Fair definitions of terrorist and terrorism

In summary: Terrorist?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.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.
  • #1
wolram
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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.
 
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  • #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.
 
  • #4
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.
 
  • #5
CaptainQuasar said:
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.

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?
 
  • #6
wolram said:
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.
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
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
 
  • #7
CaptainQuasar said:
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.
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.
 
  • #8
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.
 
  • #9
russ_watters said:
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.

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.
 
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  • #10
CaptainQuasar said:
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.

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

Perhaps any definition of terrorists would be further enhanced by appending "and has not achieved their objective yet."
 
  • #13
CaptainQuasar said:
LOL! Who killed JFK? We have video of that.
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.
Are you saying that you can scientifically prove that someone's a terrorist? With a blood test or something?
Huh? That doesn't make any sense. A blood test? That's just plain dumb.
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.
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.
 
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  • #14
DaveC426913 said:
Perhaps any definition of terrorists would be further enhanced by appending "and has not achieved their objective yet."
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.
 
  • #15
the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.

That covers just about any war or military action.

2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.

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

3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Again, circular logic. Terroristic acts are committed by terrorists? That reminds me of the meaning of "is". .
 
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  • #16
russ_watters said:
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.

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.

russ_watters said:
Huh? That doesn't make any sense.

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?

russ_watters said:
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.

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.
 
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  • #17
How is shock and awe an act of terror Ivan?

I think that comment was in poor taste, no offense.
 
  • #18
Ivan Seeking said:
That covers just about any war or military action.
No, it really doesn't.
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.
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.
 
  • #19
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.
 
  • #20
Cyrus said:
How is shock and awe an act of terror Ivan?

I think that comment was in poor taste, no offense.

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.
 
  • #21
russ_watters said:
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.

So you are saying that we have a clear definition because we can't have a clear definition.

I can define President, soldier, civilian, citizen, evangelist, pianist, physician... hmmm, it seems that not all words are so difficult to define.
 
  • #22
Actually, though it's frequently used in an Orwellian fashion especially in the War on Terror, I actually wouldn't say that the word itself is Orwellian, just subjective. “Freedom fighter” is subjective too in sort of the opposite spin: it's often used by revolutionaries to justify anything they do no matter how bloody or despicable.
 
  • #23
Ivan Seeking said:
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.

No, I think it was poor taste because it was to bring freedom to millions of Iraqis under the dictatorship of Sadam. Thats not my own definition, that's simply a fact. How can you possibly lump that with terrorism?

We did not go over there to kill innocent people, and they are not defined as the enemy. So I don't follow your logic at all. :confused:

It just seems like a cheap shot at GW Bush.
 
  • #24
CaptainQuasar said:
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.
I didn't want to put words in your mouth. I didn't want to assume crackpottery coming from you. Thank you for making it clear.
You talked about scientific determination of historical facts.
Yes...
Why did you bring that up unless you think that determining who is a terrorist is a matter of historical fact or scientific determination?
Jeez, I don't know how to make this any simpler. If the facts are clear, the implication of those facts should be easy to someone willing to apply logic. The problem with history prior to the modern age is that the facts are often not clear. Now that most of the time the facts are clear, the logical implications of those facts are also clear.

It's just like a murer. Police collect evidence in a scientific way, then objective people (though in the case of crime, ignorant people) make a determination if that evidence fits the definition. It is logic based on scientific evidence. There is no blood test for murder.
Yeah, there isn't an objective definition of who is a terrorist and who isn't.
That's not what a definition is. A definition is a description of a word, not a specific list of all who that word applies to.

There is an objective definition of the word. What's left is applying the definition objectively to a person/act to determine if the word applies. People do this a hundred times a minute when they speak. Humans started learning how language works tens of thousands of years ago - funny how when people don't like a label, they forget how spoken language works.
Okay, if it's such an objective matter then answer my question: which side was the terrorists in the Irish revolution? You're a 3rd party to that. If it's such a simple matter I don't see why you avoided answering that question.
First of all, I don't know enough about the history to answer the question. Second, the question is so loaded as to be unanswerable. (not the least of the problems is that you already applied a contrary label in asking the question). I need to explain a couple of other words to you:

Tactics/tactical: On-the-ground actions of an individual or unit.
Strategic: Larger political/military objectives of a war.

