Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Fair definitions of terrorist and terrorism

  1. Feb 26, 2008 #1

    wolram

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    How do you define (terrorist), i have tried to but i am stuck, the only definition i can come up with is, one that kills indiscriminately.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2008 #2
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2008
  4. Feb 26, 2008 #3
    I think that the reason you're stuck is that you're thinking about this perceptively.

    I would say that you're basically right. A terrorist is someone who uses violence upon non-military targets usually in pursuit of a political goal, IMHO.

    The problem is two fold: 1) Almost no one would call themselves a terrorist - it's a name applied to other people and 2) The tactic described above is frequently used by established governments and in many cases was used by the antecedents of governments; the revolutionaries were “terrorists” until the revolution succeeded, then they crossed that out in the history books and proclaimed themselves revolutionaries.

    So really, it's someone who employs the violence upon non-military targets tactic, plus they're a bad guy. If you can agree with someone on who the bad guys are you can probably agree with them on who the terrorists are. But if the two of you don't agree on who the bad guys are you'll probably end up arguing about who the terrorists are too.
     
  5. Feb 26, 2008 #4

    Gib Z

    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    A person that intentionally sets out to induce terror on other people. Note, as different people find different things to be "terrifying", "terrorist" is a subjective term.
     
  6. Feb 26, 2008 #5

    wolram

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    A very good answer Captain, but ultimately does it come down to where the terrorist gets his/her funds from, i know the person has to be evil to plant the bomb, but could that person practice his/her evilness without a paymaster?
     
  7. Feb 26, 2008 #6

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    That's woefully inadequate. What you are describing is a broad definition of a large fraction of murders.

    There are good definitions online, just look at a few:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/terrorism
     
  8. Feb 26, 2008 #7

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I don't see either of those as legitimate problems. The fact that the victors write history is an issue with all history and is not unique to the definition of terrorism. The definition itself is clear and objective enough that to a 3rd party willing to apply the definition objectively, there should be no confusion about what/who is/isn't.
     
  9. Feb 26, 2008 #8

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    BTW, insofar as goverments control state sponsored education, it will always be literally true that "the victor writes the history books", but in the modern world, this is largely irrelevant. The combination of history being treated as a science and the information age mean that there is little real controversy about the facts of most modern events.
     
  10. Feb 26, 2008 #9
    LOL! Who killed JFK? We have video of that. Are you saying that you can scientifically prove that someone's a terrorist? With a blood test or something?

    You seriously don't think there's any disagreement about who is a terrorist? Here's a good question for you: in the various revolutions that freed parts of Ireland from British rule during the last couple of centuries, were the Irish freedom fighters or the British security forces the terrorists? They both killed quite a few civilians.

    The same example applies to your question about paymasters, Wolram. Does the fact that the beginnings of the Irish Republic were funded by “Catholic subversives” make Ireland a terrorist state?

    I would say yes, but mostly from the point of view of British people who have had loved ones die or been harmed by the actions of those Irish freedom fighters. And similarly, the British are a bunch of oppressive terrorists from the point of view of the Irish who have been harmed or had loved ones die in British policing and counter-revolutionary actions in Ireland. If anyone wants to tell either of those parties that they're wrong, go ahead, but I'm not getting involved.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2008
  11. Feb 26, 2008 #10

    wolram

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I will not argue with this, it justifies my original uncertainty.
     
  12. Feb 26, 2008 #11
    a person that does 65 mph in a roundabout.
     
  13. Feb 26, 2008 #12

    DaveC426913

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Perhaps any definition of terrorists would be further enhanced by appending "and has not achieved their objective yet."
     
  14. Feb 26, 2008 #13

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I'm not sure what you are suggesting there. What I said is that there is little real controversy about the facts of most modern events. If you are suggesting you believe in the conspiracy theory, so be it, but I did say real controversy. Conspiracy theory does not apply.

    I also said most. There are, of course, some events where the facts are unclear.
    Huh? That doesn't make any sense. A blood test? That's just plain dumb.
    Please reread what I said. You aren't saying anything that is really responding to it. A terrorist will not say they are a terrorist just like a murderer will not say they are a murderer. This is irrelevant: what I said was to a 3rd party willing to apply the definition objectively, there should be no confusion about what/who is/isn't.

    It just sounds to me like you are arguing against the existence of an objective definition of terrorism. That's tough to do since the definition is right there in black and white.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2008
  15. Feb 26, 2008 #14

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    No, no, no, no, no. The definition is black and white simple. What you are suggesting adds ambiguity, it doesn't help make the definition more objective.

    All it takes is a little simple logic. Look at the definition, identify some key criteria, and see if the criteria apply to a given situation.
     
  16. Feb 26, 2008 #15

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    That covers just about any war or military action.

    Circular logic. Terrorists commit acts of terror? That would certainly include Bush - shock and awe and the preceding threats.

    Again, circular logic. Terroristic acts are committed by terrorists? That reminds me of the meaning of "is". .
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2008
  17. Feb 26, 2008 #16
    I'm suggesting that the facts of the JFK assassination are very much under controversy despite the fact that we have it on video. Come on, it wasn't exactly a cryptic comment.

    You talked about scientific determination of historical facts. Why did you bring that up unless you think that determining who is a terrorist is a matter of historical fact or scientific determination?

    Yeah, there isn't an objective definition of who is a terrorist and who isn't. Okay, if it's such an objective matter then answer my question: which side was the terrorists in the Irish revolution? That's basically the point where the word “terrorist” was invented, during the Dynamite War.

    You're a 3rd party to that. If it's such a simple matter I don't see why you avoided answering that question.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2008
  18. Feb 26, 2008 #17
    How is shock and awe an act of terror Ivan?

    I think that comment was in poor taste, no offense.
     
  19. Feb 26, 2008 #18

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    No, it really doesn't.
    Have you ever opened a dictionary before? Most definitions include a circular component referencing the other forms of the word.

    Besides - I just got up and picked an easy one to get. It's not that descriptive, but it is a very good start.
     
  20. Feb 26, 2008 #19

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I have to agree Captain Q: For all practical purposes, "terrorist" is an Orwellian word. One man's freedom fighters are another man's terrorists.
     
  21. Feb 26, 2008 #20

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I was using the definition given. The shock and awe were specifically intended to strike terror in the enemy. You only think it was in poor taste because you are using your own definition.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?



Similar Discussions: Fair definitions of terrorist and terrorism
  1. Terrorist and Torture (Replies: 19)

  2. CO2 terrorists (Replies: 14)

Loading...