“The notion that vast historical forces could be tipped by the right individuals exerting pressure in the right spots has always offered an attractive antidote to fatalism.”
-Robert D. Kaplan
Things used to be a whole lot simpler. Back in the day – before camera-phones, twenty-four hour perpetually Breaking News coverage, You-Tube, Twitter, sound-bites, emails from desperate Nigerian princes, and viral videos – life was much easier to interpret and digest.
As it’s been widely argued before, modern society is best distinguished from ancient ones by the fecundity of mass communication. Alexander’s empire was limited by the speed of communication. The inventions that have most altered the scope of modern human society have been those of communication. First Gutenberg’s printing press. Then the telegraph, allowing the hasty industrialization of the American heartland, conquering a wilderness at an unprecedented rate, and serving as the foundation for the next-generation technologies that evolved in a natural and inexorable progression.
The telephone, fax machine, and now, finally, the internet – the most current incarnation of conductive wire carrying an electrical impulse. When, not so much an invention as a conglomeration of scores of already established technologies, the world agreed that the Internet has been born sometime in the 1990s, humanity would be tied together by emails and by web pages to an extent never before seen. And when the television was brought into the average American home during the brunt of the 20th century, everything from Presidential debates to war crimes was given new meaning – and a new face.
The arguments of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond have brought to the discussion of invention and necessity an element of the chicken-egg argument – do we truly invent what we need, or is it that we grow dependant on our inventions? This has created competition for the conventional wisdom on the matter of whether invention begets necessity or vice-versa.
Regardless, the complexity of human societies has certainly increased exponentially in the past thousand years in terms of the technologies that wire us all together. And “the more wired a society, the more likely for a single tragedy to keep multiplying its impact.”1 All the same, bureaucracies still function under many of the same laws. The figures in power still hold court, only in different, more modern robes. And the established has a way of forgetting about just how effective an inventive angry minority can be. The net has grown wider and become woven together by different parts, the email instead of the penned missive, and the qualitative nature of the laws which govern it have begun to change.
But what’s changed the most is how most of us see our place in it.
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A few thousand years ago, for the most part your religion was your political affiliation. And that affiliation couldn’t possibly be the matter of discussion, debate, or a book – because all it really meant was a sort of glorified tribal loyalty. There was no ideological or personal moral conflict in politics, they were simply a matter of serving the one discrete individual who happened to hold power at the time.
No one wrote papers or held Ivy League seminars to discussion the deeper meaning of your loyalties circa the eleventh century and before. Part of this was because the printing press hadn’t been invented yet and the Ivy Leagues were yet to be founded. But it was also because, to an extent that’s hard to appreciate now, individuals – men themselves – embodied the power and authority of an ideology or regime much more poignantly than today. A Caesar or a Pope ruled not by the power of a vast entrenched institutional backing, but by the powerful charisma of his personality and the potency of his will.
The death of one person, history often saw, could mean the death of an entire system of rule and coercion. Attila the Hun, Caesar Augustus, King Louis the XIV, and Napoleon Bonaparte all embodied this reality. And so the earliest form of terrorism was tyrannicide – slaying a king, a czar, an individual. Offering up a sacrament that Seneca argued was the most pleasing to the gods: the blood of a tyrant.
As such, one man often symbolized – embodied to the most literal extent possible – an ideology or regime. Whereas today such abstract concepts such as the rule of law or a governmental regime are symbolized more by physical structures. Now the might of a country isn’t symbolized by any one person, but by the institutions and structures which that country has constructed to house the means of coercion from which it draws its power. The United States Congress would be put much more under siege by blowing up Capitol Hill than by killing any one sitting Congressperson, or even an entire Congressional subcommittee. The American economy would be, and was, targeted not by wacking Alan Greenspan but by demolishing the buildings which most symbolized our economic capital.
