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Let’s start on a positive note and mention that the talented Trevor Noah had a brilliant bit about the infamous Oscar Pistorius homicide. I’m aware that some people consider it bad taste to make a joke about certain issues, but comedians couldn’t care less. Issues as sensitive as murder have made it into many stand-up comedy routines. Every African-American comedian has had their say on that one, but Trevor’s was my first encounter with a Pistorius joke. Trevor cleverly retold Oscar’s recollection of the details of the incident, that fateful Valentine’s Day of 2013. When he got to the part of the raucous would-be intruders, he paused and asked why we imagine ‘black’ intruders even though common sense would suggest that the accused (at the time) was relaying a story of a fictional set of circumstances.


More bluntly, (clears throat) Oscar was lying. But why do we picture a ‘black’ intruder even in a scenario that never happened? Crime is black. It’s a stereotype that is part of our social consciousness; like how terrorism has been ascribed to certain people who abide by certain religious doctrine. It should go without saying that crime and terrorism are not congenital defects of any particular racial group. We are all equally capable of committing any number of atrocities against fellow mankind, you know; most of us choose not to, because… well… we’re decent. The case in point: the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit of the United Kingdom reported that in 2018, they arrested more white people on suspicion of terrorism offences than those from Asian backgrounds. Go figure!


Terrorism is not a 21st century phenomenon. It has its roots in early resistance and political movements. In the first century of the Common Era, a terrorist organisation, by the name of ‘Sicarii’, was founded to oppose and overthrow the Romans in the Middle East. The Sicarii was a Jewish organisation that held the view that Jews ought to be ruled by God alone and that armed resistance against the Roman Empire was appropriate and necessary. The use of terrorism to accelerate political cause has accelerated in recent years. Modern terrorism largely came into being after the Second World War with the rise of nationalist movements in the old empires of the European powers. These early anti-colonial movements recognised the ability of terrorism to both generate publicity for the cause and influence global policy. The ability of these groups to mobilise sympathy and support taught a powerful lesson to similarly aggrieved peoples elsewhere, who saw in terrorism an effective means of transforming hitherto local conflicts into international issues.


In 2014, we counted 44 490 fatalities from terrorist attacks across the world. Modern terrorist attacks are not much different from the historic attacks of the Sicarii, for example, except that human expedition and science have advanced the weaponry employed to carry out such attacks to genuinely frightening potential. A dagger used to terrorise civilians in the first century is a far cry from a nuclear bomb of today. The Orlando massacre of 2016 is a sobering display of the threat of a single act of terrorism today. In just three hours Omar Mateen killed 49 and wounded at least 53 people. Stephen Paddock, the perpetrator of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, killed 58 and wounded more than 850 people.

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