Defining terrorism

March 29, 2006 | 25 comments
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By request, this morning I am going to talk about defining terrorism. The first important thing you need to realize is that there is no single widely accepted definition, either in academia or in the policy world. Everyone uses their own. So we’re going to talk about how you can build your own definition of terrorism.

The second important thing to realize is that any definition of terrorism is going to make some people happy and some people unhappy. Your definition does not need to please everyone, but you should be able to defend it. To do this, you have to realize what it is you like about your definition. What quality (or qualities) about your newly built definition satisfy you? This is your standard, the yardstick with which you are measuring the goodness of any definition of terrorism.

Be explicit. If you like yours because it’s very broad and inclusive, say so. If you like yours because it’s narrow and exclusive, say so. And try to think about why you like that particular standard– what’s good about broadness, or narrowness, or whatever? Given your definition’s virtues (and deficiencies), what is it good for? What makes it useful? What questions will it help you to answer? What are its limitations?

Your definition will also be judged by what it includes and what it excludes. It may exclude groups or acts which some people consider terrorism, and so they will judge your definition to be defective. It may include groups or acts which some people do not consider terrorism, with the same result. Again, remember that you cannot please everyone. All definitions are arbitrary to some degree. Pick a definition you like, and which you can defend.

So, let us begin.

We’re going to be constructing your definition in a modular fashion. We’re going to consider five individual elements of the definition separately. I am going to lay out some of the questions which must be answered by any definition of terrorism. Your answers to these five questions will guide you in the construction of your own definition.

1. How much action is required? Most people consider terrorism to be some variety of violent action. But definitions do not agree on the amount of violence which is required. Is a threat enough, or must there be a physical act? Must the action be successful, or is an attempt enough? If actual violence is required, does the violence need to involve injury to human beings, or is property damage enough? If property damage is sufficient, then how much property damage is required for you to consider an action to be terrorism? (What about graffiti? Is there a dollar amount of damage required? Or do you want to lean on established legal definitions and say that it must be a certain class of misdemeanor, or a felony?) If human injury is required, what level of injury do you require? (Hospitalization? Crippling? Death?)

2. How much organization is required? Can a single individual acting on his own be a terrorist? (Ted Kaczynski, for instance.) What about a single individual, who feels sympathy for a larger movement, and who acts to advance the goals of that movement, but is not a member of a larger organization? (Examples which might fit here include Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammed.) Or does terrorism require multiple people working together, as part of a formal organization?

3. Can actions by the state be considered terrorism? Although the word “terrorism” was coined to describe actions carried out by the revolutionary French state, most contemporary definitions of terrorism explicitly exclude state action. One notable exception is prominent leftist activist Noam Chomsky, whose writings on terrorism focus almost exclusively on the actions of states– the United States and Israel in particular. Most other scholars and policymakers define terrorism as an action by non-state actors.

There is still a gray area here, though, since several states sponsor violent extremist groups whose actions they do not completely control. How closely affiliated with a state can a group be without having their actions be considered a state action? For instance, the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades are considered to be a wing of the Fatah political party, which was in power when the Brigades were formed in the Second Intidada. (The Sinn Fein likewise has an armed wing– the Provisional IRA– but as Sinn Fein has become persuaded that they have a chance at governing, they have disavowed violent action. In 2005, the Provisional IRA itself renounced violence.) The Columbian state has also given official support at times to right-wing paramilitary groups using terrorist tactics, in order to fight against left-wing terrorists and guerillas. Again, the question is, how much support can a state offer and still deny responsibility?

4. Are certain intentions or goals required? Most definitions state that terrorism is an action which is intended to cause a psychological response– fear. Many definitions also require terrorists to have political goals. This is especially important if you believe that a single individual, with no membership in any larger organization, can be a terrorist. Is a serial killer a terrorist? A mugger or bank robber? What about an extortionist? If not, what distinguishes such a criminal from a terrorist? What about an organization whose goals are so out-of-this-world that they can hardly be called political? Agents of the quasi-religious movement Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas on a Tokyo subway for reasons that are murky, but arguably include the desire to bring about the end of the world. Is this a political goal? If not, then what about Islamist terrorists who want to bring about the return of the Caliphate, or the Mahdi, or a unified global Islamic state? These goals are also religious, and no more likely to occur. Is this other-worldliness offset by other, more limited goals such as the overthrow of specific governments in the middle east, or the end of US financial and military support for Israel?

