Terrorism reaches back to ancient Greece and has occurred throughout history. Terrorism by radicals (of both the left and right) and by nationalists became widespread after World War II. Since the late 20th cent. acts of terrorism have been associated with the Italian Red Brigades, the Irish Republican Army, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Peru's Shining Path, Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Weathermen and some members of U.S. "militia" organizations, among many groups. Religiously inspired terrrorism has also occurred, such as that of extremist Christian opponents of abortion in the United States; of extremist Muslims associated with Hamas, Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, and other organizations; of extremist Sikhs in India; and of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo, who released nerve gas in Tokyo's subway system (1995).
In 1999 the UN Security Council unanimously called for better international cooperation in fighting terrorism and asked governments not to aid terrorists. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Al Qaeda on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—the most devastating terrorist attacks in history—prompted calls by U.S. political leaders for a world "war on terrorism." Although the U.S. effort to destroy Al Qaeda and overthrow the Afghani government that hosted it was initially successful, terrorism is not a movement but a tactic used by a wide variety of groups, some of which are regarded (and supported) as "freedom fighters" in various countries or by various peoples. So-called state-sponsored terrorism, in which governments provide support or protection to terrorist groups that carry out proxy attacks against other countries, also complicates international efforts to end terror attacks, but financial sanctions have been placed by many countries on organizations that directly or indirectly support terrorists. The 2001 bioterror attacks in which anthrax spores were mailed to various U.S. media and government offices may not be linked to the events of September 11, but they raised specter of biological and chemical terrorism and revealed the difficulty of dealing with such attacks.
See B. Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (1998).
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. There is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism. Most common definitions of terrorism include only those acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack), and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants. Some definitions also include acts of unlawful violence and war. A common opinion about terrorist groups, especially after the 'Global War on Terror' began after 9/11/2001, is that the majority of terrorist attacks are due to Islamic-extremists or radical religious groups. The 2001 attack of the World Trade Center and the hijacking of four passenger jets are a very well known and a well documented example of Islamic terrorism in recent memory.
Terrorism is also a form of unconventional warfare and psychological warfare. The word is politically and emotionally charged, and this greatly compounds the difficulty of providing a precise definition. One 1988 study by the US Army found that over 100 definitions of the word "terrorism" have been used. A person who practices terrorism is a terrorist. The concept of terrorism is itself controversial because it is often used by states to deligitimize political opponents, and thus legitimize the state's own use of terror against those opponents. Edward Said remarked that '[w]ith few exceptions the discourse of terrorism is constituted by an author whose main client is the government of a powerful state opposed to terrorism, but also anxious to shield itself from arguments about its own (quite routinely barbaric and violent) behaviour.'
Terrorism has been used by a broad array of political organizations in furthering their objectives; both right-wing and left-wing political parties, nationalistic, and religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments. The presence of non-state actors in widespread armed conflict has created controversy regarding the application of the laws of war.
An International Round Table on Constructing Peace, Deconstructing Terror (2004) hosted by Strategic Foresight Group recommended that a distinction should be made between terrorism and acts of terror. While acts of terrorism are criminal acts as per the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 and domestic jurisprudence of almost all countries in the world, terrorism refers to a phenomenon including the actual acts, the perpetrators of acts of terrorism themselves and their motives. There is disagreement on definitions of terrorism. However, there is an intellectual consensus globally, that acts of terrorism should not be accepted under any circumstances. This is reflected in all important conventions including the United Nations counter terrorism strategy, the decisions of the Madrid Conference on terrorism, the Strategic Foresight Group and ALDE Round Tables at the European Parliament.
The word "terrorism" was first used in reference to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. In many countries, acts of terrorism are legally distinguished from criminal acts done for other purposes, and "terrorism" is defined by statute; see definition of terrorism for particular definitions. Common principles among legal definitions of terrorism provide an emerging consensus as to meaning and also foster cooperation between law enforcement personnel in different countries. Among these definitions there are several that do not recognize the possibility of legitimate use of violence by civilians against an invader in an occupied country and would, thus label all resistance movements as terrorist groups. Others make a distinction between lawful and unlawful use of violence. Ultimately, the distinction is a political judgment. In November 2004, a United Nations Security Council report 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." (Note that this report does not constitute international law.) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) defined terrorism as: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”
Official definitions determine counter-terrorism policy and are often developed to serve it. Most government definitions outline the following key criteria: target, objective, motive, perpetrator, and legitimacy or legality of the act. Terrorism is also often recognizable by a following statement from the perpetrators.
Violence – According to Walter Laqueur of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "the only general characteristic of terrorism generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence." However, the criterion of violence alone does not produce a useful definition, as it includes many acts not usually considered terrorism: war, riot, organized crime, or even a simple assault. Property destruction that does not endanger life is not usually considered a violent crime, but some have described property destruction by the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front as violence and terrorism; see eco-terrorism.
