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Defining Terrorism.

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posted on Nov, 25 2011 @ 04:34 PM
Something interesting I have noted of late on ATS is a propensity of members to raise questions regarding the nature of terrorism without a definition of “terrorism”. For instance, members will often post a thread that presents questions such as “Do you believe in terrorism” or a thread claiming that an individual or group in society are “terrorists” or discussing issues around the paradoxical nature of the “war on terror”. Yet in all of these threads it is assumed that a clear definition of the word “terrorism” exits and this is not the case and this has an impact on the flow of the thread. In this thread I want to highlight the problems associated with blindly using the word “terrorism” without taking into account the complexity of its very definition.

Terrorism, like all definitions is subjective and a truly universal definition of terrorism remains elusive despite attempts from the international community to establish such a definition. Problems in establishing this universal definition arise because it is apparent that the use of the phrase “terrorism” is used as a political tool and this over-rides the political will to establish an internationally agreed definition. The current status-quo provides grate flexibility on what constitutes terrorism and what individuals are terrorists. This current system allows the state to change its definition without breaching international law to a definition that suits the current national security interests of the state. For example 10 years ago the threat form cyber terrorism was minimal, however today it is seen as a tier one national security priority for the UK Government and as such the definition of “terrorism” under UK law can be changed to cover this new emerging threat.

Currently definitions of terrorism are specific to the state; each state has an alternative definition of terrorism. As such what constitutes “terrorism” and a “terrorist” in the UK will be different to what constitutes “terrorism” and “terrorist” under American law. It is true however that there are some general themes that appear in most western systems of justice concerning terrorism although to say that every state has a similar definition of terrorism would be naive and inaccurate. Take for instance the courts of India where terrorism has been effectively defined as war crimes committed during times of peace. It is obvious that this definition is problematic because acts we may perceive to be acts of “terrorism” may not constitute a war crime. In the UK for example under the terrorism act 2006 it is prohibited for any person to be seen to glorify terrorism and any persons prosecuted for such crimes would be regarded as a terrorist, under Indian law this would not constitute as a terrorist crime under their system of jurisprudence and this ruling.

As previously stated a universal definition of terrorism remains elusive and there have been attempts. This was first attempted at a international level by the League of Nations in 1937, however the definition never came into force. More recently since 2000 the international community through the UN have attempted to create a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, this however is currently still on the table due in part to member states differences on how to define terrorism. Despite the absence of this comprehensive convention and the still elusive universal definition of terrorism, there are legislative points of international law that currently cover terrorism. For instance the convention outlawing the unlawful seizure of aircraft or conventions covering the finance of terrorist organisations and Nuclear terrorism are all examples of legislation under international law regarding terrorism.

A definition of terrorism raises many questions that provoke international disagreements. One such example would be the difference between a “liberation movement” and a “terrorist organisation”. For example recent events in Libya where a nationalist liberation movement sought to over through the regime of Gaddafi, yet in the Philippines the “Communist party of the Philippines (CPP)” has also got aims to over through the Government of the Philippines to establish a communist state. Although these two examples are both different both are two groups who seek to over through a government they disagree with in favour of their own ideology. One group, in Libya is seen as a liberation movement, yet the other in the Philippines is seen as a terrorist organisation by both the EU and USA for no other reason than that they disagree with the communist agenda of the CPP and have a sheared agenda with the liberation movement in Libya. All of this in spite of the fact that both the CPP and the Libyan movement both condoned the use of violence to achieve their aims and the fact that elements within the Libyan movement were designated as being terrorists. This is a perfect example of individual states using there flexible approach as to what constitutes terrorism to their advantage.

There is a similar conflict on what the difference is between a state-sponsor of terrorism and a act of state terrorism. Does an act of state terrorism constitute an act of war, does an act of terrorism by a third party with a state supporter still constitute an act of war. What about the emergence of eco-terrorism, Cyber-terrorism, “the lone wolf terrorist” or the growing threat of the possibility of so called “Mega-terrorism”, how are these to be defined.