On 9/11, had United 93 found its mark on the Capitol Building, the balance between Tactical Terror and Symbolic Terror would’ve swung wildly had the planes hit an empty building versus a packed session of Congress. No matter how much any one man embodies the power of an office, the institution and traditions around it means that it will continue on undaunted no matter what happens to him, or what stained legacy he leaves behind.
The complexity of modern life has, in turn, increased the complexity of violence. When killing any one man might mean the end of an era, one death was both much simpler and much more potent. And so before the deaths that have begun to stain our modern streets can be understood, we must return to the clotted streets of a thousand years ago. Streets that were clotted with far fewer people but with just as much blood.
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Jews aren’t often thought of as an especially violent bunch, unless ruthlessness is being referenced in terms of investment banking or pitching a script to a Hollywood producer. But it was a group of Jews who, keeping with the historical trope, were being aggressively persecuted and subjugated by those in power who laid the first bit of groundwork for what’s now considered Political Terrorism.
It was the same Roman occupation of Palestine, a land known as the province Judea at the time, which precipitated Jesus’s place in the story of mankind that gave birth to what’s now accepted as the world’s nascent acts of terrorism. Shortly after BC turned into AD, the Roman occupation was attempting to smash the indigenous Jewish society under its collective imperial boot.
The Roman authorities had abolished a Jewish monarchy which could trace its roots back to King David, imposed their direct rule over the Jews of Palestine, and attacked the religion itself by desecrating Jewish religious symbols and arresting the community’s most prominent leaders. Both King Herod, who is notoriously responsible for trying to wack Baby Jesus, and Pontius Pilot, who finally condemned Jesus Christ to crucifixion, were puppets of these Roman authorities.
Because of this oppression the Jews began to stage unorganized acts of retaliation and protest, which led to harsher crackdowns by the well-organized Roman occupation. As 66AD approached, the situation was grim for Palestine’s Jews. But one group of Jews found a novel way to combat the harsh persecution of the foreign occupation, and in the process founded a type of violence still mutating and feeding today.
It was the Sicarii, or dagger-men, who began a ruthless policy of surgically slashing off as much of Roman occupation’s head as they could. Their fervent commitment to doing what they saw as the religious duty of the larger group to which they belonged, the Zealots, resulted in the name of that broader group being preserved today as anyone who acts with irrational fervor for a cause. Because of the Sicarii, we will always find zealots living and killing among us. What was important and novel about the way the Sicarii, named for the small sickle-like daggers they used in their attacks, operated was not who they were trying to kill. It was how they were doing it.
They adapted a strategy of “pure terror,” which involved not just stabbing a Roman official or a Jewish moderate who was abetting the Romans but doing so in broad daylight. While the target was surrounded by his entourage and bodyguard, and in full-view of every man, woman, and child of Palestine. Fittingly, it’s the Sicarii who are widely credited in academic circles with carrying out history’s first instances of terrorism. Since the intention behind this method was “to demonstrate that no circumstance could provide immunity from attack,”2 to make sure that no representative of the Roman occupation and no one who colluded with it could ever feel safe while in the land now known as Israel and Palestine.
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Almost two-thousand years before the television camera was invented, the Sicarii sought to bring about the same effect that televised violence does now by simply killing their targets as openly and publicly as possible. This was a landmark achievement, “in an era long before CNN television news and the dramatic transmission of instantaneous live satellite images the Zealots’ dramatic, public acts of violence – precisely those of terrorists today – were designed to have psychological repercussions far beyond the immediate victim(s) of the terrorist attack and thereby send a powerful message to a wider, watching target audience.”3
The response to killing a Roman official in public daylight – vicious and extensive crackdowns by the Roman occupation against the native Jews – allowed the Sicarii to achieve a near-perfect balance of Symbolic and Tactical Terror, in a set of circumstance which allowed them to trigger the world’s first display of Political Terrorism. Because their targets both embodied Roman authority and were the actual arbiters of it, the Sicarii were able to strike both a Symbolic blow which rallied the disaffected Jewish masses to their cause and a Tactical one as the death of each official threatened the Roman occupation’s ability to effectively govern – or subjugate, depending on how you look at it – a foreign land.