Terrorism is a tactic, so using the label needs to start on the tactical level. To call an entire side of a war terrorists is basically just a way of saying their primary tactic is terrorism.
 
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  • #25
Ivan Seeking said:
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.
The problem, Ivan (and CQ), is that an objective definition exists. If you choose to ignore, it, then you are essentially saying you refuse to be objective about the subject.
 
  • #26
Ivan Seeking said:
So you are saying that we have a clear definition because we can't have a clear definition.
Huh? You're not making any sense.
I can define President, soldier, civilian, citizen, evangelist, pianist, physician... hmmm, it seems that not all words are so difficult to define.
Agreed. And people choose not to define this particular word because it suits their political position to refuse to. Cyrus picked-up on your purpose here: Refusal to be objective enables easy cheap-shots at Bush.
 
  • #27
Just for the record here, if you want to find in me the type of refusal to be objective that you guys are displaying, you'll be sorely disappointed. I'm willing to discuss tough cases such as "Shock and Awe" (actually, that one isn't very difficult) and the atom bombings of Japan. But you'll be handcuffed by your own refusal to be objective: You can't claim "Shock and Awe" was terrorism unless you accept an objective definition of terrorism. If you want to claim that terrorism is whatever anyone says it is, then there really isn't anything to discuss.
 
  • #28
Btw, the UN is handcuffed by this same kind of illogic for the same political reasons, nevertheless, they do have an "academic consensus definition" and other uses of the word:
Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby — in contrast to assassination — the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperiled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought (Schmid, 1988).

UN short legal definition, also proposed by Alex P. Schmid: an act of terrorism is the "peacetime equivalent of a war crime."[8]
On March 17, 2005, a UN panel described 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 organization to do or abstain from doing any act."[9]
The General Assembly resolution 49/60,[10], titled "Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism," adopted on December 9, 1994, contains a provision describing terrorism:
“ Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.[11] ”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definition_of_terrorism

The one about it being in part, a peacetime equivalent of a war crime is key because it avoids the need to use the word while criminalizing the acts. That's nice since the refusers (as we're seeing here) generally don't argue the facts of the event, only the label. So whether you use the label or not, the acts are still illegal. Ie, things like regular military hiding amongst civilians (as Saddam had his troops do) might be considered acts of terrorism, but as these acts are already covered under their own international laws, there is no need to apply the word. We can just say "war crimes".
 
  • #29
russ_watters said:
I didn't want to put words in your mouth. I didn't want to assume crackpottery coming from you. Thank you for making it clear.

Crackpottery? You're seriously going to call me a crackpot for acknowledging that the JFK assassination is controversial?

Okay, what political group had JFK killed, Mr. Smartypants? Or were you just stretching for any way whatsoever you could think of to call me a crackpot, perhaps? Very objective of you.

russ_watters said:
Jeez, I don't know how to make this any simpler. If the facts are clear, the implication of those facts should be easy to someone willing to apply logic. The problem with history prior to the modern age is that the facts are often not clear. Now that most of the time the facts are clear, the logical implications of those facts are also clear.

It's just like a murer. Police collect evidence in a scientific way, then objective people (though in the case of crime, ignorant people) make a determination if that evidence fits the definition. It is logic based on scientific evidence. There is no blood test for murder. That's not what a definition is. A definition is a description of a word, not a specific list of all who that word applies to.

Oh, well the facts are always clear in a murder. And even when someone has admitted to a killing there's never any difficulty in deciding between murder and manslaughter. Fabulous example.

russ_watters said:
There is an objective definition of the word. What's left is applying the definition objectively to a person/act to determine if the word applies.

