From dKosopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Terrorism: when non-state actors use violence against civilians for political purposes.



  • Target. It is commonly held that the distinctive nature of terrorism lies in its deliberate and specific selection of civilians as targets. Furthermore, an act is more likely to be considered terrorism if it targets a general populace than if it purposefully targets a specific individual or group. See also noncombatant and collateral damage.
  • Objective. As the name implies, terrorism is understood as an attempt to provoke fear and intimidation. Hence, terrorist acts are designed and intended to attract wide publicity and cause public shock, outrage, and/or fear. The intent may be to provoke disproportionate reactions from states.
    • This criterion excludes the Holocaust and other cases of genocide, which are undertaken to exterminate, not to intimidate, and which are usually hidden rather than publicized. Also, any violence against targets unlikely to attract public notice and having little effect on the populace at large.
  • Motive. These acts are intended to achieve political or religious goals, not for personal gain. For example, a gang of bank robbers who kill the bank manager, blow up the vault and escape with the contents would normally not be classed as terrorists, because their motive was profit. However, if a gang were to execute the same assault with the intent of causing a crisis in public confidence in the banking system, followed by a run on the banks and a subsequent destabilization of the economy, then the gang would be classed as terrorists.
  • Legitimacy. Some hold that a legitimate government cannot, by definition, commit terrorism on its own territory. In this view, a state can commit war crimes or crimes against humanity, but these actions are distinct from terrorism. See state terrorism.
    • This criterion excludes warfare between states, government repression, the Holocaust and other state-sponsored genocide.


Terrorism is a notoriously difficult term to define. One response is to claim that it identifies political violence or threats of violence against civilians or civilian infrastructure to achieve political, religious, or social goals. Terrorism can be carried out by individuals, groups, and governments. The problem with that defintion is that is it overbroad. Everything from an anonymous telephone threats to the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be included. Another problem is that it neglects to distinguish between the intention of the perpetrator of the act or threat of political violence and the perception of the victim.

The definition which leads this article is that of Juan Cole.

  • Michael Walzer: Non-state terrorism: "[T]he deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, in order to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of its political leaders."
    "There is also state terrorism, commonly used by authoritarian and totalitarian governments against their own people, to spread fear and make political opposition impossible."
    "And, finally, there is war terrorism: the effort to kill civilians in such large numbers that their government is forced to surrender."
    "The common element is the targeting of people who are, in both the military and political senses, noncombatants: not soldiers, not public officials, just ordinary people. And they aren't killed incidentally in the course of actions aimed elsewhere; they are killed intentionally."
    See Five Questions About Terrorism.
  • Walter Laqueur: "Terrorism consitutes the illegitimate use of force to achieve a political objective when innocent people are targeted."
  • James M. Poland: "Terrorism is the premeditated, deliberate, systematic murder, mayhem, and threatening of the innocent to create fear and intimidation in order to gain a political or tactical advantage, usually to influence an audience."
  • Vice-President's Task Force, 1986: "Terrorism is the unlawful use or threat of violence against persons or property to further political or social objectives. It is usually intended to intimidate or coerce a government, individuals or groups, or to modify their behavior or politics."
  • FBI Definition: "Terrorism is 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."
  • U.S. Code of Federal Regulations: "The unlawful use of force and 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."
  • Current U.S. National Security Strategy: "Premeditated, politically motivated violence against innocents."
  • United States Department of Defense: the "calculated use of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."
  • 1984 U.S. Army Training Manual: "Terrorism is the calculated use of violence, or the threat of violence, to produce goals that are political or ideological in nature."
  • CIA Definition: "The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving the territory or the citizens of more than one country. The term “terrorist group” means any group that practices, or has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism."

International Conventions on Terrorism

See International Conventions on Terrorism

Types of Terrorism and Terrorist Groups

For a complete list, see List of terrorist groups.

Left-Wing Terrorism

Left-wing terrorism has been almost non-existent since the 1970s. To keep up the myth of left-wing terrorism, the media has to redefine vandalism as terrorism, while still calling hate crimes and politically motivated mass shootings by republicans "isolated events" by "loners".

Nationalistic Terrorism

The difference between nationalistic terrorism and wars for national sovereignty is entirely one of perspective. One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. These nations have had, or currently have, nationalist revolutionary organizations fight for their liberation

Neo-Nazi/Fascist/Racial Terrorism

Religious Conservative Terrorism

From Morocco in the west to the Philippines in the east, from Tanzania in the south to Kazakstan in the north, these groups recruit young Islamic males for their operations. Often working in tandem with nationalistic terrorist organizations in Israel and the Palestian territories, Chehnya, and elsewhere, these groups also seek to overthrow what they perceive as Arab governments that are too secular, in particular Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Pakistan. They also coordinate strikes against western countries, particular western Europe and the United States. Sometimes they are supported, directly or indirectly, by state sponsors, such as Saudi Arabia; other times they are hunted by them; sometimes both.