Psychological impact and fear – The attack was carried out in such a way as to maximize the severity and length of the psychological impact. Each act of terrorism is a “performance,” devised to have an impact on many large audiences. Terrorists also attack national symbols to show their power and to shake the foundation of the country or society they are opposed to. This may negatively affect a government's legitimacy, while increasing the legitimacy of the given terrorist organization and/or ideology behind a terrorist act.
Perpetrated for a political goal – Something all terrorist attacks have in common is their perpetration for a political purpose. Terrorism is a political tactic, not unlike letter writing or protesting, that is used by activists when they believe no other means will effect the kind of change they desire. The change is desired so badly that failure is seen as a worse outcome than the deaths of civilians. This is often where the interrelationship between terrorism and religion occurs. When a political struggle is integrated into the framework of a religious or "cosmic struggle, such as over the control of an ancestral homeland or holy site such as Israel and Jerusalem, failing in the political goal (nationalism) becomes equated with spiritual failure, which, for the highly committed, is worse than their own death or the deaths of innocent civilians.
Deliberate targeting of non-combatants – It is commonly held that the distinctive nature of terrorism lies in its intentional and specific selection of civilians as direct targets. Specifically, the criminal intent is shown when babies, children, mothers, and the elderly are murdered, or injured, and put in harm's way. Much of the time, the victims of terrorism are targeted not because they are threats, but because they are specific "symbols, tools, animals or corrupt beings" that tie into a specific view of the world that the terrorist possess. Their suffering accomplishes the terrorists' goals of instilling fear, getting a message out to an audience, or otherwise accomplishing their often radical religious and political ends.
Disguise – Terrorists almost invariably pretend to be non-combatants, hide among non-combatants, fight from in the midst of non-combatants, and when they can, strive to mislead and provoke the government soldiers into attacking the wrong people, that the government may be blamed for it. When an enemy is identifiable as a combatant, the word terrorism is rarely used.
Unlawfulness or illegitimacy – Some official (notably government) definitions of terrorism add a criterion of illegitimacy or unlawfulness to distinguish between actions authorized by a government (and thus "lawful") and those of other actors, including individuals and small groups. Using this criterion, actions that would otherwise qualify as terrorism would not be considered terrorism if they were government sanctioned. For example, firebombing a city, which is designed to affect civilian support for a cause, would not be considered terrorism if it were authorized by a government. This criterion is inherently problematic and is not universally accepted, because: it denies the existence of state terrorism; the same act may or may not be classed as terrorism depending on whether its sponsorship is traced to a "legitimate" government; "legitimacy" and "lawfulness" are subjective, depending on the perspective of one government or another; and it diverges from the historically accepted meaning and origin of the term. For these reasons this criterion is not universally accepted. Most dictionary definitions of the term do not include this criterion.
This is further complicated by the moral ambiguity that surrounds terrorism. On the question of whether particular terrorist acts, such as murder, can be justified as the lesser evil in a particular circumstance, philosophers have expressed different views: While, according to David Rodin, utilitarian philosophers can in theory conceive of cases in which evil of terrorism is outweighed by important goods that can be achieved in no morally less costly way, in practice utilitarians often universally reject terrorism because it is very dubious that acts of terrorism achieve important goods in a utility efficient manner, or that the "harmful effects of undermining the convention of non-combatant immunity is thought to outweigh the goods that may be achieved by particular acts of terrorism." Among the non-utilitarian philosophers, Michael Walzer argued that terrorism is always morally wrong but at the same time those who engaged in terrorism can be morally justified in one specific case: when "a nation or community faces the extreme threat of complete destruction and the only way it can preserve itself is by intentionally targeting non-combatants, then it is morally entitled to do so."
In his book "Inside Terrorism" Bruce Hoffman wrote in Chapter One: Defining Terrorism that
The pejorative connotations of the word can be summed up in the aphorism, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." This is exemplified when a group that uses irregular military methods is an ally of a State against a mutual enemy, but later falls out with the State and starts to use the same methods against its former ally. During World War II, the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army was allied with the British, but during the Malayan Emergency, members of its successor, the Malayan Races Liberation Army, were branded terrorists by the British. More recently, Ronald Reagan and others in the American administration frequently called the Afghan Mujahideen freedom fighters during their war against the Soviet Union, yet twenty years later when a new generation of Afghan men are fighting against what they perceive to be a regime installed by foreign powers, their attacks are labelled terrorism by George W. Bush. Groups accused of terrorism usually prefer terms that reflect legitimate military or ideological action. Leading terrorism researcher Professor Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Ottawa's Carleton University, defines "terrorist acts" as attacks against civilians for political or other ideological goals, and goes on to say:
Some groups, when involved in a "liberation" struggle, have been called terrorists by the Western governments or media. Later, these same persons, as leaders of the liberated nations, are called statesmen by similar organizations. Two examples of this phenomenon are the Nobel Peace Prize laureates Menachem Begin and Nelson Mandela.
Sometimes states that are close allies, for reasons of history, culture and politics, can disagree over whether members of a certain organization are terrorists. For example for many years some branches of the United States government refused to label members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as terrorists, while it was using methods against one of the United States' closest allies (Britain) that Britain branded as terrorist attacks. This was highlighted by the Quinn v. Robinson case.