The resulting situation, for the Romans or anyone allied with them, was one of “total uncertainty and… a sense of profound fear.”4 And so to combat this uncertainty they begun to carry out indiscriminate countermeasures against Palestine’s Jews, playing right into the Sicarii’s blades – from the start they’d deliberately sought to provoke the repression and reprisals which would rally complacent Jews to their side and to action.
The dynamic in which the Sicarii operated, as a indigenous minority oppressed by a ruling occupation and operating on their home-turf, is important to remember when categorizing their violence. Since they were perfectly comfortable within the society they were operating, it was after all their society, they didn’t need to take any pains to disguise themselves, seek to understand their operational territory better, or couch the message of their actions in any special terms to its audience. There was no mass media: the medium of their actions was the simplest possible – people watching with their own eyes what was happening and then relaying the events to their neighbors.
The terrorism of the Sicarii is as simple as it gets. Killing one man and one man only, with most primitive weaponry possible, within your own society, as both an appeal to that society, and to frighten and weaken a group that is already operating in an alien land.
In this sense the Sicarii founded Political Terrorism, sparking an insurgency that sought to unite an indigenous people against an oppressive outside invading force through dramatic and potent acts of violence. Their acts of terrorism were an equal mix of Symbolic and Tactical, as what other more efficient way to hinder the ability of Romans to rule than by killing the handful of officials and soldiers who personally carried out that rule? If they were all either dead or unwilling to work, the occupation would shrivel and die.
In the simpler times when it was a human body that stood for a regime much more than any building, it was obvious what each death meant. But now, with the mass media creating a shared public eye that takes in much more than any one person on a sunlit street, and institutions and society complex and interwoven to an extent far beyond those more ancient times, death often weaves a much more complex web.
To understand our modern terrorism, the attacks of the Sicarii must be understood both in terms of scope and context. Walking confidently up to an official of the ruling occupation and plunging your sharpened blade between his ribs of course had immediate personal repercussions for each Sicarii. But they met their fate gladly. Their fate was eventually shared by the bombers of 3/11, and by another group of men who were the namesake for one of our language’s most chilling monikers.
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Your first thoughts when the word “assassination” is mentioned are the result of several centuries of some mix of racism, jingoism, and Orientialism. Depending on what generation you were born into, anything from the last moments of a young President or those of a stalwart civil rights leader might come to mind. Or if you’re thinking in a historical context, the quiet robes of a shifty Arab who’s stalking his prey, dagger in-hand, peering out from the corner of palm-treed street before madly rushing his victim while ululating at full pitch with arms poised to strike high above his head. But none of these images really pay heed to the history of assassination. In the original sense of the word, none of those images represent true assassinations at all.
The Crusades are important not only in that they were fueled by an economic disparity between Middle East and West and encouraged by the rhetoric of revolution, both of which would be reflected hundreds of years later drive the Islamic fundamentalist terror of the 20th century. They also lent a hand to stirring the status quo of the lands they raided, and helping sow the imagination of the West with the fear of one of history’s most notorious and over-attributed groups of killers.
Much of the early history of the Assassins is confused by secrecy and myth. As the legend goes, only a decade before the first Crusade was launched in the 12th century a Shiite missionary, the Old Man of the Mountain, founded a sect headquartered high up in a fortress of what is today part of northwestern Iran. Within the walls of this mountain fortress lay glimmering fountains, luscious private gardens, and young women who were renowned for being the most beautiful and sexually well-versed in the land. Think the Playboy Mansion – only sandier, with fewer blondes, and less personal grooming.
But what set the Assassins apart isn’t only the method of their violence, but also just how, according to legend, they’d seduce a new convert into their sect. If you were interested in becoming an Assassin, after entering the fortress you’d be smoked up on hashish to numb your mind. And then smoked-up some more. After the first two or three hits from the hash-pipe, if you hadn’t succumbed to unconsciousness yet, the Assassins wouldn’t lose hope. They’d simply keep toking you up until you finally passed out due to all the hash, high as a giraffe’s ass.
