August 2019:

Terrorism in Ancient History and Beyond: Unmasking the True Assassin Identity of the Sicarii

     Two previous discussions have examined violent crime on a massive scale: first, the conspiracy; second, persecution. This month’s highlight on public crime continues with a focus on organized crime and terrorism, and the concept that rational bullies rather than mentally ill persons commit the most violent crimes.


     Do not read this month’s issue if seeking validation to commit violence. This discussion neither argues for a viable ethnic link between the ancient Sicarii tribe and modern groups that continually carry out global terrorism — we lack sufficient historical documentation and testimony to prove this — nor advocates for the abuse of authoritative or collective power and violence to subdue any person or given population for any reason whatsoever.

     Rather, the focus of this discussion is to review the historical roots of the Sicarri and recognize methodological and ideological patterns to prove that rational rather than delusional thought is a basis for crimes that continually erupt from international media headlines. A secondary objective is to highlight ways in which we may permanently rupture the tribe's patterns; if terrorism in ancient Judea was a radical threat, then similar activity that occurs in our technologically advanced age renders it political extremism.

     A logical place to begin the exploration would be etymology: the Latin etymology for Sicarii is illuminating. "Sicarii " means “daggerman”; “assassin”; its symbol is a curved scythe blade or a short dagger. The definition includes acts of murder and violence against prominent persons for political views. “Sicaricon” means owner of “confiscated property”: imagine that theft that far back in history meant political conquest and terrorism! It still should be.

     Where and when did such negative human behaviours begin? One place to investigate is our remote ancestry -- the proper historical context for our cultural and social heritage. It is no secret that the earliest guerilla terrorists began to execute their own revolution sometime around the life of Christ, during the Roman occupation of the Middle East amidst the Great Jewish War, 66-73 CE.

     Which group began this horrific movement, and why did it ever start it?  The group was the Sicarii tribe, desperate for change in an environment that was quite tortuous and dehumanizing for the Jews. But it was no excuse for violence. Josephus attributes the tribe’s identity as linked to Judas Iscariot, even though other historians refute that the Twelve Apostles were part of this tribe; in War of the Hebrews (2:254– 7) Josephus validates the existence of the Sicarii as “new” during Felix’s leadership (52–60 CE) .

     This tribe has a long list of leaders. Some included Titus, Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher; John of Giscala, Judas Iscariot, and Menahem ben Yehuda, who led revolts against Romans Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Muscianus, and the Muslims. Some revolts were the siege and Roman S ack of Jerusalem , 70 CE, the Jerusalem Riots in Caesarea by the Greeks, 66 CE, the Siege of Masada, the Siege of the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem , 70 CE, the Massacre at Eln Gedi . Josephus also insinuates that Judas Iscariot and Simon wanted Christ to rebel violently against the Romans, expel their rule from Judea, create a Jewish theocracy via religion, and rule the state of Judea. That never transpired, for the rebellious and influential man, Christ, was not violent. Therefore, the Sicarii tribe formed for purely political reasons.

     Real monuments memorialize the destruction of the Sicarii and subsequent response. Trajan’s Column , 98 by 115 feet, constructed by Apollodorus of Damascus for the Roman Senate in 113 CE in Trajan’s Forum near Quirinal Hall, is a spiral, bas relief monument that depicts battles between the Romans and Dacians. The Suicide of Decebalus, a scene carved on Trajan’s Column at the Roman Forum, accurately memorializes the cruelty typically inflicted upon political opponents.

     In response to the horrific deeds of the Sicarii , Domitian commissioned The Arch of Titus , situated on the Via Sacra , Rome, south east of the Forum, for his dead brother, Titus, in 81 CE. It memorializes Titus's deification and Vespasian’s victory over the Jewish Rebellion in Judea.

     Historical accounts also validate the existence of the Sicarii. Josephus and the Talmud entries describe the atrocities the Sicarii tribe inflicted upon the general populace -- leaders and prominent people. Many victims tried to evade the negative effects of the Sicarii by establishing opposing political agendas. Sadly, many leaders who clashed with the Sicarii tribe did so mainly due to their own quest for political power, and not for civil justice!

     Unfortunately, even after Christ’s Crucifixion, the socio-political transitions the Sicarii craved throughout the Roman Empire did not occur. Consequently, the tribe began its own campaign of killing and kidnapping fellow Jews. This is an old form of terrorism. The Sicarii movement continued and dispersed as the Islamic Assassin Movement of the Dark Ages erupted, and obstructed the establishment of an Islamic princedom based on heredity in Syria. The Sicarii opposed the rise of the Mongols , who ruled the West after the 4th century CE. In other words, even though their motives may have appeared noble to fellow nationals and in the name of patriotism, the criminal deeds of the Sicarii were evil and permanently ruptured the unified culture of the West.

