But as Philip Bobbitt points out in his powerful, dense and brilliant new book, “Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century,” in the late 18th century they were also quite different from the terrorists we now know. They resembled the type of “territorial states” they preyed upon. Emulating them, the pirates demarcated their terrain, humiliated their nemeses and copied “the mercantile, cynical manners of the era.” That style of terror, Mr. Bobbitt argues, was far different from the kind practiced by the 20th-century Irish Republican Army, which in turn was far different from the tactics of 21st-century Al Qaeda. But in each case, Mr. Bobbitt suggests, the ambitions and techniques of an era’s terrorist groups reflected the states they were confronting. He does not mean these to be symmetries like those implied by the assertion that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Mr. Bobbitt, who teaches law at the University of Texas and Columbia University and directs the Center for National Security at Columbia and who has held positions in six United States administrations is too subtle to accept a formulation that has become little more than a relativist mantra.
The New York Times
In a Changing World, an Ever-Evolving Terrorism