How do you define terrorism?

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How do you define terrorism??

The statement, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” has become not only a cliché, but also one of the most difficult obstacles in coping with terrorism. The matter of definition and conceptualization is usually a purely theoretical issue—a mechanism for scholars to work out the appropriate set of parameters for the research they intend to undertake. However, when dealing with terrorism and guerrilla warfare, implications of defining our terms tend to transcend the boundaries of theoretical discussions. In the struggle against terrorism, the problem of definition is a crucial element in the attempt to coordinate international collaboration, based on the currently accepted rules of traditional warefare.
http://www.ict.org.il/articles/researchdet.cfm?researchid=4
One of the many causes of unrest in the world today is the differing interpretations of the word Terrorism:

How do you define terrorism?

also check out the following article:
abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/ strike_011011definingterror.html
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
selfAdjoint
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I define terrorism as killing random civilians. The attacks on the US army in Iraq (and coalition officials) are not terrorism but guerrilla warfare. But notice that as the US forces improve their defenses, the anti US forces are turning more and more to terrorism of Iraqi civilians; bombs set off in public places resulting in random casualties.
 
  • #3
russ_watters
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Just a clarification, other types of unconventional warfare such as some of the tactics employed by Iraqis, though not terrorism, are still illegal under the Geneva Convention. This includes virtually any tactic which purposely or neglegently disregards the safety of civilians, such as dressing soldiers in civilian clothes, using human shields, hiding weapons and soldiers among civilians, etc.

Also, I'm not sure about the word "random." Other than that, I tend to agree with you, SA.

We've had other threads on this, Yaqout, and the definition of terrorism in international law and to political scientists is reasonably clear. The problem is that terrorists and their supporters do not accept any objective definition of the word, but instead choose to subjectively apply it whereever they want it.
 
  • #4
jimmy p
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a terrorist to me is someone who causes violence or incites violent acts for a cause/to upset the nation.
 
  • #5
selfAdjoint
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Also, I'm not sure about the word "random." Other than that, I tend to agree with you, SA.
Random may have been a poor choice of words. I meant that the terrorists do not target specific individuals, but seek to kill people they don't know.
 
  • #6
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Originally posted by selfAdjoint
I define terrorism as killing random civilians.
What about killing military personel in situations unrelated to combat?
 
  • #7
Evo
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I define terrorism as the intentional act by a person or group of harming and/or killing "innocent" men, women, and children for the sole purpose of attracting attention to themselves and their "cause".

Rational people do not commit acts of terrorism, IMHO.
 
  • #8
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Originally posted by Evo
I define terrorism as the intentional act by a person or group of harming and/or killing "innocent" men, women, and children for the sole purpose of attracting attention to themselves and their "cause".
Now you just have to define who is "innocent".
 
  • #9
Evo
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Originally posted by master_coda
Now you just have to define who is "innocent".
The US government defines it as a "non-combatant". I will agree with that definition.
 
  • #10
russ_watters
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Originally posted by selfAdjoint
Random may have been a poor choice of words. I meant that the terrorists do not target specific individuals, but seek to kill people they don't know.
"indiscriminate" :wink:
What about killing military personel in situations unrelated to combat?
Context certainly matters - a member of the military on leave is a civilan as far as the rules of war are concerned.
The US government defines it as a "non-combatant". I will agree with that definition.
"Non-combatant" is a better word than "civilian" because of the question above about miltiary not in combat situations. Again, though not always classifiable as terrorism, killing non-combatants (on purpose) is illegal under the rules of war.
 
  • #11
Jane
Hmm......terrorism, terrorist



I can almost see the swarthy complexion, the turbaned head, the black flashy eyes, and the confident smirk. A thouroughly middleastern countanance...

As far as I'm concerned this word seems to be only applied to extremist islamists..

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

Take a look at Hisbollah, they’re considered freedom fighters in their country but terrorists to the US.
 
  • #12
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Originally posted by Evo
Rational people do not commit acts of terrorism, IMHO.
I've been thinking about this, and I'm not so sure it's true.

Let's say you have a group of people who feel they've been wronged by another country. They have two decisions to make.


The first is "are we justifed in killing to oppose the wrongs done to us". This is usually the irrational part. People tend to overinflate their own rightness and the wrongness of their enemies. But this isn't the terrorist part of the decision. They could irrationaly decide "yes, we are justified" and then fight a conventional war. The decision to kill for a cause is not what makes someone a terrorist, but rather it's how they go about that killing.

The second is "how are we going to carry out this killing". This is the part of the decision that involves the choice to use terrorism. But the decision is generally rational...if you've decided America is wrong and killing is the only way, then terrorism is the most rational option...open, conventional warfare is clearly not an option.


I'm not saying that terrorists aren't irrational...but the irrational part doesn't come from their decision to use terrorism, but rather from their decision to fight a war in general. Even people who are justified in fighting a war rarely do so for rational reasons, so this is hardly a problem unique to terrorists.

My point is that if someone actually does make a rational decision to go to war, but their opponent has overwhelming military strength, then the most rational decision would be to use terrorism. So a rational person could commit acts of terrorism.
 
