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Political Violence in forms of Revolution and Terrorism

Political violence

Political violence is a hard talk of all times that all spheres of science, all authors, and writers, almost the whole world concerns about.  From the beginning of history, firstly, people were blamed to live in state of nature in which they were killing each other on getting basic needs such as food. Afterwards, people were put in social contract to make them leave state of nature and live in civil societies. Thus, states were established at the end of this developed process. Secondly, states started to clash with each other for the purpose of capturing more areas, to expand their land spheres. At the same time civil wars appeared in political arena which weakened capacity and autonomy of states and created opportunities for other states to intervene each other’s domestic and foreign relations. At a result, World Wars started. Then in order to run away from another big state clashes, states brought into negotiations and formed international organizations such as UN, EU, etc. Hence, in every unexpected, violence movement between population and state or among states, world sought to find a solution for the problems.


However, during recent decades world politics come encountered new terms of political violence “revolution” and “terrorism” happening almost every corner of the world. Many authors and professors refer to this problematic issue in their works, most of them focus on causes of this political violence. In my paper I will focus on ideas of P. O’Neil and three historic articles written by most prominent professors: “Islamism, Revolution, and Civil Society” by Sheri Berman, “Causes of Terrorism” by Martha Crenshaw, and “France, Russia, China: A structural analysis of social revolutions” by Theda Skocpol. They all determine political violence in the forms of revolution and terrorism and try to find reasons of occurrence in states. While Theda Skocpol highlights importance of causes that triggered revolution in France, Russia and China compared with countries and previous revolutionary conditions that failed to resist state pressure, Sheri Berman in her article focuses on mostly role of civil society in revolution by giving example of Egypt case. Martha Crenshaw points out very similar arguments with O’Neil’s – by examining terrorism as a tool used to develop revolution. She explains her argument of causes of terrorism in three groups: institutional, ideational and individual.


Terrorism as a part of Revolution: Role of Civil Society


In this paper I will focus more on the idea that whether terrorism is a part of revolution, how the concept of civil society as a tool used to develop revolution differ from the concept of terrorism as a part of revolution. Second argument is that why terrorism lack to reach its goals, but revolution most of the time does. Theda Skocpol has more a Huntingtonean approach to the concept of revolution as she starts her paper quoting from him.[1] Skocpol mainly emphasizes effects of modernization in France, Russia and China as a cause of revolution. Country’s inability to respond modernization in agrarian bureaucracy led peasants to rebel. (Skocpol, 1976) Thus, revolution was the result of grievances in peasant civil society. Compared to Skocpol’s explanation, Sheri Berman in her Egypt case argues that success of Islamist movement in Egypt was the result of incapacitation of government’s respond to modernization and dramatic population growth which led to prerevolutionary situation starting from population. (Berman, 2003)


Comparing these two articles to the Martha Crenshaw’s I cannot fully justify her arguments about terrorism that terrorism is a violent resistance to the regime and it has a political objective. (Crenshaw, 1981) Probably, she may be right by saying that terrorism has political objective but I think that terrorism isn’t a prerevolutionary situation for revolution. In total, actually it’s not part of revolution. They may have similarities that both targets radical change, but they differ in a way how they reach to this target, or ever reach.  As O’Neil stated terrorists want more apocalyptic form of world, they try to establish new utopian order (p.211), which I may argue that, these ideas are more than radical thinking. If terrorism is a precondition for revolution, then we should look at the terrorist attacks that happening in 21st century, whether in today’s world terrorism achieves it’s political goals or it just makes chaos and gets temporary attention from mass.  Crenshaw states that most of the terrorists doesn’t actually comes from peasants or poor people, majority’s background is well-educated, wealthy families, such as Osama bin Laden. (Crenshaw, 1981) When looking at ISIS case happening today even this group of people doesn’t come from the population, they are those who are in favor of apocalypse and financed by the elite America’s allies in Gulf region. (Rogin, 2014)


Crenshaw stated about the elite group of terrorism, however she missed the points about comparing members of revolution and terrorism.(Crenshaw, 1981) From the start point of history about terrorism we didn’t heard about peasants, lower class members of  terrorist groups, talk was always about “rich’s sons”. Taking the France, Russia, Egypt cases, we observe that in all three cases revolution started from the lower class, not elites, because revolution doesn’t start with attacking state and killing mass. The idea first spread among civil society, because, for my point of view, the power of revolution is in its members, that its idea can be spread to whole population in order to make a radical change. However, terrorist is only small group of people funded mainly by elites. Thus, probably Crenshaw couldn’t consider that power of revolution it has in its members and why actually revolutions succeed in their end, but terrorist cannot follow what they started in the beginning. Here, Berman’s explanation of prerevolutionary conditions in Egypt case, the use of civil society as a tool to develop revolution is an explanation of how revolution develops from the nation itself, but not from small group of propagandists. (Berman, 2003)


Second thing is that all three authors miss to mention while talking about the real revolution and terrorism is that none of them don’t mention about the difference between revolutions that happened in West and East (except Skocpol’s short summary of Chinese revolution). Especially, Crenshaw while talking about both revolution and terrorism, she mentions terrorism only happening in East, as an attack to west and efforts to genocide all for the sake of establishment Islam State. Then a question appears: if terrorism is considered as a prerevolutionary situation, then why revolutions happening in West called “revolutions”, but in East called “terrorism”. Is it because revolutions in West targets only overturn of government and regime, and terrorism in East has more apocalyptic ideas about the whole world, not only state’s regime. They go beyond the borders. Then, why it’s happening only in East? Is it because of the fact that first civilizations was created in the East, and today’s “jihadist” people aim to create the world again in the East? Thus, if East was the start of all, they made terrorism to end all in the East.




Skocpol and Berman’s examples of revolution and prerevolutionary situation go against of the idea that terrorism is precondition of revolution. Moreover, to use civil society in the concept of terrorism as a factor causing revolution may be falsifiable. When looking at the history we hardly can find a terrorist who made a revolutionary change and followed by the society. Today, if ISIS has control over 8 million people it’s not because of its ideas are followed, but because of the power of arms and donors from Gulf countries. Thus, terrorism and revolution are enough different concepts to put them together and say that terrorism is part of revolution, at least for 21st century we cannot justify this argument. As I mentioned above, in the introduction part, world history went through many different forms of political violence to develop and reach what is it today. Even period for revolutions has gone. Now new era of clashes named by the new term “terrorism” sweeping away what the world history gained till today and in actual it’s going back to state of nature. To overturn regimes, to create Islamic state is just names given to the goals. Everything started in the East and everything will end there.

By: Zeynab Abdullayeva




Berman, S. (2003). Islamism, revolution, and civil society. Perspective on Politics, 1(02), 257-272.


Crenshaw, M. (1981). The causes of terrorism. Comparative politics, 379-399.


Skocpol, T. (1976). France, Russia, China: A structural analysis of social revolutions. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 18(02), 175-210.


Rogin, J. (2014). America’s Allies Are Funding ISIS. The Daily Beast, 14.


O’Neil, P. H. (2012). Political Violence. Essentials of Comparative Politics, 193-223.


[1] “A revolution is a rapid, fundamental and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership and government activities and policies.”

About Zeyneb Abdullayeva