BOMBS, beards and backpacks: these are the distinguishing marks, at least in the popular imagination, of the terror-mongers who either incite or carry out the explosions that periodically rock the cities of the western world. A century or so ago it was not so different: bombs, beards and fizzing fuses. The worries generated by the two waves of terror, the responses to them and some of their other characteristics are also similar. The spasm of anarchist violence that was at its most convulsive in the 1880s and 1890s was felt, if indirectly, in every continent. It claimed hundreds of lives, including those of several heads of government, aroused widespread fear and prompted quantities of new laws and restrictions. But it passed. Jihadism is certainly not a lineal descendant of anarchism: far from it. Even so, the parallels between the anarchist bombings of the 19th century and the Islamist ones of today may be instructive. (...)
Anarchists like the Professor, a quiet man who went round with a bomb in his pocket that he could detonate with the squeeze of a rubber ball should he be arrested, were difficult to detect and impossible to deter. So why did their wave of terror pass? Not, it seems, because of the measures taken to deter them. The main reason, rather, was that the world became consumed with the first world war, the Russian revolution, the fight against fascism and the struggles against colonialism. Another was that, after a while, the more rational anarchists realised that terrorism seldom achieves the ends desired of it—as the IRA has recently acknowledged.
But in truth the wave did not entirely pass; it merely changed. The anarchist terrorists of 1880-1910 were replaced by other terrorists—Fenians, Serb nationalists (one killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and thus sparked the first world war), Bolsheviks, Dashnaks (revolutionary Armenians), Poles, Macedonians, Hindu nationalists (among them the killers of Mahatma Gandhi), fascists, Zionists, Maoists, Guevarists, Black Panthers, Red Brigades, Red Army Fractions, Palestinians and even al-Qaeda's jihadists. Few of these shared the anarchists' explicit aims; all borrowed at least some of their tactics and ideas.
And the world went on. It probably would even if yesterday's dynamitards become today's plutoniumards. But terrorism is unlikely to be expunged. As long as there are men like Conrad's Professor, there will be causes to excite them, and therefore deeds to terrify their fellow citizens.
Simple y llanamente, no importó cuan represivos llegaran a ser los estados, el terrorismo siempre estuvo allí, en una forma u otra. No es una guerra que se pueda ganar a tortazos, me temo. Y menos aún invadiendo países. Sencillamente, ya se cansarán y pedirán negociar cuando vean que no cambiarán nada, o bien se disolverán de puro aburrimiento. Ganar, no ganan nunca.