  • #13
Evo
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Originally posted by master_coda
I've been thinking about this, and I'm not so sure it's true.

Let's say you have a group of people who feel they've been wronged by another country. They have two decisions to make.

The first is "are we justifed in killing to oppose the wrongs done to us". This is usually the irrational part. People tend to overinflate their own rightness and the wrongness of their enemies. But this isn't the terrorist part of the decision. They could irrationaly decide "yes, we are justified" and then fight a conventional war.
Are you saying that the "irrational" part is the decision to fight a "conventional" war?

The decision to kill for a cause is not what makes someone a terrorist, but rather it's how they go about that killing.
I would agree that would be a distinction between being labeled a killer or a terrorist.

The second is "how are we going to carry out this killing". This is the part of the decision that involves the choice to use terrorism. But the decision is generally rational...if you've decided America is wrong and killing is the only way, then terrorism is the most rational option...open, conventional warfare is clearly not an option.
I disagree, just because they can't win a conventional war doesn't make the act of terrorism rational. The decisions of an irrational person, however they may justify it in their own minds, does not make that decision "rational". What other means of solving their problems have they tried?

Your comment "if you've decided America is wrong and killing is the only way" is a good example of this. They DECIDED. Bin Laden "decided" that Bush Sr. had caused the desecration of holy land during the Gulf War and therefore Americans needed to be punished. I am just citing a specific reason that he gave. That's rational? I also don't think that "killing is the only way" is rational. What other ways have they tried? How will acts of terrorism against people (non-combatants) that have nothing to do with their situation resolve their problems? Doesn't seem to be working, IMHO.

Instead of irrational, I could say their reasoning is absurd, unsound, senseless, etc...

My point is that if someone actually does make a rational decision to go to war, but their opponent has overwhelming military strength, then the most rational decision would be to use terrorism. So a rational person could commit acts of terrorism. [/B]
I disagree, a rational person would not resort to terrorism, they would find other "rational" ways of addressing their issues. Acts of violence against non-combatants that are not involved in the issues of the terrorist are just plain wrong and cannot be justified.
 
  • #14
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Originally posted by Evo
I disagree, just because they can't win a conventional war doesn't make the act of terrorism rational. The decisions of an irrational person, however they may justify it in their own minds, does not make that decision "rational". What other means of solving their problems have they tried?

Your comment "if you've decided America is wrong and killing is the only way" is a good example of this. They DECIDED. Bin Laden "decided" that Bush Sr. had caused the desecration of holy land during the Gulf War and therefore Americans needed to be punished. I am just citing a specific reason that he gave. That's rational? I also don't think that "killing is the only way" is rational. What other ways have they tried? How will acts of terrorism against people (non-combatants) that have nothing to do with their situation resolve their problems? Doesn't seem to be working, IMHO. .
My point was that the irrationality comes from the decision to go to war. Not the decision to use terrorism.

I agree that "killing is the only way" is hardly rational. But deciding to restrict your killing to on-duty military personel doesn't change that.


It's not that terrorism isn't irrational, it's just that I wouldn't consider it to be any more irrational than deciding to fight a war in general.
 
  • #15
Evo
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Originally posted by master_coda
My point was that the irrationality comes from the decision to go to war. Not the decision to use terrorism.

I agree that "killing is the only way" is hardly rational. But deciding to restrict your killing to on-duty military personel doesn't change that.


It's not that terrorism isn't irrational, it's just that I wouldn't consider it to be any more irrational than deciding to fight a war in general.
You have a lot of good points, and your argument in your previous post, I admit, was persuasive. It is so refreshing to debate someone "rational". :wink: (I am actually an interscholastic debate judge, not because I can debate, but because my daughter keeps volunteering me, she is in advanced debate).
 
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  • #16
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Originally posted by Evo
You have a lot of good points, and your argument in your previous post, I admit, was pursuasive. It is so refreshing to debate someone "rational". :wink: (I am actually an interscholastic debate judge, not because I can debate, but because my daughter keeps volunteering me, she is in advanced debate).
I've never really been into participating in formal debates. I find it restricts the "natural flow" of an argument. But sometimes I enjoy watching them.


This has been a surprisingly clean debate (considering the topic). Terrorism debates almost always go sour on me when I participate.

My general argument has always been that "traditional" war isn't really much better than terrorism, but arguing that tends to make it look like I support terrorism.
 
  • #17
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what about STATE TERRORISM???

MAD mutially assured distuction , is that terrorism

are not armys a means of terrorism
NAZI storm troupers sure were

the KKK uniform was part of their terorism

and do " they " need to kill or even hurt to be terrorist or is just the threat enuff

and donot all goverments use terror to limit actions of people by drug laws, sex laws, ect backed by cops and jails
 
  • #18
Evo
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Originally posted by master_coda
I've never really been into participating in formal debates. I find it restricts the "natural flow" of an argument. But sometimes I enjoy watching them.
Formal debates are a different kind of animal. My daughter will sit with me sometimes when she is not in a debate & I will judge that a team has lost based on their inability to listen to and understand the opposing teams points, so their argument becomes irrelevant, IMHO, but my daughter will argue that the team actually won because of "topicality". Hey, I'm the judge... If they were my attorney, I wouldn't want them arguing "my" case.
 
