Terrorism and terrorist are basically meaningless words

  • News
  • Thread starter madness
  • Start date
  • #1
641
12

Main Question or Discussion Point

"Terrorism" and "terrorist" are basically meaningless words

"Terrorism" and "terrorist" are basically meaningless words (there is no widely agreed definition) which are used to undermine and deligitimise a group or individual or state. I don't think these words are acceptable in any intelligent discussion or analysis of world events - they are clearly emotive words which have been engineered for propagandha purposes (now called "perception management" by the US government). To quote Hermann Goering:

"All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

To me this seems to accurately describe much of the political climate of recent years. From this point of view the use of the term "terrorism" becomes quite transparent.

Should we not strive to avoid such emotive and subjective language in order to make an objective analysis of a situation?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
217
1


"Terrorism" is a euphemism. Its political correctness.
 
  • #3
Evo
Mentor
23,104
2,448


I disagree strongly, acts of violence towards innocent people, especially where war has not been declared, is terrorism.
 
  • #4
berkeman
Mentor
56,448
6,366


"Terrorism" and "terrorist" are basically meaningless words (there is no widely agreed definition) which are used to undermine and deligitimise a group or individual or state. I don't think these words are acceptable in any intelligent discussion or analysis of world events - they are clearly emotive words which have been engineered for propagandha purposes (now called "perception management" by the US government). To quote Hermann Goering:

"All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

To me this seems to accurately describe much of the political climate of recent years. From this point of view the use of the term "terrorism" becomes quite transparent.

Should we not strive to avoid such emotive and subjective language in order to make an objective analysis of a situation?
The FBI definition is pretty widely accepted:

http://terrorism.about.com/od/whatisterroris1/ss/DefineTerrorism_6.htm
The FBI defines terrorism as:

The unlawful use of force or 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.
And in my training, the definition pretty much holds true. As a First Responder (EMT), I'm especially cautious about "secondary devices".

There may be some value in trying to moderate the rhetoric, but again, from my training on terrorism and anti-terrorism, there are some very serious threats posed by these folks.
 
  • #5
berkeman
Mentor
56,448
6,366


BTW, did you see this interesting thread nearby here in P&WA about the RAND study?

https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=411961

There may be some good things that can come out of that, to help dismantle more of these organizations.
 
  • #6
disregardthat
Science Advisor
1,854
33


I would agree with OP. The terrorist label is not isolated to those who's main purpose is to harm civilians. A rebellious organization might unwillingly harm civilians in the process of fighting the state, even though their main purpose is not necessarily so. An example would be a bombing of a state-building where civilians incidentally were killed.

There are many examples of military organizations fighting for the rights of the minority they represent, but which are also labeled "terrorists" by the state, even though the state actually are suppressing the minority. These organizations lack the means to declare an official war and fight a "clean war", but are forced to fight in other means - and these means might have civilian casualties as a byproduct. Good examples are terrorist sabotage groups spontaneously formed in invaded states or overthrown states. The terrorist labels might be inverted the moment the state is overthrown.

The label is not justifiable in every case, but has an obvious psychological effect. Fighting "terrorists" is much more righteous than fighting "freedom fighters".
 
  • #7
CRGreathouse
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
2,820
0


In principle, I think there's a real distinction in meaning. But I agree that there's been a tendency to overuse the term, especially recently.

As to the definition quoted above:
"The unlawful use of force or 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."
Its active part seems to be the last clause. An armed robbery is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or some segment thereof; it's only the last part of that definition that makes it not terrorism.
 
  • #8
641
12


I disagree strongly, acts of violence towards innocent people, especially where war has not been declared, is terrorism.
Of course I don't condone acts of violence towards innocent people, whether it is by Islamists or the US military. All I'm saying is that the word "terrorism" is emotionally charged and doesn't belong outside of tabloid media. I've seen (on many occasions and by people of authority) both Hamas and the state of Israel labelled as terrorists. Why not just give an objective account instead of dividing these conflicts into a good and evil side?

Edit: I'd also like to pick out your point "especially where war has not been declared". We have declared "war on terror". Should we take this to mean that terrorist attacks are now legitimate? If not then it can hardly be called a war since only one side can legitimately attack the other.
 
Last edited:
  • #9
mgb_phys
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
7,774
12


The FBI defines terrorism as:

The unlawful use of force or 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.
The tricky bit is unlawful.
Was Pearl Harbor unlawful because the Japanese declaration of war was late?
Was the resistance/underground unlawful after their government had surrended?
 
  • #10
drankin


Universal definition: All violent enemies are terrorists.
Incorrect. Terrorism typically involves in-discriminate violent acts against civilians to promote a cause. If all these guys did were attack uniformed soldiers, it would be difficult to classify them as terrorists. I don't recall us ever calling the Germans, Japanese, N Vietnamese, or N Koreans "terrorists" when we were at war with those peeps.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #11
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


Note to all: terrorism is a real issue that is treated seriously by the law and governments. If you don't take the issue seriously, don't post. Flippant comments are not acceptable.
 