Upon waking you’d find yourself in one of the fortress’s sprawling gardens, being treated and serviced by one of the charming, accomplished young women. She’d feed you delights you’d never imagined and ravish you in ways you didn’t think possible. After a time you’d be given the hash-pipe again, and soon the buzz humming through your blood and the women humming against your body would cause you to pass out again
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This time when you awoke one of the sect’s leaders would meet with you and ask you to relive the pleasurable experience of the past hours, to recount every delightful and untoward detail. He would then explain to you that all of that was just a momentary glimpse into the eternity that would await you if you would die for Allah, and that if you wanted to experience such pleasure again you must join his sect and die in the service of the Assassins.
This recruitment myth still echoes in the stigma attached to the recruitment process of terrorist groups today. There is absolutely no historical evidence that the Assassins used this process at all, but just as today’s insistence on brain-washing or sexual frustration provide easily demonizable forces – the idea that Assassins were fueled by a piece and their pipes, and not social ties, is a cheap and false way out.
It’s much more likely that would-be Assassins were drawn to the sect by the exact same confluence of social forces described in the previous chapter. Indeed it’s fitting that joining the Assassins would’ve then been described as converting to a sect of Islam, and only looking back now do we think of it as also joining a group of terrorists.
The truth is that both concepts, converting to a religious sect and joining a group of terrorists, are analogous. And although what, if any, part of this recruitment process bears any historical truth is up for debate – it’s important to remember the name of the group, first the Hashshashin and later anglicized to Assassins, referred to the hashish supposedly given to members to bring them into the group and not given to smoke immediately before an operation was carried out.
Then as now, someone who’s high on marijuana or hashish is really only a threat to your safety if you happen to be a Dorito.
What made the Assassins such effective killers was not the fact that they were high, nor was it simply that they had no regard for their own survival. Being willing to die while carrying out your duty is one of the lowest common-denominators among warriors the world over. Assassins, despite the popular imagery, gained both their power and notoriety not for crazily rushing after their targets, a mad pot-crazed dervish screaming toward his mark with dagger in hand. What sets the Assassins apart is the patience and flexibility they showed quietly and patiently stalking their targets.
For instance, there’s the fate of the man who would’ve been King of Jerusalem.
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In 1192 Conrad of Montferrat had been chosen by Richard the Lionhearted as the next King of Jerusalem, a decision that actually sat well with the great Muslim sultan, Saladin. Peace, for a time, seemed to finally be a possibility for Jerusalem. But the Assassins, who’d until then been content to watch their Christian and Sunni enemies lop each other’s limbs off and disliked the idea of a truce that would allow both groups to strengthen, had other plans.
At the time he learned that he’d been appointed King of Jerusalem, Conrad of Montferrat had resided in Tyre, located on the coast of modern-day Lebanon. And so the Old Man of the Mountain sent two well-trained Assassins into Tyre to ensure that Conrad died and that there would be no peace between Saladin and Richard the Lionhearted. Not only were they well-trained – but well-dressed, well-funded, and well-educated.
They’d been coached to convey the image of upstanding members of the Muslim aristocracy, and that they did. So well, in fact, that they were able to sell the story of seeking to embrace Christianity so well that they caught the attention of Conrad himself, who went as far as to act as their sponsor for their baptism into the Roman Catholic faith. The two Assassins were accepted as upstanding members of the community, and were soon a familiar sight around Tyre and even in Conrad’s own court. And due to their patience and willingness to adapt to the culture and mores around them to blend in and better execute their mission, Conrad of Montferrat didn’t so much as flinch when the two men – whose baptisms into the Christian faith he himself had sponsored – approached him with bright smiles and open arms in the streets of Tyre a week after learning of his appointment as King of Jerusalem.