5. What targets are acceptable? Many scholars consider terrorism to be a phenomenon aimed at non-combatants. Military personnel are fair game, in this formulation, because they have chosen this profession and in so doing accepted the inherent risks. Violence directed toward military personnel is defined instead as a kind of unconventional warfare. On the other hand, what about attacking military personnel when they are sleeping in their barracks? What about attacking military personnel when they are out of uniform and off duty in a disco? Or why make the distinction at all? On September 11th, were the soldiers in the Pentagon less the victims of a terrorist attack than the civilians in the twin towers?

——————————————–

So, those are the five questions I have to ask. Other scholars might ask additional components, but I think that any serious definition of terror must include answers to at least these five questions. Use your answers to build your definition. Feel free to post yours in the comment section, and to explain why you chose as you did.

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25 Responses to Defining terrorism

  1. TMD on March 29, 2006 at 11:59 am

    I’ve personally always liked Crenshaw’s (’80, ’03(?) definitions and the one Pape provides in the APSR piece: they define terrorism in terms of a particular set of actors, a strategic logic (compellance), and a context (weaker trying to coerce the stronger). They also make it possible, I think, to distinguish between guerrillas strategies and crime. At the same time, they set aside ‘state terror’ and ‘covert action’ (by states) as separate phenomena without suggesting that they are unimportant, which I like is useful and important at at social scientific level. The question of what targets are acceptable has always seemed odd to me–one of the things that crenshaw makes clear is that it is symbolic targets that are important, and military targets sometimes have that quality, too–like the Pentagon did in ’01 or the British Army had in NI.

    Btw, you’ve got some good guys in your dept–I met Brendan and Will at IQRM this year and we had some fun together–

  2. TMD on March 29, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    second sentence should read ‘make it possible to distinguish between terrorism, guerilla strategies, and crime’

  3. Boris Max on March 29, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Is this an open book test? Can I use my notes? Perhaps I’ll revert to the time-honored student tactic of questioning the questions.

    Despite your long preamble and its rhetorical backflips over the inability to make definitions that everyone agrees with, your midterm–or is it a final?–refuses to consider soft terror. Your first question begins “Most people see terrorism as some form of violent action.” Most, but not all. Nevertheless, subsequent questions, with their discussion of the Provisional IRA, Hamas, and the Unibomober, continue to press this point by implication.

    But reasonable people have suggested that there can be terrorism without physical violence, that economic terrorism can be just as frightening and can also hurt its victims. If a company tells its workers (and this happens in the third world as well as in the United States) that it will move its operations to another country unless they take lower wages, isn’t this terror? If a worker is told she will be fired for talking about unionizing, isn’t that terror? Isn’t the company using fear to gain their ends and hoping that people who aren’t directly involved will also be afraid and act accordingly? That employees at other plants will “get the point?” Aren’t they saying “agree with our agenda or we will hurt you?” True, no one will die or be physicaly injured, but these things aren’t the only things people are afraid of. And the targets of soft terror–people’s homes and families–are things that no self-respecting pilot would deliberately carpet bomb.

    If the august professor would allow his humble students to follow this line of inquiry, it would also be interesting to ask which form of terror–soft or hard–was actually more terrifying. Which is more widespread? Which is more effective? Is Wal-Mart or the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade getting what they want?

  4. John David Payne on March 29, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Boris,

    Your comment is banned! Banned forever! I am refusing to consider soft terror! Refusing, do you hear me? Now get out of here and take your soft terror with you!

    Just kidding.

    This is a set of questions designed to help people construct their own definition of terrorism, which, clearly, you have at least begun to do. I chose not to include my own personal definition in order to keep this discussion wide open. Your comment is part of the dialogue that I was hoping to create, and I am glad that you are putting in your two cents.

    Now, let me respond to your criticism. You seem to have read between the lines and inferred that I do not consider things like a company threatening to relocate a facility to be terrorism. You’re right, as it turns out. The reason is twofold. First, when most people on earth use the term terrorism, this is not what they are talking about. I want my definition to make sense to the people who read my work, because using common words to mean something novel is a practice which isolates my discipline (political science) from a wider audience. I oppose this isolation and want my work to be more accessible.

    Second, defining terrorism to include what you are calling “soft terror” dilutes the term to the point of meaninglessness. You reduce terrorism to any threat, implied or explicit, of negative consequences. For example, when my father told me as a teenager that I had to get my eagle scout before I could get my driver’s license, he too was using fear to gain his ends, and hoping that my brothers would also be afraid and act accordingly. True, no one would die or be physically injured, but these things aren’t the only things that people are afraid of. Right?