     As for social context, even today, peer pressure and the collective voice triggers crime; besides political extremism, the pyramidal hierarchy of the family unit is a dominant trait of social violence. For example, although the traditional patriarchal system of Europe is archaic, it still thrives in the free market and trade system -- an integral facet of modern society. Despite the high numbers of single mothers raising children independent of a male figure, patriarchy is an honored system everywhere around the world.

     Crime is also triggered by one’s social, biological, and psychological affinity to violence; no two people are similarly compelled to commit a crime, because no two people have  exactly the same genetic and social make-up. That is why watching a violent movie will not affect one person’s behaviour, whereas it may affect another’s. The anti-social, egotistic, selfish personality thrives in societies governed by systems that place high value on money and goods; such environments significantly increase crime rates. Ironically, when social institutions collapse due to an intent focus on a preservation of finances, they cannot sustain the resources necessary to fight against crime. Deeply cut expenditure budgets are prime examples of how a strong urban culture can fall due to inconsistencies in leadership and government.

     What psychological aspects of the patriarchal system trigger violence?  The overstepping of unspoken boundaries and moving beyond accepted ethics of behavior typically results in conflict. Regardless of gender and status, we all inwardly recoil as a reflex response to injury and insult; often, some take extreme offence and respond violently. The terrorist’s role as a meek, eager, and loyal missionary was part of the tribe’s agenda to dramatically set a stage for public entertainment. This agenda evolved over centuries and became eerily familiar to that of modern mass murders: trap intended victims into a crowded public space where the assassin and victims would die a violent death. It was significant that the killer-missionary blended in perfectly with the crowd via appearance and dress, to simulate a valid purpose for being in that space - an actor. Both missionary and a corroborator would purposefully hunt the intended targets. In other words, they would participate in a deed of organized crime.

     What types of groups blend in well with locals in public crowds today?  These days, the role of “missionary” as it was known in the Dark Ages has become much more dispersed and diversified. Social injustice and inequality have allegedly been provoked violence and conflict at public events. On the other hand, that is not to say that individuals of varied ethnicities and titles mix in public spaces to carry out violent and fatal deeds of hatred. Quite contrarily, most people, regardless of race or spirituality, consistently strive to obtain a peaceful and lawful life. So, who are those who display criminally aggressive behaviour in our public spaces today?

     Well, besides racism, it appears that mental illness plays a starring role in the staging of notorious violent crimes, such as random mass shootings of victims who are complete strangers to the criminal. Puzzlingly, the media depicts the assassin as mentally ill and rejected by society, when, in fact, this is not usually the case. Remember the case of the two Boston brothers who partnered in a crime spree? They were well-loved by many.

     Studies of crimes indicate that mental illness is not a typical factor; usually, mentally ill persons target those who are closest to them – not strangers. Furthermore, studies of violent crimes indicate that mental illness is not typical of most criminal violence; for the most part, as much as we refuse to acknowledge it, the most prevalent factors present in violent crimes both within the home and on public streets are gender, age, and mental state: killers victimize women as well as those who are most vulnerable and helpless, such as the elderly and children. In other words, our very socio-political system rewards persistent bullying by those in positions of greater strength and power than their victims by dramatizing the tragic events in media. Is this a valid way to interpret the perpetual link between bullying and criminal behaviour?

     To support a notion that rational bullies rather than mentally ill persons commit the most violent crimes, we will briefly glance at the statistics gathered from studies of crimes committed in the United States and Europe. Violent incidences reveal that only a very small fraction of these crimes are linked to mental illness; across the board, that rate falls to a total between 3 and 10 percent. Contrary to these realities, however, how does the media portray mass killers?

     As recently as 2017 , three murderers committed the most heinous crimes in public spaces, targeting a high number of female victims. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the crimes we see daily are not episodes of mental breakdowns, but carefully orchestrated crimes that adhere to a political agenda. The media consistently portrays mass murderers as mentally unsound.

     The argument and evidence for public violence committed by mentally ill persons is strong, but perhaps misleading. Between 2017 and 2019, at least three murderers committed the most violent crimes on a mass scale in public safe zone spaces in the cores of urban Toronto, Ontario; victims were females, the elderly, and children. When comparing these patterns to those of antiquity, it becomes apparent that the crimes we witness may not be episodes of mental breakdowns, but carefully orchestrated crimes that adhere to a rigid traditional and archaic political agenda. And yet, the media described each of those attacks as “senseless” and caused by “mental health issues”. Sadly, public mourning glorifies violent murder. Are these crimes carried out by mentally ill people, or did other people mastermind operations behind the scenes?