They explained they had a letter for him as they strode up to him. As Conrad reached for it one of the men clamped down on Conrad’s sword hand while the other plunged his blade deep into Conrad’s chest. This ended Conrad’s life and Jerusalem’s opportunity for peace, continuing the turmoil the Assassin sect desired. As they knew they would be, both men were caught and put to death. The act was so public that one of the Assassins was hastily beaten to death by members of the surrounding crowd.
But just as sure as they’d known they would die, both men knew that there was no question they’d be able to execute their mission because of their “planned clever stratagems”5 which allowed them access to Conrad and their patience to wait for the right moment to act.
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Although the Sicarii and Assassins share the same willingness to embrace death as they fatally daggered their targets in as public a manner as possible, the differences between the two groups are much more salient to analyzing modern terrorism. And just as important, when any analysis is made it must be remembered that no group will ever fit precisely into either mold, but instead borrow and bend characteristics from each group – usually fitting roughly into one better than the other, but always with some overlapping or inconsistency.
While the Sicarii were indigenous majority members of society that was being occupied by a minority foreign force, an Assassin was always infiltrating into a larger foreign society. One that was alien to him but that he would seek to understand and camouflage into – acting with no hope of outside support or help. This societal factor then influenced the nature of each group’s violence.
Although a Sicarii dagger-man likely could’ve struck his target and possibly escaped into the supporting crowds of his countrymen, he never tried to because being willing to die for his cause and attacking a heavily-escorted official was a necessity for the Symbolic nature he desired in his attack. The whole point of a Sicarrii was to be seen killing – and then seen dying. At the beginning of their terrorist campaign the Sicarii had no power, and the only way they could gain it was by drawing attention to their dramatic attacks and drawing the ire of the ruling Roman authorities. Who would then crackdown on all Jews, and so draw more attention to the Sicarii cause and more Jewish recruits to the Sicarii ranks. The Sicarrii were the founders of what we now consider Political Terrorism. They sought to foment a revolution by drawing retribution from those they attacked and bring more recruits to their cause – recruits who would themselves carry out attacks, bring more retribution, and thus increase the cycle of violence.
If you’re a Christian you’re familiar with the name of the man some scholars think is actually history’s most notorious Sicarii. Although he’s known in English translations as Judas Iscariot, there’s growing support for the argument that the transliteration of Judas’s last name as “Iscariot” is the result of the Greek tendency to swap Hebrew letters around, and a better translation of his name would be “Judas the Sicarrii”. The theory holds that his betrayal of Jesus into the hands of the Jewish authorities was meant to further stir up the Jewish populace and draw more members into the Sicarii ranks.
The best evidence for this theory lies where Judas hung himself. Judas turned Jesus over to the High Priest Caiaphas’s men, not over to Pontius Pilate. As a Sicarii, Judas would have been trying to turn common Jews against the Jewish establishment, which didn’t condone the extreme Sicarii tactics, by letting them imprison a popular and charismatic leader. He didn’t intend to end Jesus’s life, only use him to undermine the Jewish Pharisees and bolster support for his group. However after Caiaphas turned Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion, Judas realized he had in fact sealed his Savior’s death. So as a final act of defiance he hung himself directly in front of the Caiaphas Family tombs, defiling their souls and preventing any of them from ever gaining eternal peace.5.5
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The Assassins, on the other side of the blade, instead trained to infiltrate an enemy society and were required to actively work to blend into it. While the Sicarii appeared just as any other indigenous Palestinian Jew in the streets before rushing a Roman entourage, and so made it seem as if every Jew might be a Sicarii – the Assassins were forced to work to cloak themselves within a target society. However the Assassins were not seeking to establish the cycle of Political Terrorism, theirs were acts of Tactical Terror.
This was because every Assassination was backed by a large supporting force. Assassins were acting to increase the power of an already established sect. The men and system that had trained him, funded him, and inculcated him with the ideals of the group. Assassins did not act alone, and they always targeted men with high Tactical values whose death would directly benefit their sect. They did not disregard the Symbolism of their attacks, often carrying them out on crowded daytime streets, but at times they attacked with extreme stealth and sought to escape afterwards.
