Quest panel explores history, tactics of terrorism

quest logoThree students will examine “Perspectives on Terrorism” from a historical perspective at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, in Room 107A of Lanigan Hall. The panel presentation one of more than 180 sessions during Quest, the college’s annual symposium of research and scholarly activity.

Dr. Geraldine Forbes, distinguished teaching professor of history at SUNY Oswego, will chair the panel discussion by students from her spring 2005 capstone seminar “Twentieth Century Terrorism.”

James Giannettino will discuss “A Night of Terror: The Kristallnacht Pogrom,” Sheila Zachery “The Black Legion: Terrorism in Detroit 1932-1936” and Chris Miles “The Red Army Faction: A Profile of RAF Terrorism and Response in 1970s Bundesrepublik Deutschland.” Giannettino and Zachery are in Oswego’s graduate history program, while Miles graduated in December with degrees in history and broadcasting.

A main concern of the class “was to view terrorism as a strategy or tactic, not a fixed identity,” Forbes explained. The class had to develop a definition of terrorism, noting it transcended ideology, as practiced by groups on the left and right, and included state terrorism, nationalist terrorism, anti-state terrorism and eco-terrorism.

While the class crafted its definition, Forbes said the task proved challenging because more than two dozen definitions exist among countries, institutions and even different U.S. government agencies.

Giannettino’s presentation explains how the Kristallnacht, also known as “the night of breaking glass,” in November 1938 fit the criteria as “a calculated effort by the Nazis against the Jewish population” to reinforce state power, he said. “Prior to this project, I never thought of the anti-Semitic policy and actions of Nazi Germany as a form of terrorism.”

That night’s terror provided a signature event as it “marked the onset of organized, government-sponsored violence against the Jewish population” by German Nazis, he said. The action also indirectly intimidated other potential dissident groups in Germany, he added.

Giannettino said he hoped those attending the session would gain “a better understanding of what constitutes state terrorism and how easily an authoritative government can influence the majority of the population to turn on a specific group of people—or at least turn a blind eye to how the state is treating them.”

Zachery’s paper examines the activities of the Black Legion, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan that engaged in racist and ideological terror throughout the Midwest, especially Detroit, in the 1930s.

The project led Miles to believe that a “parasitic relationship” can exist between states and terrorist entities—in that terrorists can use hatred of a nation for recruitment and action, while countries can employ the threat of terrorism for “eternal states of emergencies,” he said. In his paper, Miles argues that the terrorist activities of the left-wing Baader-Meinhof Gang in West Germany in the later 20th century enabled reactionary martial actions from the West German state.

“I would hope attendees would comprehend and confront the idea that states have been and continue to be one of the greatest terrorist ‘threats’ in the world—that terrorism is not something performed exclusively by splinter groups, individuals and ‘extremist’ cells,” he said. “I’d like people on some level to recognize ‘terrorism’ is a fluid idea, not as singular, or as useful, as it seems generally taken to be.”

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(Posted: Apr 05, 2006)