    So, you are welcome to your definition, but I think it is perhaps too broad to be very useful for the purposes of this not-at-all-august not-yet-professor.

  5. Lamonte on March 29, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    I’m sure my reference sources are not as eloquent as yours but they help in defining terrorism for me. So since you ask…

    While chaperoning a Stake Youth Dance a month or so ago I caught these words from the Black-eyed Peas song “Where is the love”

    “Overseas yeah we tryin to stop terrorism
    But we still got terrorists here livin
    In the USA the big CIA the Bloodz and the Crips and the KKK”

    Terrorism comes from all sides, the right and the left. In my opinion it always has an element of violence used to “terrorize” the innocents. And who suggested disqualification of actions of the state? I deplore the actions of the IRA but spend time talking to a Cathoilic from Northern Ireland and you find that the British Army was not so far removed from acts of terrorism. When people are afraid to walk down the street for fear of losing their lives, terrorism lives there. It doesn’t matter if it is the criminal element of an urban community, the suicide bombing in a crowded market or the rousting harrasment of the state’s army out patroling and “keeping the peace.” I’m not certain whether it always has a political goal in mind – I guess it depends on how you define “political.” But put simply, when reasonable people can’t live peacefully then terrorism is usally to blame.

  6. roland on March 29, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    A much more important question is not what but WHY is their terrorism in the world today.

    Any action by any individual or group directed against another individual with the intent to cause harm (physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, etc) is a form of terrorism. It applies that bad consequences are in store because of one’s beliefs or actions. One could argue that then the state straps a guilty convict into the electric chair and throws the switch is a form of terrorism and is suppose to scare people not to repeat his actions.

  7. John David Payne on March 29, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Lamonte,

    Again, let me say that you are free to build whatever definition of terrorism you want. From what I read here, it seems that your definition is more expansive than mine, and more limited than the one Boris proposes above. Why do I conceive of terrorism so narrowly? Well, because I am trying to study it. And focusing in tightly allows me to see more clearly.

    Let me also say that scholars do not try to define terrorism in order to say who is right and who is wrong. When I say that X is terrorism and Y is not, I am not making a value judgment. I am not saying that X is bad and Y is good. In the same way, scholars of national security usually do not spend much time thinking about neighborhood crime, even though this can make people feel very insecure. This is not to say that crime is unimportant, or that it is not a problem. It’s just not what national security scholars think about. Similarly, most social scientists and policymakers who say they are interested in terrorism are not talking about state actions. Again, this is not a value judgement.

    Let me push this a little more. People who lived in Seoul, Korea, in the early 1950s probably felt unsafe. They probably feared for their lives. They were not living peacefully. Why? It was not because of terrorism– it was because of the Korean War. I’m not saying that soldiers (of whatever state) did not do bad things, or things that made people afraid. I’m not saying that the war was justified or good. I’m just saying that it’s not very useful, from a social science perspective, to think about this conflict as terrorism. It’s more useful to think of it as a war.

    So, I might agree that the British Army sometimes did things that were scary, or bad. But I do not consider this terrorism, because my definition of terrorism is limited to non-state actors.

  8. Craig S on March 29, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    You are right that defining terrorism is a difficult proposition. My dissertation took one whole chapter (30+ pages) to define and justify my definition of terrorism.

    There are some important points which should be taking into account. First, anyone interested in discussing or learning about terrorism should look up Bruce Hoffman’s book, “Inside Terrorism”. People should beware of 90% of the books out there which discuss terrorism came out after 9/11 and anyone who had taught a community college class in political science or had served in any government agency wrote a book–they are crap.

    I find it helpful to dissassociate the act from the actor. When you do this, the definition becomes much clearer (obviously my definition includes state sponsored and commited terrorism).

    The term terrorism is such a value laden term that we must be careful how it is used.

    I cannot fully go over my definition in this forum, so I will fully expound on my definition (with Times and Season’s gracious acknowledgment) over at splendid sun http://www.splendidsun.com/wp/index.php/2006/03/29/194#more-194.

    To establish my credentials, I am an assistant professor of political science at Kansas State University where I teach internation relations and security related classes and I focus my research on terrorism issues. I was one of the few who were studying terrorism before 9/11.

  9. wilt on March 29, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    I freely admit to a bias, as I’ve worked the Antiterrorism field for over 20 years within the U.S. federal government, so my ability to think outside any box may be limited. Having made that qualification, the U.S. Department of Defense definition is one of the better ones I’ve encountered:

    “The calculated use of violence or threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments
    or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological. Those acts are usually planned
    to attract widespread publicity and are designed to focus attention on the existence, cause or demands of the terrorists.”

