So, what exactly is terrorism?


Well-Known Member
Jul 14, 2006
Currently, if you didn't know, there is no globally accepted definition of what terrorism is. Several proposals are listed on the UN's site here:

The word "terrorist" sends societies into a state of panic. I do wonder what the outcome will be. It reminds me of the mass hysteria during the witch burnings in the middle ages. It could be very easy to misuse the term or using it so broadly that is covers all special interest groups

I will copy and paste the options below:

Definitions of Terrorism
More About TerrorismTerrorism Home PageTerrorist WeaponsTerrorism Conventions

The question of a definition of terrorism has haunted the debate among states for decades. A first attempt to arrive at an internationally acceptable definition was made under the League of Nations, but the convention drafted in 1937 never came into existence. The UN Member States still have no agreed-upon definition. Terminology consensus would, however, be necessary for a single comprehensive convention on terrorism, which some countries favour in place of the present 12 piecemeal conventions and protocols.

The lack of agreement on a definition of terrorism has been a major obstacle to meaningful international countermeasures. Cynics have often commented that one state's "terrorist" is another state's "freedom fighter".

If terrorism is defined strictly in terms of attacks on non-military targets, a number of attacks on military installations and soldiers' residences could not be included in the statistics.

In order to cut through the Gordian definitional knot, terrorism expert A. Schmid suggested in 1992 in a report for the then UN Crime Branch that it might be a good idea to take the existing consensus on what constitutes a "war crime" as a point of departure. If the core of war crimes - deliberate attacks on civilians, hostage taking and the killing of prisoners - is extended to peacetime, we could simply define acts of terrorism as "peacetime equivalents of war crimes".

Proposed Definitions of Terrorism
1. League of Nations Convention (1937):

"All criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public".

2. UN Resolution language (1999):

"1. Strongly condemns all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, wherever and by whomsoever committed;

2. Reiterates that 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 other nature that may be invoked to justify them". (GA Res. 51/210 Measures to eliminate international terrorism)

3. Short legal definition proposed by A. P. Schmid to United Nations Crime Branch (1992):

Act of Terrorism = Peacetime Equivalent of War Crime

4. Academic Consensus Definition:

"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), (imperilled) 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).

So its simple. What definition would you vote for? If you believe you have a better definition, choose Other and post your definition below.
Definition #1 is useless because it only includes acts directed at the State.

Definition #2 is pretty accurate and is broader in that it includes acts not directed at the State. Unfortunately, it only includes "criminal" acts, which is a problem because different countries have different laws. Many heads of State would be exempt.

Defnition #3 is too short and exclusive (Peacetime only) to be useful, and #4 is too long-winded and is more analysis than definition.

I go with #2 if forced to choose.
I will have to go with #2 as well. It is more inclusive (governments, civilians, soldiers, etc..). And #4 is longwinded!
Actually, the problem with #2 is that it doesn't necessarily include government officials. Many countries (the United States included) have laws that exclude public officials acting in an official capacity from legal liability if they break certain laws (terrorism, for example). Since there is no universally recognized international code of law, the definition of "criminal acts" is up in the air. It would presumably need to be a conglomeration of various nations' laws, which includes the provisions that cover politicians' asses. Acts that would otherwise be called terrorism, when committed by a government, are called aggressive foreign policy.
After reading the options, #2 is about the closest, but it seems like a dangerous word to have to define. Of course, I understand that some of the definition will have to do with international courts and tribunals, but the whole act of terrorist acts (and there are many variables) make it incredibly hard to define easily.

It's one of those 'dunno' situations for me ...just yet.
As I mention before. I feel the term "terrorist" It is being misused. The term has been broadly used to cover all special interest groups. Its become the "catch all" phase.

One example PETA, Green Peace, Right To Life groups etc Before I heard terms like “ extremist” but now I hear “domestic terrorists”. In fact homeland security has started files on such groups.

Governments view:

Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Inhofe estimated the cost of damages from militant environmental and animal rights supporters at more than $110 million in the past decade.
"Just like al Qaeda or any other terrorist movement, ELF and ALF cannot accomplish their goals without money, membership and the media," the Republican senator from Oklahoma said.

PETAs response:

PETA has no involvement with alleged ALF or ELF actions. PETA does not support terrorism. PETA does not support violence," Kerr said.
"In fact PETA exists to fight the terrorism and violence inflicted on billions of animals annually in the meat, dairy, experimentation, tobacco, fur, leather, and circus industries."

Can they be labeled as terrorist with the same treatment applied to them? What about any other special interest group that pops up like “People Against Republicans”? Lets say they hold demonstrations get vocal and openly protest. Could our government turn around and call them terrorist? I see the possibility to abuse and silence any opposing views if a clear term is not enforced.

Id go with number 4 myself.
I think the difficult in defining terrorism is linked to saying that "one man's terrorist is anothers freedom fighter".
I think that this tries to make too many clear cut lines when its a grey world that we live in and like the person before me said, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
I think that this tries to make too many clear cut lines when its a grey world that we live in and like the person before me said, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
I think this very fact makes it more imperative to use a suitable and less ambiguous definition of the word terrorism, which is meant to refer to a despicable and generally abhorred act. Actually, though, the definition is less important than the application.

The looseness with which the word is currently used makes it easy for a politician or newsman to describe almost any act of violence as terrorism, and thus despicable in the specific way meant by that word. When the U.S. drops thousands of tons of bombs in a "shock and awe campaign", however, it is not described by the politicians or the press as terrorism, though it is the same kind of act. In this way it is implied to be "good" or "necessary" violence as opposed to the "bad" violence committed by terrorists. Iraqis launching military-style attacks on occupying soldiers, on the other hand, is often called terrorism, even though it is simply urban guerrilla war.

This linguistic trick can be used to paint the picture of any event in a biased way.
To me, Terrorism is any deliberate attack against an otherwise free, or peaceful establishment, for the sole cause of destruction, or something negative. Terrorism (As our media/president portrays it) is nothing but heresay. They find anyone who is different than them, and label it as 'Terrorism'. I do believe a lot of these so called 'Terrorist' organizations are capable of wrong-doing.
I feel that I have to say something about this subject simply because I am a member of many Animal and human rights organizations including PETA. I am also a sympathizer of the Animal Liberation front. (It is important for me to say that I have never and will never conduct operations for such organizations.) Because both of these organizations have been accused of operating as terrorist factions, and I am a member and supporter of these supposed ‘terrorist groups’ I am forced to find some middle ground between terrorism and activism.
I am not posting this in defense of PETA, as I do in part believe that some of their actions do fall under many classifications of terrorism.
My own personal view on terrorism is quite simply action that defies the political/social/economic powers that be. And more importantly such groups can and in some circumstances will completely justify seemingly needles acts of violence, and destruction of life and/or property to accomplish the downfall of what they oppose.
Because of my views on certain topics, I can (In PART) see how some social change dictates extreme action, but I am referring specifically to causes that do not involve the slaughtering of innocent people, animals, or any other living thing for ANY cause.
Personally, I've never really understood the point of war rules. War should be considered an unacceptable form of diplomacy. Period. On the other hand, defense is necessary, because there are always those - at every level of human interaction - who break the rules. To me, terrorism is merely a particular type of strategy, involving violence and force.
Interesting angle.

I will continue to call people who kill innocent civilians terrorists. At least when you have armies, you then have people volunteering to join (I joined the army in 2000, now discharged). It was the soldiers choice. They must accept the risk of death.