Terrorism: A Complex Phenomenon with No One Definitive Definition
The purpose of this essay is to define terrorism. This is not as straightforward as it first appears because there is no one definitive definition of terrorism. A range of official systems and government agencies define terrorism differently in their general legislation.
2. What is terrorism?
2.1. Terrorism defined by the US government
In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001).
2. 2. Terrorism defined by the UK government
In the United Kingdom, the Home Office defines terrorism as “the use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public for political, religious, ideological or similar reasons” (Home Office, 2019). This definition is much broader than that used by the FBI and includes non-violent acts such as distributing leaflets and painting graffiti.
2. 3. Terrorism defined by the UN
The United Nations (UN) has also developed a broad definition of terrorism. The UN General Assembly Resolution 49/60 defines terrorism as “any act intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act” (United Nations General Assembly, 1994).
3. Why is there no one definitive definition of terrorism?
There are a number of reasons why there is no one definitive definition of terrorism. One reason is that different countries have different legal systems and definitions of criminal activity. Another reason is that terrorist organisations themselves often have different objectives and use different methods, making it difficult to create a single definition that would cover all forms of terrorism. Finally, some people argue that the term “terrorism” is often used politically to justify military action or repressive measures against certain groups, making it difficult to create an objective definition.
4. Who can be a terrorist?
There is no one profile of a terrorist and people from all walks of life have been involved in terrorist activity. However, many terrorist organisations do share some common characteristics, such as a belief in the use of violence to achieve political or ideological objectives, a willingness to target civilians, and a desire to create fear and insecurity among the general population.
5. Types of terrorism
There are three main types of terrorism: state terrorism, international terrorism, and domestic terrorism.
5.1 State terrorism State terrorism occurs when a state uses violence or threatens violence against its own citizens in order to maintain power or suppress opposition. This type of violence is often justified by the state as being necessary for national security purposes. Examples of state terrorism include the suppression of dissident groups by military dictatorships, targeted killings by security forces in democracies, and ethnic cleansing campaigns waged by governments during times of war. 5.2 International terrorism International terrorism refers to terrorist activity that transcends national borders and/or involves actors from more than one country. This type of activity is often motivated by political or ideological objectives rather than purely local grievances. International terrorist organisations such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State (IS) have been responsible for some of the most high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years, including the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the 2015 Paris attacks. 5.3 Domestic terrorism Domestic terrorism refers to terrorist activity that is within the territory of a single country and does not involve actors from other countries. This type of activity is often motivated by grievances against the government or a desire to promote a separatist agenda. In the United States, domestic terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Animal Liberation Front have been responsible for a range of violent and non-violent crimes.
6. Terrorism and the media
The media plays an important role in shaping public perceptions of terrorism. News coverage of terrorist incidents often focuses on the violence and victims, which can create a distorted view of both the frequency and nature of terrorist activity. This can lead to increased fear and anxiety among members of the public, as well as a feeling that nothing can be done to prevent terrorist attacks. In some cases, this can also lead to support for repressive measures or military action against groups perceived to be involved in terrorism.
7. Terrorism and the law
The legal definition of terrorism varies from country to country, making it difficult to prosecute terrorists in international courts. In addition, many countries have laws that allow them to take military or other coercive action against groups they deem to be terrorists, even if they have not carried out any violent acts. This has led to accusations that some governments are using the “war on terror” as an excuse to infringe on civil liberties or engage in military adventurism.
8. Terrorism and politics
Terrorism is often seen as a political problem, with different groups using violence to achieve their objectives. However, it is important to remember that many terrorist groups also have religious or ideological motivations. The political nature of terrorism means that it is often used as a tool by governments to justify repressive measures or military action against perceived opponents. This can lead to a cycle of violence and mistrust, as well as an erosion of civil liberties and human rights.
Terrorism is a complex phenomenon with no one definitive definition. The term is often used politically to justify repressive measures or military action against certain groups. There is no one profile of a terrorist, but many terrorist organisations share some common characteristics, such as a belief in violence and a willingness to target civilians. Terrorism can take many different forms, including state terrorism, international terrorism, and domestic terrorism. The media plays an important role in shaping public perceptions of terrorism, which can lead to increased fear and anxiety among members of the public. The legal definition of terrorism varies from country to country, making it difficult to prosecute terrorists in international courts. The political nature of terrorism means that it is often used as a tool by governments to justify repressive measures or military action against perceived opponents.