    Defining terms is often difficult, and ideologies enter in to the efforts. Witness the refusal of some governments to define Hamas, Hezbollah, and others as terrorist groups. Instead they are spoken of as “resistance against the Zionist entity” or some other rhetorical flourish.

    I suggest if we define conventional criminal activity as terrorism because people are afraid, we begin to reduce the significance of the terrorist act. The reaction most of us had the first time we saw a plane in the air after 11 Sep 01 is what the terrorists would have as a near constant state. Undermining confidence in society – in our religion – in our day-to-day lives are by-products of that state of terror.

    The use of Gadianton Robbers and Secret Combinations give interesting depth to the effort to study, understand, and hopefully defeat, most terror attacks. None of us will see the end of terrorism in our lifetimes – nor in our children’s lifetimes. But we can reduce the impact and reduce the bleeding. The times and troubles off the Nephites are with us now.

    Off my soapbox now –

    **
    I’ve also attached the 22 most commonly used terms from 109 definitions of terrorism (cite at the end of the table) for use or consideration.

    Element Frequency (%)
    Violence, force 83.5
    Political 65
    Fear, terror emphasized 51
    Threat 47
    (Psychological) effects
    and (anticipated)
    reactions 41.5
    Victim –
    target differentiation 37.5
    Purposive, planned,
    systematic, organized
    action 32
    Method of combat,
    strategy, tactic 30.5
    Extranormality,
    in breach of accepted
    rules, without humanitarian
    constraints 30
    Coercion, extortion,
    induction of compliance 28
    Publicity aspects 21.5
    Arbitrariness; impersonal,
    random character;
    indiscrimination 21
    Civilians, noncombatants,
    neutrals, outsiders
    as victims 17.5
    Intimidation 17
    Innocence of victims
    emphasized 15.5
    Group, movement,
    organization as
    perpetrator 14
    Symbolic aspect,
    demonstration to others 13.5
    Incalculability,
    unpredictability,
    unexpectedness of
    occurrence of violence 9
    Clandestine, covert nature 9
    Repetitiveness; serial or
    campaign character of
    violence 7
    Criminal 6
    Demands made on
    third parties 4

    Source: Alex P. Schmid, Albert J. Jongman et al., Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, and Literature. New Brunswick, Transaction Books, 1988, pp. 5-6 as quoted in Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism. Columbia University Press, 1998. page 40.

  10. wilt on March 29, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    The post from Craig S. came as I was trying to post mine. He says it far better than I.

    One point: Bruce Hoffman’s book is outstanding as a primer. The original came out in 1998. An updated one should be out in May of this year.

    The book, “Terror in the Mind of God” by Mark Juergensmeyer is another excellent source.

    wilt

  11. Craig S. on March 29, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    Dittos on the Juergensmeyer Book

  12. John Mansfield on March 29, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    Terrorism is a method. Who the actors are employing the method of terrorism and what their aims are is irrelevant for identifying the tactic. What distinguishes it from conventional tactics is that the principle harm to the enemy that it generates is modifications in the enemy’s behaviour; the enemy is terrorized more than hurt and does things to himself that penalize him more than his actual injuries did.

    An example would be a small bombing that kills a half dozen people, on a par with a bad traffic accident, and causes first fearful paralyse and then costly vigilance to prevent a repeat. By this measure, Kaczynski and John Allen Muhammed performed terrorism. McVeigh didn’t because he accomplished major damage and didn’t play the mysterious bogeyman. Mohammed Atta et al. I am not sure about. On one hand, they personally killed thousands and destroyed billions of dollars in property. On the other hand, the U.S.’s self-harmful responses leveraged Atta’s attack greatly.

  13. John David Payne on March 29, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    I own both the Hoffman and Juergensmeyer books, and I can only echo the above endorsements. I also recommend reading a few things written by terrorists, if you really want to understand them. Carlos Marighella’s Mini-manual of the urban guerilla is short, interesting, and available for free on the web. The Al Qaeda training manual is also informative, but a little dry.

  14. John David Payne on March 29, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    And thank you to Craig for sharing your definition with us all. For all the other readers, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you click on over and read Craig’s post.

    (More comments to follow later, time permitting.)