  • #12
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


"Terrorism" and "terrorist" are basically meaningless words (there is no widely agreed definition)....
You are making a logical error: difficult to define and not defined are not the same thing.
...which are used to undermine and deligitimise a group or individual or state.
While I guess that could be true in some cases, it is not exclusively true and is not really relevant to whether or not "terrorism" is a real issue with an objective definition and application. Frankly, it appears to me that it is mostly opponents of the term and sympathizers with the so-labeled groups who don't treat the issue seriously. Governments and international agencies tend to have pretty clear definitions and lists that really are internally consistent, logical, and objective. It is your thesis that they are not, so you must provide such a definition and show why it is not internally consistent or objectively applied.

You have not provided any citations/analysis of definitions or critiques of lists of terrorist organizations (ie, pointing out that a certain group doesn't fit the government's own definition). I can only conclude based on this that you haven't actually done the legwork required to have an informed opinion on the subject: you're making it up as you go along because it sounds good to you and fits your bias. That is not accpetable here. Do your homework. Get the definitions and the lists and give us some analysis of them. They are not at all difficult to find.

This thread is thin on content and quality and will need to improve to remain open.
 
Last edited:
  • #13
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


I would agree with OP. The terrorist label is not isolated to those who's main purpose is to harm civilians. A rebellious organization might unwillingly harm civilians in the process of fighting the state, even though their main purpose is not necessarily so. An example would be a bombing of a state-building where civilians incidentally were killed.

There are many examples of military organizations fighting for the rights of the minority they represent, but which are also labeled "terrorists" by the state, even though the state actually are suppressing the minority. These organizations lack the means to declare an official war and fight a "clean war", but are forced to fight in other means - and these means might have civilian casualties as a byproduct. Good examples are terrorist sabotage groups spontaneously formed in invaded states or overthrown states. The terrorist labels might be inverted the moment the state is overthrown.

The label is not justifiable in every case, but has an obvious psychological effect. Fighting "terrorists" is much more righteous than fighting "freedom fighters".
Please provide examples to support your claims. What are the names of such organizations that are improperly labeled "terrorists", against a country's own definition?
 
  • #14
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


The tricky bit is unlawful.
Was Pearl Harbor unlawful because the Japanese declaration of war was late?
Was the resistance/underground unlawful after their government had surrended?
No. In both cases, the targets were military, not civilian. These cases are both clearly not examples of terrorism.
 
  • #15


No. In both cases, the targets were military, not civilian. These cases are both clearly not examples of terrorism.
The particular definition supplied does not specify civilian targets. I am fairly certain that most definitions do include that specification though.

The Wiki article on "Definitions of Terrorism" may be a good place to look for commonly used definitions, it appears fairly expansive. I haven't time to look through it right now though so I can not confirm my assumption.
 
  • #16
378
2


Incorrect. Terrorism typically involves in-discriminate violent acts against civilians to promote a cause. If all these guys did were attack uniformed soldiers, it would be difficult to classify them as terrorists. I don't recall us ever calling the Germans, Japanese, N Vietnamese, or N Koreans "terrorists" when we were at war with those peeps.
That's the most easiest way to define it though. Otherwise, it changes by time and who is there to label whom.

If government is oppressive and group of violent individuals do harm to the government would those also be terrorists?



Russ,
If you continue to use current US government laws to define terrorists, you yourself are not addressing the issue sincerely.By no means, that's objective. By the FBI definition, many people who currently are treated as heroes/freedom fighters are also terrorists.
 
  • #17
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


The particular definition supplied does not specify civilian targets. I am fairly certain that most definitions do include that specification though.
It is a little thin on who the "persons or property" are, but yes, you are correct: they are almost exclusively intended to mean civilians.
 
  • #18
2,006
5


I disagree strongly, acts of violence towards innocent people, especially where war has not been declared, is terrorism.
Has the US officially declared war on Pakistan, etc? Did the Taliban not declare war on the west? (If the US had declared war before invading Afghanistan, wouldn't those of Guantanamo bay been protected from torture by Geneva convention?)

I doubt even Russ can find a non-US-centric definition for terrorism that excludes Nagasaki.
 
  • #19
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


Russ,
If you continue to use current US government laws to define terrorists, you yourself are not addressing the issue sincerely. By no means, that's objective.
No. This thread is intended to be a criticism of US policy so only by actually reading and understanding US policy can it actually be criticized. Otherwise, you're simply criticizing a fantasy that only exists in your [and the OP's] own head!

If you are going to criticize a definition, you need to cite that definition so that we can all be sure that that definition is real and not just something you fabricated as a straw-man. Case in point:
By the FBI definition, many people who currently are treated as heroes/freedom fighters are also terrorists.
If you do not cite an example, then you are just making that up.

Let me help you: is the Taliban a terrorist organization? You'd better take the question seriously and do some real research because it is somewhat of a trick question - but it is a great example for this issue.
 
