James Feldkamp – Terrorism’s Never-Changing Face

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Terrorism history wasn’t a module which I was particularly looking forward to last year when I entered into my 2nd year at George Mason University, but all that would change when I met professor James Feldkamp. James Feldkamp specializes in terrorism history and thanks to his inspiration I am now planning to take it as my major next year. Every now and again there is a certain teacher or professor who walks into your life and happens to inspire and engage with you, and for me, that was the enigmatic James Feldkamp. Recently we had a fascinating debate on whether or not terrorism has changed throughout history, and here is why I believe that it hasn’t.


As I said to James Feldkamp during the debate I do have some concessions here when it comes to the changing face of terrorism. The first concession I make is that yes, the methods have been updated and terrorists now have it much easier when it comes to causing maximum death and destruction. Secondly, I take the point that cyberterrorism has brought a new facet to the causing of terror. I understand that changes have been made, but ultimately terrorism is still the same.


As soon as explosive devices were discovered they were used by people to try and cause mass casualties, and once terrorists got their hands on them they very quickly became a key weapon. A far back as 1605 we saw Guy Fawkes try to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London using gunpowder, that plot was foiled but plenty more of its kind succeeded. Even now we can see the damage which roadside bombs in Iraq, remote devices in buildings throughout the west and suicide bombers strapping devices to themselves, can all have and they are still very much a key part of a terrorist operation.


Terrorism has almost always been based on the same two causes, either fighting for ownership of land or fighting for the defense or in the name of a particular religion. Terrorism is, of course, the extremist approach to these causes and whilst I admit that the level of extremism has changed as the world has modernized, the root causes in the minds of terrorists have very rarely changed. It is for this reason that many say ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ a fact which is difficult to dispute.

Go-To Weapons

The most common weapons which terrorists of all ilks use are kidnapping, public executions, transport attacks, bombings, conventional firearm attacks and also nuclear attacks. Again these are weapons which may have been updated as technology improved, but they all existed in one form or another since the very earliest days of terrorist operations. We all thought we’d seen something new when those planes crashed into the World Trade Centers but vehicles have in fact been used for many years in such attacks, and even planes have often be used for many decades prior to that attack.

Terrorists now have more power than ever, but their methodology and their causes have in fact changed very little throughout history.