     Having reviewed the ancient origins of the Sicarri tribe, its political context, and the characteristics involved in public terrorism, we now move into the second part of this discussion to explore ways in which we may expel such violence from our societies. The most significant influencer in any given community is education. Educators at all levels could include a wider range of subjects, for example, that cover the conflicts that arise in societies that have exorbitantly high rates of crime: sociology, communications, and world revolution, as well as history. The sharing of information should include basic as well as formal schooling, but even for those who are not comfortable with their literacy skills, information should be ready and available everywhere, especially in the form of online keyword searching, especially within the classroom setting.

     With respect to educational content, one growing problem North American schools face is a war between government, vendors, and teachers. Who should design school curriculum? As the struggle to maintain one unified system with similar content, goals, and performance standards, the instructional designs and forms that define curriculum agendas have weakened and become non-existent. Usually, a sound agenda includes content based on traditional designs: disciplines, fields, units, centres, personal, and interdisciplinary units.

    As for approach, Eisner and Vallance postulate that academic rationalism, cognitive processes, self-actualization, social reconstruction, and utilitarianism should organize classroom curriculum content. (Eisner and Vallance, 1974). According to Petrina, eight principles of classroom curriculum and instructional design must include equity, accessibility, explicitness, consistency, flexibility, ample space, support, and minimal effort. Do North American classrooms compare well with these eight ideal standards?

     On the other hand, a new and impressive transmissive, transactive and transformative orientation in education that bolsters the stance against crime is the Nigerian program, Step Up Nigeria. It uses children’s books, coding, and organizations such as Hackathon for Justice to advocate for a healthy and crime-free lifestyle. These curricular aids place emphasis on developing habits that promote lawfulness and job skills rather than gang life and substance abuse. The 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and the Government of Qatar aided the UNODC and United Nations to transform this ambitious ideology into a permanent reality. This agenda may differ radically from North America’s.

     Moreover, this approach includes transformational ideology implemented in all levels of education. The primary/junior school levels implement the teaching of respect, justice, honesty, personal integrity, and acceptance into school curriculum. This program also addresses the ageold pattern of violence surrounding gender. At the secondary levels, stress is on property ownership, responsibilities, and individual rights, all to help students identify, avoid, and fix conflicts involving ethics and justice. At the post-graduate level, emphasis is on intervention and the sharing and dispersion of knowledge rather than censorship; focus is also on law and common social issues.

     Consequently, rather than the glorification of violence and death, appropriate and specialized teaching content targets the prevention of crimes such as terrorism, organized crime, substance addiction, trafficking, and cybercrime. Unfortunately, the abundant resources North American social services once provided in many of our urban centres have been so seriously depleted that the focus is now on punishment in overcrowded prisons rather than on crime prevention. The greatest tool to any sound curriculum must include an instilment of moral values within home and classroom environments. Why do teachers and political leaders ignore this foundational facet of education? Unfortunately, dishonesty and crime in society intently negate the positive effects of a good education; they create dehumanizing, traumatic experiences that devastate the human psyche.

     Furthermore, socialism has a very negative impact on learning, because it decreases the student’s level of independence and confidence. This is most certainly the ugly, hidden agenda, enforced by theorists who believe in an existence and enforcement of social inequality. Hidden agenda is a very propagandist, violent negation of any citizen’s capabilities and officials should permanently ban it in schools of every field and level. Nevertheless, in a society that claims to abhor discrimination, why do schools so readily accept such hate propaganda ?

     Finally, some excellent classroom activities would include the discernment of fake from real media news, perhaps developed from clippings or videos of local news stories. It is important to realize that the voicing of individual rather than collective opinion is essential to the teaching of social justice. Every student should get a chance to reveal his or her own version of the truth, and what facts proved most influential in logical reasoning.

     To break free from the incessant violence of our present and impeding destruction of our future, we must sever ties with the brutal customs our violent past. This most certainly includes the transforming of personal relationships and the quality of our daily transactions within the community. Due to a lack of respect for privacy laws, simple programs like Neighborhood Watch that aim for crime prevention may instead destroy good reputations; criminals typically organize the targeting and murdering of private citizens. Furthermore, many correction centres fall well below the expected standards. These two social institutions have failed society, because instead of improving the quality of relationships, they have destroyed the trust that should exist in any safe community. The key to societal transformation is sincerity, respect, and truthfulness.