Leftist extremism became popular, at least as a news story, in the late 1960s. This was largely driven by the emergence of the Baby Boomer generation (the bulge in post World War II births), and the spread of television and development of television news. This last item is often overlooked, but to anyone who lived through the period will remember how much influence the new television news shows had. But the mass media works both ways, and when general revulsion against the terrorist attacks caused the TV news organizations to go with the flow, and turn against the radical leftists, the problem went away.
During this same period, there was also a burst of terrorism by Palestinian groups. The Palestinians were bribed and intimidated into submission, and the Palestinian terrorism largely disappeared. The same approach was used against Islamic terrorism in general, which also showed up during this time. This wave of Islamic terrorism was only directed at Islamic countries. That changed in the 1990s.
The current wave of Islamic terrorism is directed as Islamic, and Western, populations. The Western angle has turned out to be a major advantage for the terrorists. In the past, Islamic terrorism quickly became anathema, and withered away, because the people being terrorized turned against it. Deprived of popular support, the Islamic terrorists faded away. This has happened several times in the past few decades. But by attacking foreign targets, you dont lose your support among your own people. This was a brilliant innovation. However, it has several weaknesses. One is playing out in Iraq. If foreign troops come into an Arab nation, depose the hated local dictator, and stay to help rebuild and establish a democratic government, the terrorists are forced to kill Arabs. This, as has happened in the past, makes the terrorists unpopular among their base supporters.
Another weakness is that the Western nations getting hit by the terrorism eventually become less understanding of the grievances of the terrorists and demand that the home countries of the terrorists eliminate the problem. This, in turn, triggers terrorist violence against the people in the countries that the terrorists recruit from. This is not good for Islamic terrorist organizations, for in the past it has meant they would get wiped out. For the moment.
Unlike in the past, new forms of communication (television, radio, Internet), have made it easier for these radical organizations to get formed, and keep going. There has been violent resistance to tyranny in Islamic countries for centuries. Terrorism was often part of the resistance effort. But now the terrorism is easier to get started, and keep going, because of better communications. Thus, for the first time in history, the tyrants are under real, and sustained, pressure to allow political and social reforms. The Western democracies have provided a model, and the Islamic terrorists have shown that armed resistance is still possible against a modern police state. While Islamic terrorism has usually been quickly stamped out by the Moslem tyrants, the emergence of democracy in Iraq, and the example of communist tyrannies collapsing in the late 1980s, gives Moslem dictators much to fear.
There are still some non-Islamic terrorists out there. And why there are so few of them provides an insight into the future of Islamic terrorism. In Greece, the Popular Revolutionary Action organization took credit for three bombs that went off last week. The bombs, like the organization that set them off, were weak, did little damage and caused no injuries. The Popular Revolutionary Action is but the latest of leftist terrorist organizations that have been a feature of Greek life for decades. Before them, the "November 17" and "Revolutionary Peoples Struggle" (ELA) groups were active, but they were put out of business three years ago. Such leftist terror groups were common throughout Western Europe in the 1970s and 80s. Even the United States had a few of them (like the Weathermen and the SLA), but these outfits didnt last long in North America. Why did they survive longer in Europe? Why did they eventually disappear in Europe? The main reason was the lack of popular support, and the withdrawal of active support by the Soviet Union (whose connections to these terror groups was becoming known, and causing diplomatic problems with angry Western governments.) In Greece, such radical politics retained some popular support.