Sicarii were characterized by being anonymous members of a society they had no need of trying to blend into, but which was being occupied by an outside force. And Sicarii killed in hopes of beginning the cycle of Political Terrorism. While assassins, historically, were members of an established sect who infiltrated alone into alien societies which they sought to blend into before carrying out their attacks. Attacks that emphasized the Tactical instead of the Symbolic and had no desire to incite any retribution or recruit any new members. Retribution against the heart of the assassins would be nearly impossible anyways, because of the mountainous fortresses in which the assassins headquartered themselves.
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So of all the modern political killings labeled “assassinations,” which has become diluted to mean any targeted killing of a political leader, only a few were anything close to true Assassinations. Neither JFK nor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were Assassinated, in the purest sense of the word, as their killers were natives to the society and tried to flee and weren’t willing to be caught and killed for their actions, and weren’t part of a large established group that was infiltrating an alien society while going after a target with a high Tactical value. Granted it’s debatable, but the killing of Mahatma Gandhi is a much cleaner example of an Assassination.
Gandhi was Assassinated by a Hindu nationalist, who bowed politely before pulling a .38 Beretta semi-automatic pistol and shooting him three-times at pointblank range. Gandhi was seen as a target with high Tactical value, as he was the leader of a political movement the Hindu nationalists opposed. But then Gandhi’s killers were not totally alien to the group they were operating in, they merely feigned familiarity to get that much closer to him.
But then the killings of JFK and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. happened in front of vast crowds and while the media meticulously recorded and broadcasted every terrible detail. So there is an element of the Sicarii in their killings too. The closer you look, the more it becomes clear that labeling any modern terrorist a Sicarii or Assassin can be done only in terms of degree. The complex nature of modern society has blurred the lines once used to outline both historic groups.
Although today it is near-impossible to fully replicate the machinations of either sect, the intentions and circumstances of each group’s operations have been echoed in nearly every blast of modern Islamic terror.
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Both sects, the Sicarii and the Assassins, are widely cited in academic circles as being the forefathers of modern terrorism. Which brings up an extremely interesting point. Neither the Sicarii nor the Assassins targeted anyone they, or we, would consider innocent. All of the Assassin’s targets had Tactical value, and although an anonymous Roman official or soldier striding across the streets of Palestine might’ve considered himself innocent if he’d never ordered nor carried out any abject oppression – in the eyes of both the Sicarii and your average Palestinian Jew he was certainly complicit in the oppression.
A Roman official was a living symbol of their oppression. As a man, he embodied both what the occupation meant to the Palestinian Jews and was the de facto means by which the occupation governed and exerted pressure. He embodied the institution of occupation more than any building. And as a man walking down the street he could be surgically killed in a way which would be sure to kill him and only him. The dagger was all the technology needed to kill before the days of any sort of mechanized transportation, bulletproof glass, or bombproof doors. But as that technology did develop, so too did the way in which occupations and all forms of social organization function.
Today institutions are not represented as much by the humans they are composed of, but by the buildings in which these humans dwell. Institutions have become, in the literal sense, buildings – no longer are they only abstract ideologies. For instance, the New York Yankees are an institution. Stabbing Derek Jeter to death, however, wouldn’t been seen as an attack on that institution as much as blowing up Yankee Stadium would. Even though it’s said that Jeter embodies the Yankees, so too do Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. The institution of the New York Yankees is embodied more by their stadium than by any one player – it’s ephemeral, a philosophy of bats and balls that dwells more in a massive stadium than in any one player.
The death of any one person never reaps much Tactical benefit in today’s world, or could even have as much Symbolic impact as the destruction of an entire building. And although Yitzhak Rabin might beg to differ, it’s often much easier to blow up an entire building or a car then it is to get close enough to actually stab someone important. Often the face men with high symbolic value do wear is that of their limousine or the embassy within which they sleep. Structures which cannot be attacked with a knife, but can and so are attacked with another weapon. It was the weapon of choice for the members of Hezbollah who carried out what’s well described as a mass-assassination against the Marines stationed just outside Beirut.