So you have a definition for “terrorist” and you objectively apply it to every individual who fits it? That would be pretty impressive if it was true.

You cut and pasted a definition in up above. If I start naming people who fit the definition and who don't, you'll really just accept all the ones who fit it as terrorists and all the ones who don't as non-terrorists? Without displaying any political or nationalist subjectivity? And then I can quote you in future conversations about who you say is a terrorist and who is not?

Why do I not buy that?

russ_watters said:
First of all, I don't know enough about the history to answer the question. Second, the question is so loaded as to be unanswerable. (not the least of the problems is that you already applied a contrary label in asking the question).

What do you mean, I applied a contrary label? I called both sides of the conflict terrorists.

The question is loaded? I just asked whether a certain group of people were terrorists. Isn't your position that that applying the label “terrorist” is a straightforward processing of facts?

Begging off that you don't know enough history is pretty weak. There's no reason why you can't just skim the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_War_of_Independence" . It's got lots of facts, you'll love it.
 
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  • #30
Heck, I'll play nicer, I'll tie one hand behind my back. You're right, the Irish revolution thing is clearly out of your league. I ought to give you something where you've got a fighting chance.

Give us a definition of terrorism by which objectively, without influence of one's personal political opinions, Osama bin Laden can clearly and unambiguously be labeled as a terrorist and George Bush clearly and unambiguously can be labeled as not a terrorist. Props to Ivan for proposing the idea via his “shock and awe” comment.

Note that via the UN definition you quoted George Bush would be a terrorist for, among other things, bombing Afghanistan to compel that nation to give up Osama rather than put him to trial themselves, which would be a “Criminal act intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.” Unless you would say it was legal by Afghani law for the U.S. to bomb Kandahar.
 
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  • #31
If i take this to the extreme, would war of the worlds,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_(radio )

Be considered a terrorist act, (if it had been a malicious), people (could) have died through
heart attach or other panic related acts.
 
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  • #32
russ_watters said:
You can't claim "Shock and Awe" was terrorism unless you accept an objective definition of terrorism.

Oh, we can't, eh? We couldn't, say, claim it was just terrorism from the viewpoint of Iraqis and not for ourselves or anyone else? I think the word “can't” also does not mean what you think it means.

russ_watters said:
If you want to claim that terrorism is whatever anyone says it is, then there really isn't anything to discuss.

It must be nice to live in a world where you have a magic wand that makes the contradictions other people have pointed out in your reasoning disappear.
 
  • #33
wolram said:
If i take this to the extreme, would war of the worlds,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_(radio )

Be considered a terrorist act, (if it had been a malicious), people (could) have died through
heart attach or other panic related acts.

Heh, at first I thought you were talking about whether an actual invasion by Martians would be terrorism rather than just the radio broadcast.

I think the distinction in this case is that those deaths would not be said to have occurred through a form of violence, nor would any such deaths have been intentional. I wouldn't say that the word is totally subjective and can take on any meaning at all; it definitely involves intentional violence. It's just that one person's “policing action” or war or revolution is another person's terrorism.
 
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  • #34
a “Criminal act intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.” Unless you would say it was legal by Afghani law for the U.S. to bomb Kandahar.

Notice how it first says a criminal act followed by cases where said criminal act is not allowed. Also notice how we had wolrd support to enter into Afghanistan? Also notice how we did not provoke a state of terror in the general public, it was the taliban that was doing that. You last sentence is silly, you know better than to write something like that. No country has a law allowing another country to bomb any of its cities.

Its not russ that said it was legal, it was the United Nations that said it was legal.


Supporting international efforts to root out terrorism, in keeping with the
Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming also its resolutions 1368 (2001) of 12
September 2001 and 1373 (2001) of 28 September 2001

http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N01/708/55/PDF/N0170855.pdf?OpenElement
 
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  • #35
Apparently there is a guy named 'Terrorists' that spams the Starcraft 2 forums :rofl:.
 

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