Right-Wing Terrorism

Right-wing terrorism, or "neo-Fascist" terrorism, seeks to do away with liberal democratic governments and create fascist states in their place. They frequently attack immigrants and are both racist and xenophobic, often specifically anti-Semitic. They may act alone or in a group; the former may be more common becasue of the mindset if right-wing terrorists. Often right-wing terrorism may overlap with religious terrorism.

Right-wing terrorists often seek to defend regimes currently in place. They are often called paramilitaries, and the contras would be a good example of them.

During the 1980s, right-wing Latin American terrorist groups, known as death squads, often consisted of members of the armed forces who acted in an unofficial capacity to terrorize dissidents, generally with the implicit support or protection of high-ranking officials. As private groups with overlapping memberships with the military, they were able to carry out a terror campaign on the government's behalf while giving the government a form of plausible deniability. The most famous victims of this campaign of death-squad terrorism in El Salvador were four American nuns in 1980, and Archbishop Oscar Romero also during that year. In a civil trial ending in July of 2002, a jury in Miami, Florida convicted two former Salvadoran defense officials of the torture of three Salvadoran dissidents, and ordered them to pay $54.6 million to the plaintiffs.

Other examples of right-wing terrorism border on religious terrorism, such as the shootings of abortion doctors, bombings of abortion clinics, and the Centennial Olympic Park bombing by Eric Rudolph.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a blog tracking domestic terrorism, which after 9/11 has been almost exclusively right-wing.

Hate Crimes

Laws that limit acts which are generally categorized as "hate crimes" by so-called "hate groups" are more easily understood as "terrorism" than "hate".

Legal experts legitimately ask, "how can you legislate hate?" Perhaps we cannot. But advocates of the term "domestic terrorism" would say that the goal of the terrorists (be they KKK members, people who shoot ob-gyns who perform abortions, or someone killing a gay man just for being gay) is not acting out hatred, but causing the entire community who share that trait to be afraid to go on with their daily lives - the attempt to control a class of people through fear of violence.

There is an interesting discussion of domestic terrorism and its roots here.

State-sponsored Terrorism

Lt Col Richard J Erikson, USAF wrote "Legitimate Use of Military Force Against State-Sponsored International Terrorism" for the Air University Press in 1989. In this groundbreaking work he defines four levels of state involvement. They are state sponsorship, state support, state toleration and state ination. "State sponsorship exists when a state directly uses international terrorism 'as a weapon of warfare to gain strategic advantage where they cannot use conventional means.'" "State support of international terrorism exists when a state uses its resources to provide assistance in the form of training, arms, explosives, equipemnt, intelligence, safe havens, communications, travel documents, financing, or other logistical support but does not direct the terrorism incidents." "State Toleration exists when states, athough aware of terrorist groups within their borders, do not support them but do not act to suppress them either." "in this particular circumstance (State Inaction), the state does not wish to ignore international terrorists within its borders but lacks the ability to respond effectively."

The classic model of state sponsored terrorism is that of Libya where a government, under direct orders from its supreme dictatorial leader, simply hires a terrorist to go blow up civilian airliners unconnected to any military activity.

  • What Acts Are Terrorism?

Beyond this point, what constitutes state sponsored terrorism becomes more a question of definition and rhetoric than fact. In international law, sovereign state's have a recognized right to engage in War under certain circumstances, for example, to defend itself from attack or to protect allied nations from attack. This authority under international law recognizes that war is a messy business and that civilians as well combatants can and will be harmed by war. Moreover, not every war crime or violation of international standards for the conduct of war (like the Geneva Conventions) consitutes terrorism. Mistreating captured enemy soldiers, perhaps to the point of torture, may be a human rights violation, a Geneva Convention violation, and a war crime, but it stretched a reasonable use of the term "terrorism" too far to call mistreatment of enemy soldiers in a war "State Sponsored Terrorism".

Likewise, the death penalty, to the extent it has a political purpose (e.g. discouraging crime) is arguably within the definitions of terrorism show above.

Other state actions are, however, arguably state sponsored terrorism under some definitions.

