Was this man the first terrorist of the modern age? (France)





It's eight years to the day since the first shots were fired in America's War on Terror. But can the terrorism tactics it sought to crush be traced back to a single attack on a Parisian cafe more than 100 years ago, asks Professor John Merriman.

On February 12, 1894, a young intellectual anarchist named Emile Henry went out to kill. And, in doing so, he arguably ignited the age of modern terrorism.

As he had looked down on Paris from near his miserable lodgings in the plebeian 20th arrondissement on the edge of Paris, he vowed war on the bourgeoisie. His specific goal was to avenge the execution of Auguste Vaillant a week earlier.

There are of course salient differences between the terrorists of the 1890s and those in our world. For one thing, the role of religious fundamentalism, such as so-called jihadists who subscribe to al-Qaeda's world view, was not a part of anarchist attacks.


However, can we find useful parallels between Henry's bomb, or "deed" as the violent anarchists used to call such attacks, and terrorism today?

Then, as now, terrorists targeted anyone identified with their enemies. Moreover, both cut across social boundaries. Unlike the notorious French anarchist bombers Ravachol and Vaillant, who were decidedly down and out, Emile Henry was an intellectual.

Both groups have used weapons that levelled the playing fields. Dynamite, invented in 1868 by Alfred Nobel, represented as one contemporary put it "a modern revolutionary alchemy".



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