After all, Hezbollah was a well established group who used a carefully disguised agent to get close enough for a strike on a highly Tactical target. There wasn’t much of Symbolic Terror to the attack, as they warned no one of the attack, didn’t hint of its coming in the least, in no way sought to make it a media event, and didn’t seek to invoke any retribution.
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In fact, for years after the bombing no one was sure who exactly had carried it out because Hezbollah didn’t even claim responsibility for the deaths at all and was hardly known by anyone to exist. When a bomb is used in acts of Symbolic Terror against a solid concrete institution, often many lives are taken while the building, the institution, is being destroyed. However these lives are less than collateral to the terrorist who is targeting the building.
Modern acts of Symbolic Terror target the buildings, the brick-and-mortar institutions, which symbolize something grander than themselves. The lives that are taken by modern acts of Symbolic Terror that target buildings are entirely incidental to the terrorist, and the Western preoccupation with mourning over a death-toll oftentimes hides a much more indicative, and worrisome, fact. When attacks no longer hold a Symbolic element, that means the terrorists no longer feel they need any recruits and are no longer worried about presenting themselves as stronger than they are.
Once attacks have shifted to being almost entirely Tactical, it means the terrorists behind them consider themselves strong enough to try and Tactically twist their target’s arm. Which then does mean targeting humanity itself instead of the building humanity often dwells in. This shift was seen in the months after 9/11, as reports surfaced indicating that al-Qaeda was now targeting targets of economic values – such as facilities that ship, refine, or store petroleum products – and targets that would lead to massive civilian casualties and also hamstring society as a whole – such as nuclear power plants and dams.
The weapon used against our modern institutions, the bomb, is a tool that’s become the weapon of choice for terrorists the world over for roughly a hundred years now. The Sicarii’s attacks successfully invoked the cycle of Political Terrorism for the first time, however theirs was a world much different from our own and so their example can only provide the starting points from which analysis can be continued.
Political Terrorism, in a more modern form, came about in a society that was much like ours. It had a media, and it’s officials could no longer be easily and personally stabbed to death.
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In the end, the Sicarii and the Assassins touched history very differently. While the Assassins successfully controlled a wide swath of the Middle East for over two centuries, the Sicarii only existed for about two generations. In that time only some fifty Assassinations were recorded, however the sect managed to turn back the armies of Sultans and Kings and control countless fortresses spread over what has today become sections of several nations. And the specter their group posed was enough to cause their name to be adopted into nearly every Western language as the term for any sort of political killing, no matter how far it is from the circumstances of historical Assassinations.
The Sicarii, however, never really managed to control any land at all. The name of their broader group, the Zealots, holds much less linguistic potency and left much less of a legacy. But the end of the Sicarii marked the beginning of something much bigger.
With the end of the Sicarii sect came the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora. Their tactics had invoked the wrath of the Roman occupation, a wrath so great that after the Sicarii had slain their last, it drove the Jews out of their homeland in and around Judea and to the many corners of the Earth.
The wrath the Sicarii managed to bring down from the ruling Roman authorities tolerated no dissent. And so when the son of a Jewish carpenter, himself a Jew, began to gain a following and speak out against their imperial rule, he too was brutally and publicly executed in the name of maintaining stability. These events marked the beginning of a prophecy that would be fulfilled some 2,000 years later, with the return of the Jews to Judea and the creation of the state of Israel.
In 70 AD, on the night of the last Passover any of them would ever know and surrounded by Rome’s 10th Legion, every living member of the Sicarii sect took part in a mass suicide at the fortress of Masada, a place that’s not often mentioned in the annals of history. However it was a sacrifice that would be mimicked in Spain hundreds of generations later, as the Spanish authorities closed in on the bombers responsible for the carnage of 3/11.