Many times the term "terrorism" and "extremism" are interchangeably used. However, there is a significant difference between the two. Terrorism essentially threat or act of physical violence. Extremism involves using non-physical instruments to mobilise minds to achieve political or ideological ends. For instance, Al Qaeda is involved in terrorism. The Iranian revolution of 1979 is a case of extremism. A global research report An Inclusive World (2007) asserts that extremism poses a more serious threat than terrorism in the decades to come.
For these and other reasons, media outlets wishing to preserve a reputation for impartiality are extremely careful in their use of the term.
In an analysis prepared for U.S. Intelligence four typologies are mentioned.
Some examples of "terrorism" in non-democracies include ETA in Spain under Francisco Franco, the Shining Path in Peru under Alberto Fujimori, the Kurdistan Workers Party when Turkey was ruled by military leaders and the ANC in South Africa. Democracies, such as the United States, Israel, and the Philippines, also have experienced domestic terrorism.
While a democratic nation espousing civil liberties may claim a sense of higher moral ground than other regimes, an act of terrorism within such a state may cause a perceived dilemma: whether to maintain its civil liberties and thus risk being perceived as ineffective in dealing with the problem; or alternatively to restrict its civil liberties and thus risk delegitimizing its claim of supporting civil liberties. This dilemma, some social theorists would conclude, may very well play into the initial plans of the acting terrorist(s); namely, to delegitimize the state.
It has been found that a "terrorist" will look, dress, and behave like a normal person, such as a university student, until he or she executes the assigned mission. Terrorist profiling based on personality, physical, or sociological traits would not appear to be particularly useful. The physical and behavioral description of the terrorist could describe almost any normal young person.
The concept of state terrorism is controversial . Military actions by states during war are usually not considered terrorism, even when they involve significant civilian casualties. The Chairman of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee has stated that the Committee was conscious of the 12 international Conventions on the subject, and none of them referred to State terrorism, which was not an international legal concept. If States abused their power, they should be judged against international conventions dealing with war crimes, international human rights and international humanitarian law. Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that it is "time to set aside debates on so-called 'state terrorism'. The use of force by states is already thoroughly regulated under international law However, he also made clear that, "...regardless of the differences between governments on the question of definition of terrorism, what is clear and what we can all agree on is any deliberate attack on innocent civilians, regardless of one's cause, is unacceptable and fits into the definition of terrorism.
State terrorism has been used to refer to terrorist acts by governmental agents or forces. This involve the use of state resources employed by a state's foreign policies, such as the using its military to directly perform acts of considered to be state terrorism. Professor of Political Science, Michael Stohl cites the examples that include Germany’s bombing of London and the U.S. atomic destruction of Hiroshima during World War II. He argues that “the use of terror tactics is common in international relations and the state has been and remains a more likely employer of terrorism within the international system than insurgents." They also cite the First strike option as an example of the "terror of coercive dipolomacy" as a form of this, which holds the world "hostage,' with the implied threat of using nuclear weapons in "crisis management." They argue that the institutionalized form of terrorism has occurred as a result of changes that took place following World War ll. In this analysis, state terrorism exhibited as a form of foreign policy was shaped by the presence and use of weapons of mass destruction, and that the legitimizing of such violent behavior led to an increasingly accepted form of this state behavior. (Michael Stohl, “The Superpowers and International Terror” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, Atlanta, March 27-April 1, 1984;"Terrible beyond Endurance? The Foreign Policy of State Terrorism." 1988;The State as Terrorist: The Dynamics of Governmental Violence and Repression, 1984 P49).
State terrorism is has also been used to describe peace time actions by governmental agents or forces, such as the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 flight. The concept is also used to describe political repressions by governments against their own civilian population with the purpose to incite fear. For example, taking and executing civilian hostages or extrjuducial elimination campaigns are commonly considered "terror" or terrorism, for example during Red Terror or Great Terror . Such actions are often also described as democide which has been argued to be equivalent to state terrorism Empirical studies on this have found that democracies have little democide.
The context in which terrorist tactics are used is often a large-scale, unresolved political conflict. The type of conflict varies widely; historical examples include:
Terrorist attacks are often targeted to maximize fear and publicity. They usually use explosives or poison, but there is also concern about terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction. Terrorist organizations usually methodically plan attacks in advance, and may train participants, plant "undercover" agents, and raise money from supporters or through organized crime. Communication may occur through modern telecommunications, or through old-fashioned methods such as couriers.
Specific types of responses include:
The mass media will often censor organizations involved in terrorism (through self-restraint or regulation) to discourage further terrorism. However, this may encourage organisations to perform more extreme acts of terrorism to be shown in the mass media.
The Weather Underground was a militant US organization which, while causing no casualties, performed terrorist acts to bring media attention to various world political issues. Many of the issues were given brief mentions by news services only in relation to the terrorist acts.
Lewis, Jeff, Language Wars: The Role of Media and Culture in Global Terror and Political Violence, Pluto Books, London, 2005.
The Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center- www.terrorism-info.org.il