  • #19
russ_watters
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Originally posted by Jane
As far as I'm concerned this word seems to be only applied to extremist islamists..

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

Take a look at Hisbollah, they’re considered freedom fighters in their country but terrorists to the US.
But the question asked by the poster of the thread is "how do you define terrorism?" - and you didn't. So, is there a reasonable and objective definition of terrorism which allows the quote "One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter" to be true?
I disagree, a rational person would not resort to terrorism, they would find other "rational" ways of addressing their issues. Acts of violence against non-combatants that are not involved in the issues of the terrorist are just plain wrong and cannot be justified.
Tough question - but what do you think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Depending on how rigid your definition is, they can be considered terrorism. But the people who made the decision made a reasoned decision - and history has judged them pretty favorably.
You have a lot of good points, and your argument in your previous post, I admit, was persuasive. It is so refreshing to debate someone "rational".
I second that - in a forum where a lot of debates can get pretty ugly and yes, even irrational, you guys are doing a good job keeping your eye on the ball.
what about STATE TERRORISM???
What about it? State terrorism is state terrorism. Seems pretty straightforward to me.
MAD mutially assured distuction , is that terrorism
Toughie. I'd say no because the goal of MAD is strictly defensive. Its designed to prevent war(not that its necessarily a rational idea).
are not armys a means of terrorism
NAZI storm troupers sure were
They certainly can be.
and do " they " need to kill or even hurt to be terrorist or is just the threat enuff
The threat is as important as the killing, but for the threat to have an effect, it needs to be credible - there has to be some killing.
and donot all goverments use terror to limit actions of people by drug laws, sex laws, ect backed by cops and jails
That sort of coersion is different from terrorism. Its putative based on obeying democratically arrived at rules. Since these rules are supposed to be pretty reasonable, it shouldn't be necessary to coerce people to follow them - thus punishment is putative, not coercive. Also, crimes are individual things - terrorism is a group thing.
 
  • #20
Evo
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Originally posted by russ_watters
Tough question - but what do you think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Depending on how rigid your definition is, they can be considered terrorism. But the people who made the decision made a reasoned decision - and history has judged them pretty favorably.
I just knew someone was going to bring that up. :wink: Even though we were at war with Japan, I would have to say it falls into the category of terrorism if there weren't primarily military targets that we were after, perhaps even if there were, due to the huge number of "non-combatant" lives it destroyed, as there were other options less horrendous. But I am not that knowledgeable on WWII. Lately I've read that the bombing wasn't necessary to defeat the Japanese as they were ready to surrender anyway. I have no idea if that is true.

There is more of a grey area when there is a declared war. The topic here I think has more to do with what constitutes terrorism where no war has been declared?
 
  • #21
Zero
When teh bombs are hitting you, it is much easier to define terrorism than when you are the ones trying to respond to the bombing. I would say that there are several kinds of "terrorism", which have different motives, and different solutions. One of those is the 'freedom fighter' mentality, which is different from the 'attempt to take power' mentality.
 
  • #22
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Originally posted by russ_watters
Tough question - but what do you think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Depending on how rigid your definition is, they can be considered terrorism. But the people who made the decision made a reasoned decision - and history has judged them pretty favorably.
This is always a tough one. Overall I tend to agree with their decision. Even though we can't really know, I think that it is likely that these two bombing saved more lives in the end.


Whether or not you consider these attacks to be terrorism depends a great deal on your definition. In the purest sense, I suppose they were...the purpose of the bombings was to inspire fear, and that's at the heart of what terrorism is.

Of course, WW2 had a number of other bombings which killed large amounts of civilians. But those civilians were as much a part of the war effort as the military...so it's something of a stretch to call them "innocent".


And what about the French resistance? They may be a good example of a group of terrorists who we might consider to be freedom fighters.


I'm just throwing out ideas here...
 
  • #23
'Rational' and 'Irrational' are simply what 'side of the fence' are you sitting upon, while looking at these situations...from the Japanese: it must have seemed 'Irrational' to drop such powerful explosives, upon their innocents, to us: it's seems somewhat 'Rational', (we can, and do, attempt to rationalize it) to Bin Laden: his viewpoint of the "Guilt of America" is 'Rationally' thought out, by his (Personal) Experiantial Event History occuring, over there, yours: is from this perspective and omits greatly from he would have known, (as does his knowledge omit greatly from yours) which allows you to see his viewpoint as 'Irrational'...so...

EDIT Two viewpoints of the same 'mirror', from differing sides of the same 'mirror'...simple?
 
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  • #24
Zero
Let's not forget, either, that the September 11 attacks weren't random acts of violence against civilians, but a surgical military strike with improvised missiles. If they had been traditional missiles, would it have been described as terrorism?
 
  • #25
russ_watters
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Originally posted by Zero
If they had been traditional missiles, would it have been described as terrorism?
Unequivocably yes.
 

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