The random nature of terrorism

The bombing of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, on Jan. 27, 2019, is an act of terror. Twenty people were killed and more than a hundred reported wounded in the twin blasts that have been linked to the Agang-Agang group, an affiliate of the Abu Sayyaf. The bombing came nearly a week after the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was ratified in a plebiscite.

The Abu Sayyaf group, with links to al-Qaida, was organized by the former mujahedeen, Abdurajak Janjalani. Janjalani fought alongside Osama bin Laden against the Russians during the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The terrorist reportedly received $6 million from Bin Laden to establish the Abu Sayyaf. The militant organization, which bombed the SuperFerry 14 passenger vessel in the Philippines in 2004, killing 116 people, follows the Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam.


Bin Laden greatly inspired his disciples, who often described the experience with the terrorist “as a spiritual awakening.” Peter Bergen said that the first encounters with Bin Laden by his followers were felt with a God-like reverence. Though born with enormous fortune, being the son of a rich Saudi contractor, Bin Laden gave up a life of luxury. He was viewed as “a charismatic man.” The terrorist was not just the titular head of the al-Qaida organization, but was “the symbol for Jihad or Holy War against the enemies of Islam.”

Extremist groups conduct their war as a struggle against what they claim is US hegemony in the world. Terrorist leaders persuade young recruits to wear suicide vests by presenting to them a picture of an unjust sociopolitical order in which US imperial interests undermine the rights of Muslims.


But terrorists have no ideology to speak of. Groups like the Islamic State only sow fear and intend to disrupt peaceful civilian life. As Nicholas Fotion put it, “terrorists who choose their victims in a random fashion cannot help but victimize people who are innocent of any political wrongdoing.”

But terrorism is not a modern-day phenomenon. According to Alison Jaggar, “The word terrorism was introduced in late eighteenth century France when Robespierre initiated his Reign of Terror that was meant to deter all of his counter-revolutionary critics.” In a span of one year, between 1793 and 1794, “thousands of French citizens were executed, mainly by the newly invented guillotine.” Robespierre’s Reign of Terror showed how the state could use its power to kill its enemies and coerce the civilian population into submission.

There would be many other similar instances in history. The “Balangiga bells,” for instance, were a witness to the atrocities that transformed Samar into a “howling wilderness” during the US colonial regime in the Philippines. Terror was used by the Nazis against the Jews from 1933 until 1945. Meanwhile, the Allied Forces also engaged in terror raids, notably in Dresden and Berlin. While the dropping of the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a justified military purpose, it is without doubt that part of the intent was to destroy an area with a massive civilian population. The huge number of casualties, in this sense, was deliberate, since it was meant to force Japan into complete surrender.

Walter Laqueur explained that the random killing of innocent civilians “is the essential trait of terrorism.” Terrorists, he added, “assume that the slaughter of innocents would sow panic, give them publicity and help to destabilize the state and society.” Terrorists engage in atrocious acts since they cannot win in any conventional warfare. The goal is clear—to cause harm and disorder.

To overcome terror, it is not only the state that must show its will and resolve. People must be united in the quest for progress and peace — two of the most important means that can defeat such type of evil.

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.


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TAGS: Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Organic Law, BOL plebiscite, Christopher Ryan Maboloc, Inquirer Commentary, Jolo twin blasts, terrorism
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