So what is the definition of terrorism? Often, when an individual or a group is labelled as 'terrorist' we accept this definition. However, with there being so many definitions of what a terrorist is, as well as there being plenty of academic work on the subject - do we really know what terrorism is?

If someone was to ask you right now 'what is terrorism?', would you just give examples of attacks that have been carried out in recent years? Would you instantly think about Islamic extremism, instead of historic events? If so, the reason for this is because the definition of terrorism lives in the moment. Perhaps the term is too broad to define generally. 

In this section, there is a collation of official definitions, as well as extracts from academic works on the subject. Read through them, and once you have click on the link. This will take you to a forum page, where you can write your own definition. 

Law Books

Firstly, the United Kingdom Terrorism Act of 2000 defines terrorism as follows: 

“terrorism” means the use or threat of action where (a) the action falls within subsection (2), (b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and (c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious  or ideological cause. 2. Action falls within this subsection if it (a) involves serious violence against a person, (b) involves serious damage to property, (c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action, (d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or  (e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

The United Nations Security Council gave a definition in Resolution 1566, back in 2004:

criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitute offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.

These are extracts from Noelle Quenivet, in 'The world after September 11':

Lutz, on the other hand, defines terrorism as ‘the use of force for political or religious motives’, an approach also adopted by Hirschmann when analysing terrorism motivated by ideology or social-revolutionary concerns, by ethno-nationalistic considerations and by religion. However, Lutz admits after a few more lines in his contribution that it is difficult, if not impossible, to define terrorism by examining only the motives of the actors.

Hirschmann suggests that while ‘guerrilla-fighters’ are fighting for the occupation of a territory, terrorists are fighting for the occupation of minds.

Kohen suggests that state terrorism be divided into four groups: terrorist acts committed during armed conflicts; terrorist acts perpetrated usually on foreign soil by state agents outside the framework of an armed conflict; acts involving the state in the activities of terrorist groups; and internal state terrorism.

David Perry, in 'Ambiguities in the 'War on Terror'' gave these thoughts: 

Defining who a terrorist is seems to be intentionally ambiguous in order to be able to justify broad things such as a 'war on terror'.

Iraqis who take foreign civilians prisoner and threaten to execute them if their demands are not met can simply be labelled ‘kidnappers’ / calling them ‘terrorists’ on top of that doesn’t add any conceptual precision; it merely functions as a rhetorical device to reinforce our anger against them.

Combat-like violence by non-uniformed personnel is now (regrettably) part of ‘the war paradigm’.

Finally, Adam Roberts in 'The War on Terror in historical perspective':

The UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which issued its report in December 2004, focused on civilians in its suggested definition of terrorism:

Any action, in addition to actions already specified by the existing conventions on aspects of terrorism, the Geneva Conventions and Security Council resolution 1566 (2004), that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.

Defining Terrorism

Write your own definition of terrorism or even just your thoughts. Feel free to examine what others have put. 

Enter your definition or thoughts on the discussion board below, or just to take a look at what others have said.

Discuss and Learn

Discuss and Learn

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