There are many secret organizations dedicated to undermining the State. These are often classified as rebel or terrorist movements. The main point here is the obvious one that one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. To some Chechens, Karens in Burma, Catholic Irish, Basques, Kurds, Nagas, Palestinians, Tamil Tigers, their dreams and hopes for independence only seem possible to reach through organized violence against what they consider to be an overbearing State. They believe they are fighting for their freedom and dignity. Yet to those in power they are terrorists. It is mainly a question of perspective.
We can see this easily enough by the way in which terrorists become non-terrorists once they achieve their goals. When they become the Israeli State, Maoist China, or ANC led South Africa, the terrorist label is discreetly forgotten. Nelson Mandela is a good example of the movement from ‘terrorist’ to national hero.
There seem to be a growing number of these organizations. This partly reflects access to weapons and explosives, partly increasing wealth. They often centre on the lines that have been drawn across the world by colonial powers. The borders between states, mainly set out in the nineteenth century, which cross-cut or ignore ethnic groups such as the Kurds, Basques, Nagas, Tamils and many African groups, are often felt to impose apparently arbitrary and alien rule upon them.
What seems to be at the root of this widespread problem is the lack of strategies to make people free but united. The idea of an international umbrella, under which almost sovereign states could carry on their lives according to their own wishes and customs, seems very difficult to achieve.
The bloody history of resistance and terrorism over the last century could have led to a two-tier model in which certain functions necessary for co-working at a high level were done by an over-arching State, but everything else was devolved. This is the model which, for example, some hope that the European Union will achieve. Yet it seems very difficult to manage. Almost every large nation faces the draining effects of local terrorism or resistance in the absence of a satisfactory legal solution.
What seems relatively new is the spread of these organizations round the world. The new type of terror is international, a coalescing of some of these groups and the emergence of others. This has led into the so-called ‘war on terrorism’. In fact, however, there is nothing particularly new about such a supposed ‘war’.