With in academic literature there are many who have made attempts at defining terrorism however it is clear that the literature remains divided. In academia the quest for definitions is a never ending task and terrorism is no exception, many of these have similar themes yet there are differences amongst the scholars and it is acknowledged that no absolute definition exists.

However it is possible even without the definition to argue that terrorism that terrorism is a tactic, used by a group to further their agenda through aggressive means. However this is to vague to ever count as any kind of definition rather it is merely a component of any definition. The majority of the definitions would support this idea that terrorism is a tactic, most commonly associated with violence to further an agenda held by the group or individual responsible for the “act of terrorism”.

Although there are some very good definitions of terrorism to be found both in academia and from the state, it should always be remembered when writing about terrorism that due to the ambiguous nature of the word and the phenomenon of terrorism it is vital to bare this in mind.

posted on Nov, 25 2011 @ 04:53 PM
reply to post by OtherSideOfTheCoin

What always occurs to me, is if you are on the opposing side what you call a terrorist would be called by their own, freedom fighters and heroes. The USA often backs "Freedom Fighters" who clearly could be labeled terrorists. Many Heroes of history would now be called terrorists.

When you face a large foe and you don't have weapons like theirs you use tactics that we now call terrorism, also known as courageous men fighting with what they have...the sheep against the lion.

posted on Nov, 25 2011 @ 04:56 PM
reply to post by Char-Lee

I think allot of defining terrorism does come down to that old quote.

“one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”

posted on May, 19 2012 @ 09:56 AM
I thought I would give this thread a bump to see if it would get any more interest second time round.

posted on Aug, 18 2012 @ 05:27 PM
Every day, 30,000 children under the age of five die around the world from hunger and/or preventable diseases. That's 11,000,000 children a year
2012..a form of terrorism?
Terrorism we as humans instill on the billions of creatures that we share this planet with
Organized religion as a form of terrorism ?
edit on 18-8-2012 by all2human because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 18 2012 @ 05:45 PM
Excellent OP and a very difficult question to answer.

Personally ( nobody has ever bothered to try to table this issue with me - even through mind numbingly repetitive debate ) I do not like the term "terrorist", or any variant of it, to begin with. The very terminology seems engineered ( or we've been conditioned thusly ) to be visceral and to generate a very precise emotional reaction. It's lynch mob psychology - a trigger for mass hysteria.

Having said that - when confronted with some of the things man ( or men ) are capable of doing in the name of such trivial differences as skin color, or how we pray? I simply cannot find words to express myself. Thus I defer to the much hated standard in some cases.... terror.

Much like the term "hate crime" this issue is clouded by individual interpretation. Americans hear "terrorism" and we all almost immediately think of September 11. I'm sure that other countries all have their own personal reference points and immediate associations. So just saying "terrorist" is likely to put many of us on different pages - right from the start. This is problematic - as we cannot find accord on an issue if the very issue, itself, is not well defined.

Personally I look at it through the lens of self-interest ( preservation of self, family, community, culture ) - as I'm sure we all do. Unfortunately the world is such that the interests of my culture might directly clash with the interests of yours. And, even if they don't actually clash, per say, you can always find an extremist - on any side of a difference - who is willing to create a reason to clash from whole cloth. So, since self ( empathy ) cannot solve the issue, I then defer to logic. And logic says "The lesser of two evils is rational".

And this immediately becomes problematic due to mans propensity for hyperbole and narcissism. I might, for example, say that invading Iraq was the lesser of two evils ( this is not actually my personal opinion - just a talking point ) but a child in an Iraqi village that is being carpet bombed would not agree with me any more than I'd agree if foreign soldiers were marching down my street.

This means I have to find a new paradigm from which to think because both emotion and logic have failed to be mutually beneficial here.

I propose that, ultimately, it comes down to personal accountability. Not National identity. Not patriotism. Not ideology. Not conviction, religious or otherwise, but actual, honest to goodness, one on one, personal choice. We simply have to come to agreement on a single issue and the matter resolves...

