Broadcasting violence

Jeff Sparrow writes: What we would now call the anarchist terrorism of the 1890s has been largely forgotten. Yet in no other period have as many heads of state been murdered as during that brief spate of time, with Sadi Carnot, president of France, killed in 1894; Antonio Cánovas, prime minister of Spain killed in 1897; the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898; King Humbert of Italy in 1900; and US President William McKinley in 1901.

The assassinations of political leaders were accompanied by other, less discriminate attacks, such as the bombing of Paris’ Chamber of Deputies in 1893 and the Café Terminus in 1894, and then, most bloodily, the explosion at the Barcelona religious procession in 1906 that killed 23 people.

Politically, the ideas of the anarchist bombers could not have been more different from those of today’s jihadis. For one thing, most of them were avowed atheists.

The Frenchman Ravachol, perhaps the most famous of the dynamitards, inspired a popular song (with the chorus: “Long live the sound of the explosion!”) after he threw an “infernal machine” at a judge notorious for his treatment of political prisoners. On the way to the guillotine, Ravachol chanted: “To be happy, God damn it, you have to kill those who own property! To be happy, God damn it, you must cut the priests in two!”

Later, when Emile Henry, an admirer of Ravachol, tossed dynamite into a fashionable restaurant, a prosecutor wondered how he justified killing random patrons.

“We will not spare the women and children of the bourgeois,” Henry snapped, “for the women and children of those we love have not been spared.”

The resemblance between that sentiment and the justification given by the Pakistani Taliban for school massacres (“If our women and children die as martyrs, your children will not escape,” explained Taliban leader Umar Mansoor) should give pause to those who understand contemporary terrorism as specifically Islamic or solely religious.

The scholar Richard Jensen reminds us that the “age of of anarchist terrorism coincided with the beginning of the age of mass journalism”. [Continue reading…]

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