contracts (particularly in the GCC) gave rise to rapid scales of development. Government systems were restructured. The centuries long status of Arab peoples living tied to the special topography of desert in disparate kingdoms defining boundaries amidst the roam of nomadic Bedouins suddenly shifted (Bar 140). In cities like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, structures were erected and cities built in less than 10 years what took American and Western societies 50 or more years to achieve. This upheaval necessarily had social consequences. Arab peoples experienced a range of troubles in the aftermath of colonialism, including failures at state formation as well as the Western creation of the state of Israel (Bar 144-145). A range of conflicting ideologies erupted that included anti-Western ideological beliefs and pro-Marxist sentiments that invoked nationalistic and revolutionary further in different factions or groups in society throughout the Arab world (Swazo 138). These beliefs were united with the reigning orthodoxy of the Islamic faith. Leaders and thinkers began to merge their revolutionary ideas with notions that terrorism could be an effective option in reaching their politically oriented goals. Some of the first and most memorable expressions of Islamic terrorism happened in the late 1960s when Palestinian movements like Al Fatah as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine initiated terrorist oriented direct action as politically oriented gestures to achieve their means (Swazo 140). One of the most significant happenings during this period was Israel's 1967 triumph over Arab troops. In the wake of defeat, Palestinians opted for increased use of terrorism as a power mechanism (Cigdem 69-70). They analyzed and compared their own revolutionary aspirations with other guerilla basped warfare movements in Latin America and Southeast Asia, finding the tactical strategies used by these counterparts to be largely ineffective for accomplishing major goals and objectives (Cigdem 69-80). It was in this attitudinal context that Palestinians and other pro-Arabic groups made a tactical choice to focus more on terrorism and less on guerrilla warfare. Palestinians engaged in bombings, shootings, and other political attacks.(Swazo 2008) Meanwhile they formed an international network of supporters and co conspirators and their actions became an outstanding model for countless secular, ethnic and religious groups across the Arab world who would continue to use these actions as templates for future violence to come. Some of the most well known groups to exist during this period in the 1970s included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP -GC) and Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) (Bar 132). The PFLP was primarily a Marxist-Leninist group that was started in the late 1960s. PFLP-GC was an offshoot that split with the official group into its own faction by a declared interest in focusing its efforts on terroristic activities as the predominant strategy (Bar 132). Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) was a later forming organization in this period that was both Anti-Western and terrorist oriented. Its efforts have been largely successful as they have carried out attacks in over 20 countries and have maimed or killed approximately 1000 people (Bar 132-135).\ Islam, Pan-Islamism and Pan-Arabism are three main ideologies that have influenced the shaping of the modern world. Islam has been the unifying factor tying ideologies like Pan-Islamism, which is a movement that calls for uniting of the Muslim world based on Islamic principles. Pan-Arabism, likewise is a movement more secular in nature that calls for the uniting of the Arab world based on common ethnicity and race. Both ideologies emerged in the turn of the 20th century at the brink of the fall of colonialism (Mellon, 7). Pan-Arabism found its first articulation in secular Palestinian terrorist organizations. Certain landmark events ushered in this shift, including the symbolic calling for Unification of Arabs by Sadam Hussein 1990 which initiated the events of the Gulf War (Mellon, 8). Pan-Islamism is representative when Gaddafi called for Muslim unification against foreign occupiers in 1992 (Mellon, 8).
Although moderate and pluralist Islam exists as the prevailing attitude in the middle, ideological networks have given rise to Islamist terrorism that have shaped many of the major events of the middle east. One of the most significant turning points in this development happened starting in 1979 with the revolution in Iran (Swazo 127). This revolutionary event, combined with Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan and its participation in a war against the mujahedeen for 10 years from 1979 to 1989 were significant events in this narrative timeline (Swazo 130-131). In Afghanistan, fighters traveled from across Arabia and in particular Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Pakistan to participate in the war (Swazo 131-134). In Palestine, Iran an Syria began to back and support the militant group Hezbollah who were among the first to invent the notion of suicide bombing in the Middle East. Hezbollah successfully carried out a number of landmarm terrorist events during this time including bombing over 240 marines in Beirut as well as numerous other bombings, killings and kidnappings (Swazo 130). In the decade leading up to 2001, terrorism grew around the world. As the Cold War came to an end, a new war against militant Islam started. Failed states in regions like Afghanistan became breeding grounds for militant and extremist groups to gather and organize relatively unhindered by contemporary forms of governance. Areas like these also became sites of other international narc-terrorism due to drug production because of their relative lawlessness (Karoui 10). Since the Soviet's pulled out of Afghanistant in 1989, terrorists of all forms have gathered in Afghanistan to train, fight and plot (Karoui 2006). Pakistan also aids as a neighboring cousin, acting similarly as a training ground for these violent extremist groups due to the particular political pressures and instability the country faces on its own. One of the most well known and significant terrorist groups to emerge out of this situation is the Taliban who rose to power as a local militia in Afghanistan with Pakistani support in 1994 (Karoui 11). As they gained implicit control in local areas around Afghanistan and along Pakistan's ungoverned rural sites, it has created a foothold for virtual hotbeds of terrorist networks to thrive (Karoui 12-14).
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Karoui, Hichem. "Islamism and US Foreign Policy: The Gulf between Two Agendas.” Available at SSRN 942740 (2006).
Swazo, Norman K. "'My Brother Is My King': Evaluating the Moral Duty of Global Jijah." International Journal on World Peace(2008): 7-47.