Professors hold roundtable discussion about types of terrorism
Professors addressed the history of terrorism as well as nuclear, biological and ideological terrorism on March 8.
On Thursday, March 8, Professor of French and Italian Arthur Greenspan, Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Keith Peterson, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Susan Childers and Professor of Physics Charles Conover explained multiple types of terrorism in a roundtable setting.
Greenspan began the discussion by talking about terrorism from a historical perspective, describing the evolution of terrorism throughout history. He said there are three stages of terrorism, which include the French Revolution, conflict in Israel and Algeria after World War Two and contemporary terrorism in the Middle East.
According to Greenspan, beginning with the French Revolution, terrorism could be described by five defining characteristics, “vengefulness, ruthlessness, randomness of victims, a climate of fears and acts perpetrated by people in power.” However, in Israel and Algeria, Greenspan explained, “These are not acts perpetrated by people in power,” adding that there was a calculated strategy to these attacks.
Unlike the rebels in Algeria and Israel, terrorism by al-Qaeda has been marked by “amorphous,” “ill-devised” actions, Greenspan said. As a result, “We deny these people the intelligence—the motivations that are theirs,” he said. Greenspan believes the United States is far from innocent, calling such a belief a “terrible, insidious notion.” According to Greenspan, the demonization of terrorists ignores the motivations behind their actions.
Peterson followed up with a discussion of what he believes to be the overblown idea of eco-terrorism. “Calling these acts terrorism seems to imply something horrible,” he said. Peterson explained that “No one has died” due to environmental activism. “I would go so far as to say that there is no such thing as eco-terrorism,” he said.
The FBI and other government agencies see terrorism as any act that not only intentionally harms people, but also property. According to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006, terrorism is to “intentionally damage property or intimidate and threaten animal enterprises.” Many feel that companies want to use this provision to increase their power and reduce threats to their profits. “Acts such as nonviolent civil disobedience can be considered terrorist acts,” Peterson said, and this blurs the line between terrorism and constitutional rights.
Childers focused on the subject of bioterrorism. She quoted a definition of bioterrorism as “the international use of microbes or toxins from living organisms to cause disease in humans or against plants and animals to affect the economy.” Childers divided the disease-causing agents used in bioterrorism into three categories: A, B and C.
In Category A, organisms are “easily disseminated, usually through the air,” and include the organisms which cause anthrax, botulism, smallpox and ebola among others, she said. Childers added that all of these diseases are “either untreatable or very difficult to treat.”
Category B organisms, such as those that cause cholera, are slightly harder to spread, but have a powerful effect because they increase the morbidity rate, disabling large numbers of people with the disease.
Childers characterized Category C organisms as “the emerging pathogens that are coming out,” such as hantavirus, which is dangerous because little is known about it. However, beyond the dangers of emerging and known diseases, advances in technology have created a new problem in bioterrorism.
Childers explained the danger of viruses recombining to become deadly. “Smallpox has been genetically altered to actually have some genes from the ebola virus” and now it has “nearly a 100 percent mortality rate,” she said. Although smallpox and diseases like it have been eradicated from most places, scientists must continue to deal with new threats and prepare for a biological attack.
Conover ended the discussion with the subject of nuclear and radiologic terrorism. He divided the threat into two categories, one a radiologic threat and the other a nuclear threat. He said that a radiological attack would involve “somehow spreading around radioactive materials,” which he considered a very difficult option. “Dirty bombs,” the major weapons used in radiologic attacks, are “weapons of mass distraction,” Conover said.
“The threat of that is probably the most worrisome is the threat of nuclear weapons.” Conover said. He cited North Korea’s “complete flop” of a nuclear test as evidence of the danger of such weapons. The 1000-ton explosion created by the North Koreans would have been enough to level a large town.
Despite worries about nuclear attacks, Conover said that he takes solace in the fact that it takes a large, powerful government to build a nuclear weapon. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that a terrorist organization would have enough power to build a bomb, minimizing the risk of a nuclear attack in the future.