  15. Sarah on March 29, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    John Mansfield sort of said what I want to — the key to whether it’s terrorism or just criminal violence is that it’s trying to change the behavior of a class, or group of individuals (or a government, by means of getting a class or group of individuals to persuade the government to change its behavior.) Three people taking a bus full of schoolkids hostage in order to get a million dollars and move to a non-extradition country is not terrorism, but three people taking a bus full of schoolkids hostage in order to get a get a certain race or religious group to stop sending its children to school, or to convince everyone in a certain union to move out of that town — that’s all terrorism as far as I’m concerned. I like this mostly because it gets away from the problems I see with trying to call certain actions “hate crimes” — the difference between killing black people because you hate black people, and killing black people because you want other black people to do something (or Jews, or women, or whatever) is important to me, though obviously it’s difficult to prove. I know that it still leaves plenty of “but it makes people afraid” type stuff out, but lots of things make people afraid. One of my ex-boyfriends used to think that the characters in suits at Disneyland were out there in order to make him afraid. There are a lot of criminal and non-criminal actions that cause fear that are manifestly not terrorism, and there’s the problem of proper war mentioned above as well.

    I don’t like limiting the terrorist concept to just actions that cause a society to, say, add CCTV cameras everywhere or require IDs for all citizens or shoot suspected terrorists on sight (or even the more subtle stuff, like looking at your neighbors with more suspicion and putting up those silly “don’t open bulging packages with wires sticking out of them” signs in every mailroom,) but I’m not sure I’ve completely sold myself on my version versus John Mansfield’s, above.

    I don’t like including the “soft terror” of economic persuasion at all; threatening to fire someone or reduce their wages is qualitatively and quantitatively different from physical violence, and not just because you can retrain or find another job or for that matter survive on your own garden (while you can’t, say, regrow an arm or a leg) — even if you could regrow a leg, there’s a violation of someone’s fundamental rights (life, liberty, property) involved in violence, and there just isn’t in the choice of denying someone a job, as far as I’m concerned. So a violation of fundamental rights, instead of any random criminal act, would be part of my definition too.

    The whole thing reminds me of one of my favorite classes — Peace Studies. We spent one third of the class defining “war,” one third on “negative peace” and one third on “positive peace.” Those were good times; one of the few classes where it was actually worthwhile to show up to class for the discussion (instead of for the tips on what would be on the final exam.) And, like this post, it was an excellent form of diversion from studying less fun subjects, like the Russian I’m supposed to be studying right now.

  16. Craig S. on March 29, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    By the way John, Good luck on your degree. I have heard good things about your department.

  17. TMD on March 29, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    The best definition I know:
    Pape: the use of violence by an organization other than a national government to cause intimidation or fear among a target audience
    Crenshaw (2000): “deliberate and systematic violence performed by small groups of people,� as opposed to mass, communal violence
    Crenshaw (1980): ‘premeditated use or threat of symbolic, low-level violence by conspiratorial organizations for political ends’

    Of these, the best is, I think, Crenshaw 1980, although it needs the addition of ‘state government via its domestic populace’ provided by Pape (moreso as he develops his ideas in the article). This gets at the structure of the enterprise: weak groups using terrorism as a strategy to coerce a stronger actor (a state) by either actually inflicting, or convincingly threatening, that it will do harm. I prefer the symbolic element because I think that arguments that terrorism must be directed at civilians are something of a canard (sorry Craig) because civilians do not necessarily make this judgment. I would argue, for instance, that the effects on the British population of killing soldiers were no different from killing non-soliders in NI. Certainly, the fact that the Pentagon was perceived by some as a military target–which it objectively was–did not mean that the intended audience percieved some separation from pain or risk because they are not wearing uniforms. Additionally, I favor a symbolic rather than a civil-military distinction because the message of the attack is almost always wrapped up in the targetting–it was by attacking transit in London and Madrid which not only acted as a coercive act (and threat for the future, Pape makes an excellent point that actual terrorist acts are most powerful for what they threaten to do next rather than the pain they actually inflict, in terms of the game theoretic literature on bargaining they ‘reveal information’ about their relative power) by making Spaniards and Londoners more uneasy about their transport but by hitting Sp and UK specifically, trying to coerce all of the Europeans against supporting the US in Iraq (there was a reason, after all, that they didn’t hit France or Germany…).