If a country at war, for example, blows up religious sites where thousands of civilians are taking refuges, having no reason to believe that there are any military targets at the site, for the purpose of breaking the will of the enemy power, this might be fairly called a form of state sponsored terrorism. Some people accuse Israel of engaging in state sponsored terrorism towards the Palestinians in this sense of the word -- claiming that it is wantonly harming innocents for no direct military purpose to achieve its political ends. Israel, of course, denies this and states that it is defending itself in an unconventional hot war of self-defense which is a traditional perogative of a sovereign state. Likewise government sponsored attacks on minorities to encourage their flight from an area as a form of "ethnic cleansing" could be considered state sponsored terrorism.

Another scenario, one which the U.S. government was complicit in, involves cases when covert agents of a government, for example, assassinate foreign leaders or mine the harbors of nations with which it is not at war, and perhaps has not even been authorized by any law making part of its government to act. This looks more like the example of Libya above. Where the line between legitimate covert action (if there is such a thing) and state sponsored terrorism lies is not obvious.

  • What links make terrorist actions state sponsored?

Another issue in the question of what constitutes state sponsored terrorism is at what level action must be authorized to constitute state action. Is it state sponsored terrorism if enlisted members of a state's military force covertly form a death squad contract to government policy? What if the government suspects that a death squad is operating, but doesn't investigate? What if a senior member of the government directs the death squad in direct contravention of the will of the legitimate majority of decision makers in the government or in a manner contrary to the law of that government and the policy of its executive and legislative leaders? What if the government is simply not vigorous in carrying out its responsibility to prevent private violence? Does it matter if the lack of vigor is due to incompetence or malice?

What if a government give money to an organization that conducts both legitimate and terrorist activities, intending to ear mark the funds for legtimate activities? What if a government gives money to an organization that teaches ideologies heartily embraced by terrorist organizations, but engages in no terrorism itself and does not embrace terrorist methods on its own? Does it matter that the government did or did not expect the teaching organization grants to impact the number of terrorists in the world? Does wishful thinking make support non-terroristic?

Corporate Terrorism


Corporate malfeasance or Terrorism

Responses To Terrorism

Often the greates impact from terrorism comes not from the terrorist act itself, but from the steps nations take to protect themselves from terrorism.

There are major partisan differences over the appropriate response to terrorism. Many Democrats have urged greater attention to matters like Port Security while placing less emphasis on efforts to curb Civil Liberties. For example, while it passed by bipartisan majorities, many people are concerned about provisions of the PATRIOT Act such as the right of the government to make searches of business and library records and force those involved to keep that fact secret, and the perogative claimed by the Bush Administration to identify people as Enemy Combatants and detain them without any due process. It has also begun a policy sometimes described as Enemy Combatant Lite to attempt to harass immigrants whose wrongdoings are dubious and to attempt to attribute terrorist malice to relatively innocent acts of speech and charity. The U.S. also has a policy called Rendition of sending people to countries with dictatorial regimes for torture at its behest so that it doesn't have ot get its own hands dirty.

Many progressives are also concerned about violations of Civil Liberties by allies such as Israel and the United Kingdom carried out in response to terrorism. For example, the United Kingdom has detained a number of individuals for three years without trial, based in part on U.S. provided evidence which may have been obtained through torture.

How terrorist groups end

In 2008 the RAND Corporation released a study that examined terrorist activities, looking specifically at how they are ultimately destroyed or self-destruct. Their report suggested that any US policy truly grounded in the idea of ending terrorism and not just "playing politics" should focus on measures to either remove adherents' reasons for being in terrorist groups or provide better options for adherents to address their grievances. Specifically, the study found that membership in terrorist cells and organizations declined for the following reasons:

  1. 43% of membership loss happened when members converted to mainstream political/religious movements.
  2. 40% of the decline happened because of law enforcement activities and apprehension.
  3. 10% of membership left because the group achieved their stated or perceived goals.
  4. 7% by being neutralized through military action.

Republicans demand that virtually all US resources be directed at the single least effective method of ending terrorism: Military action.

The study also noted that, with regard to religion, strong religious convictions make any terrorist group harder to break up; the religious convictions are actually more likely to be realized (and this, RAND states, is good for peaceful, non-military intervention); and perhaps most obvious, rich countries are less likely to have religiously motivated terrorism.

RAND's conclusion is that police work and intelligence gathering, in conjunction with a disciplined and straightforward commitment to realizing and resolving a terrorist group's grievances, are not only far more likely to be successful, but are actually significantly less expensive than military action. <ref>RAND report </ref>

Odds of being killed by terrorism

Within in the United States, the risk of dying from a lightning strike exceeds the risk of dying as a result of terrorism about 50-fold.


Personal tools