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Until we can achieve that sort of paradigm? Well this entire topic is not only vitriolic and polarizing.... It is also a moot discussion. As long as we see others as "different" or "lesser" - it's all pointless as we'll always find rationales and excuses for improper action.

Just my thoughts.


posted on Aug, 18 2012 @ 05:58 PM
reply to post by OtherSideOfTheCoin

Great Thread, and worthy of legitimate discussion.

For me, the Word Terrorism is an easy way of placing a group of individuals, a Nation, or a Man, into one nice little box, to be used as an excuse, for others with an agenda.

Just my 2 cents........

posted on Aug, 18 2012 @ 07:00 PM
reply to post by Hefficide

I've offered examples of terrorism having used the term in the general sense,but to get a true idea of what the word terrorism means,we have to go to the source itself and the organizations that use it:

United Nations Draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism Article 2 a
–“a person commits a terrorist offence if he or she … in any other way contributes to the commission of one or more offences referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 or 3 (a) by a group of persons acting with a common purpose; such contribution shall be intentional and either be made with the aim of furthering the general criminal activity or purpose of the group or be made in the knowledge of the intention of the group to commit the offence or offences concerned”
edit on 18-8-2012 by all2human because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 18 2012 @ 07:06 PM
reply to post by all2human

Heres another view....

Terrorism is a criminal act that influences an audience beyond the immediate victim. The strategy of terrorists is to commit acts of violence that draws the attention of the local populace, the government, and the world to their cause. The terrorists plan their attack to obtain the greatest publicity, choosing targets that symbolize what they oppose. The effectiveness of the terrorist act lies not in the act itself, but in the public’s or government’s reaction to the act. For example, in 1972 at the Munich Olympics, the Black September Organization killed 11 Israelis. The Israelis were the immediate victims. But the true target was the estimated 1 billion people watching the televised event.

terrorism RESEARCH

posted on Aug, 18 2012 @ 07:14 PM
reply to post by all2human

That is valid but my point was perspective. Simply defining "criminality" is not something we have grown enough, as a species, to come to consensus on.

What is criminal in one culture is completely acceptable in others.

Without consensus then ones mans "just cause" is another mans "terrorist act".


posted on Aug, 18 2012 @ 07:32 PM
reply to post by Hefficide

Most people that study culture would agree that there is a strong relationship
between culture and political violence,but there is a socioeconomic factor too.
Most terrorists are fanatics,and the poorest nations on our planet also happen to be the most religiously radicalized..
Besides delving into morality, killing another human being is a criminal act and never justified

edit on 18-8-2012 by all2human because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 21 2012 @ 04:44 AM
I don't know why we're going all philosophical about this. Terrorism is using violence for your own political reasons. A freedom fighter is still a terrorist since he/she is using violence for their own political means.

posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 11:30 PM

You do raise an interesting question about how do we define terrorism, and the fact that it gets bandied about as a term by people that don't stop to actually consider the meaning of the word. What is it exactly? I think it is the deliberate use of fear for the purpose of promoting change. All too often the use of fear also means genocide and murder with no means of committing it being taboo. It can be used for good purposes or evil purposes because fear is neutral and neither good nor evil. Just my take on it and my $0.02

posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 11:24 AM
reply to post by Darkphoenix77

I definitely think that the word is grossly over used most would agree that in very general terms that the way you chose to personally define terrorism is correct. That said however it is the definition of the state that really matters not what you or I think a “terrorist” is, although your sentiments are broadly speaking how most western states define terrorism with some notable differences.

posted on Feb, 3 2013 @ 03:42 AM
these are all lies. muslim never terrorise .jews and christians are terrorist kill all muslims and blame them

posted on Feb, 3 2013 @ 06:40 AM
reply to post by Zamatia

So what according to you no Muslim has ever terrorised anyone else, never.

Really I am in no way islamophobic but to claim that there has never been a case of Islamic terrorism is just absurd.

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