    Last, I’m opposed from separating terrorism from ‘political violece’ more generally by arguing that it is special because it seeks to generate fear. A couple of reasons…First, I think terrorism is coercive, and works through pain or expectation of pain, rather than fear. Expectation of pain can also be aversion (familiar situation + belief of possibility of harm), as well as fear (_extremely_ novel situation + belief of possibility of harm). These emotions are different, all the way down to their physiology, cognitive effects, and associated behavioral strategies. Second, lots of other kinds of violence strategies give rise to fear–Rosen suggests in War and Human Nature (2005) that fear is one of the key things that gives rise to termination decisions in conventional war, for instance (though I disagree with his work on a whole host of levels). Guerilla strategies give rise to fear. MAD worked via fear. All sorts of political violence strategies involve fear as a key component. Terrorism is not different in that way…

    PS My ‘bona fides': I’m a 5th year PS grad student (political psych minor) at The Ohio State University working on a security studies dissertation.

  18. Seth R. on March 29, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    Terrorism is merely warfare engaged-in by individuals or entities who are too poor to maintain or succeed with a conventional standing army.

  19. Craig S. on March 29, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    Seth,

    That may be a definition of low intensity conflict or of unconventional warfare or of assymetric warfare or of….ad nauseum. But lets face it, terrorism IS a value laden term. That value is not good. I believe that there are applications where guerrilla warfare is appropriate. However, I personally draw the line, morally, at terrorism.

    It is interesting how many of us “specialists” in this limited fora don’t come to a consensus definition of terrorism. I think this is probably the point (not to put words in your mouth) that David was trying to make with this post. Everyone should decide on their own definition of terrorism. As long as you can reasonably justify and defend the definition, I have no problem. Indeed, I see that as one of my basic functions as a professor (to get students to actually think for themselves).

  20. Kimball Hunt on March 29, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    I of course think (your fellow MIT scholar) Chomsky rules!

  21. XON on March 29, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    The definition will not be solidified any time soon, because the entities with the authority to do so (I mean by virtue of role, rather than some sort of deference to authority), primarily the U.S. government, and the Executive, in particular, do not want a definition. Undefined, they have Orwell’s perpetual war. If they identify a definition, it immediately becomes open to criticism, and diminishes the amount of political opportunity available to them.

    I’m not saying your endeavor isn’t useful. It just won’t mean anything until you have sufficient political, military, and economic heft to impose the definition on other participants in terror (either as perpetrators or targets-past or -future).

    Undefined, it’s a literal gold mine.

    X

  22. Lamonte on March 29, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    John #7 – Thanks for your response to my comment. I certainly agree that the folks living in Seoul during the early 50’s feared for their lives just like the citizens of London during WWII and that times of war, whether declared or undeclared, might justifiably be excluded from the definition. But I wonder about the citizens of Baghdad. How do you difine what they feel. Is it terrorism that occupies their thoughts – I think so – even though they are in the midst of a war. And I’m not talking about simple “neighborhood crime” when I speak of the urban community but rather a general element of fear that permeates in SE Washington, a few miles from my home n Northern Virginia, and in the afterdark streets of Newark, NJ. It seems that simply “watching your back” in those environments won’t necessarily save you. A friend of mine went to Northern Ireland to observe the May Day elections in the late 90’s as part of his curriculum for a joint degree in international conflict resolution and law. While walking down the street by himself in Derry (or Londonderry as the Brits insist on calling it) a couple of British commandos pulled up in their vehicle and shoved him hard against a brick wall and asked what he was doing there. They weren’t necessarily happy when he told them his business but I’m sure that was not their reason for assaulting him, it was just there general demeanor as they went about their business. That seems like terrorism to me.

  23. DKL on March 29, 2006 at 8:09 pm

    Actually, in my book, terrorism mostly consists of thinking that you’re a worthy opponent of Chuck Norris.

  24. Mike W. on March 30, 2006 at 5:08 am

    It seems that the fundamental aspect of terrorism is fear and arbitrariness. If the situation is war, the violence is expected and understood. Terrorism also seems to be designed to create fear of an unclear, but expected, future event.

    Regarding roland’s comment #6: I think the reasons for terrorism are as various as the groups that perform the acts and the interpretation by the victims. Chomsky believes there are certain reasons, the Bush administration argues an entirely different set of reasons. I posted here

    http://www.philosophicponderings.com/2006/03/30/finally-its-starting-to-make-sense/

    some thoughts regarding Islamism and the U.S. response.

  25. ed on March 30, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    Wow, all this discussion and no words on whether ‘V’ was a terriorist? Good show BTW.

    1) V killed ‘policemen’ and those who had wronged him, etc. Action = medium
    2) V acted alone. Organization = none
    3) V certainly thought state actions were terriorism
    4) V definitedly had goals – wanted the public to wake up
    5) V limited his attacks to government agents.

    I wouldn’t label ‘V’ a terriorist