  • #20
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


Has the US officially declared war on Pakistan, etc?
No. What does that have to do with anything?
Did the Taliban not declare war on the west?
Odd question/oddly worded. Formal declarations of war fell out of style decades ago and I don't think either declared war on the other.
(If the US had declared war before invading Afghanistan, wouldn't those of Guantanamo bay been protected from torture by Geneva convention?)
The declaration of war has no bearing on whether or not torture is legal.
I doubt even Russ can find a non-US-centric definition for terrorism that excludes Nagasaki.
As with the others, you are assuming the answers to questions no one has asked and not defending your thesis. It should be crystal clear by now that those who oppose the concept of a clear definition of terrorism are the ones playing fast-and-loose with the issue as none, including you, have yet provided a single citation of a definition or analysis of it.

You are what you are claiming others are - and they are not.

Your implication here is that you think Nakasaki fits the US's definition of terrorism. Explain! Defend!
 
  • #21
378
2


If you do not cite an example, then you are just making that up.
Please identify whom you would treat as heroes and whom as terrorists:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resistance_movement
Particularly I am interested in your views on people who fought against Colonialism and who were killed by Chinese government in events like Tiananmen Square.


Taliban is a terrorist organization but I am arguing that there's no definition for terrorists that can hold against time.
 
Last edited:
  • #22
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


We were at war with Japan.
I was hoping cesium would explain, but since you jumped-in....

The Nagasaki bombing was quite different from modern-day terrorism. Importantly:

-International law has changed since then.
-We were in a state of war with Japan.
-Besides the written rules, the state of war included different unwritten rules, basically tit-for-tat conventions on acceptable conduct. A "you bomb my civilians, I bomb your civilians" type of give-and-take.

The US has shown no hypocrisy here: This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the Allies did not prosecute the Axis powers for such actions that both sides took - such as indescriminate bombing of civilans.

So while it is true that with the letter of the law, Nagasaki would probably be considered terrorism under a modern definition(or just illegal under different terms, since it happend during war) , it wasn't then and that discussion is really just a diversionary tactic and a non-sequitur. Basically, cesium is hoping I'd fall into a trap in a blind defense of the US. Sorry to disappoint: again, that's your image in your mirror, not mine.
 
Last edited:
  • #23
russ_watters
Mentor
19,238
5,240


Please identify whom you would treat as heroes and whom as terrorists.
No. Your thesis, your responsibility to defend it.
Taliban is a terrorist organization....
Wrong!*

rootx, you need to stop making this stuff up as you go along and start actually dealing with the realities of these issues. Start looking at the definitions you are criticizing instead of criticizing what you think they say. Start looking at the lists of terrorist organizations instead of assuming you know the contents of them. This making-stuff-up-as-you-go-along-because-it-sounds-good-in-your-head debate tactic is not acceptable and needs to stop immediately.

*There is an interesting and important caveat to that, though, which you would know if you researched the issue like I told you to. Do it!
 
  • #24
378
2


I was hoping cesium would explain, but since you jumped-in....

The Nagasaki bombing was vastly different from modern-day terrorism. Importantly:

-International law has changed since then.
-We were in a state of war with Japan.
-Besides the written rules, the state of war included different unwritten rules, basically tit-for-tat conventions on acceptable conduct. A "you bomb my civilians, I bomb your civilians" type of give-and-take.

The US has shown no hypocrisy here: This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the Allies did not prosecute the Axis powers for such actions that both sides took - such as indescriminate bombing of civilans.

So while it is true that with the letter of the law, Nagasaki would probably be considered terrorism under a modern definition(or just illegal under different terms, since it happend during war) , it wasn't then and that discussion is really just a diversionary tactic and a non-sequitur. Basically, cesium is hoping I'd fall into a trap in a blind defense of the US. Sorry to disappoint: again, that's your image in your mirror, not mine.
So, I believe we agree then that acts of terrorism change as laws change over time?
 
  • #25
Evo
Mentor
23,104
2,448


I was hoping cesium would explain, but since you jumped-in....

The Nagasaki bombing was vastly different from modern-day terrorism. Importantly:

-International law has changed since then.
-We were in a state of war with Japan.
-Besides the written rules, the state of war included different unwritten rules, basically tit-for-tat conventions on acceptable conduct. A "you bomb my civilians, I bomb your civilians" type of give-and-take.

The US has shown no hypocrisy here: This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the Allies did not prosecute the Axis powers for such actions that both sides took - such as indescriminate bombing of civilans.

So while it is true that with the letter of the law, Nagasaki would probably be considered terrorism under a modern definition(or just illegal under different terms, since it happend during war) , it wasn't then and that discussion is really just a diversionary tactic and a non-sequitur. Basically, cesium is hoping I'd fall into a trap in a blind defense of the US. Sorry to disappoint: again, that's your image in your mirror, not mine.
Excellent explanation.
 

Related Threads for: Terrorism and terrorist are basically meaningless words

Replies
71
Views
8K
  • Last Post
Replies
19
Views
6K
  • Last Post
7
Replies
161
Views
10K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
42
Views
21K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
26
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
14
Views
2K
Replies
4
Views
898
Replies
16
Views
3K
Top