Terrorism is a phenomenon that is becoming pervasive, often dominant influence in our lives. It affects the manner in which goverments conduct their foreign policy and the way corporations transact their business. It causes alterations in the role and even the structure of security forces. It spins us to spend huge amounts of time and money to protect public figures, vital installations, citizens, and even system of goverment. It influences the way we travel and the places we travel to see.
It even affect the manner in which we live our daily lives. Our newspapers, radios, and television inundate our every waking moment with vivid details of terrorist spectacular from all corner of the globe.
But what is terrorism — this "IT" to which we attribute so much influence today?
First, we need to determine what "terrorism" is. And it is precisely this problem of definition that has caused political, legal, and military leaders to throw up their hands, metaphorically, in discouragement and dismay.
Crusial components of Terrorism
Terrorism is a political, legal and, military issue, its definition in modern terms has slow to evolve. Not that there are not numerous definitions available–there are hundreds. But it must be handled with caution in order for subsequent use of the term to have meaning.
Without falling into the political quagmire of attempting to label individual or groups as terrorist, certain types of actions could be indentified as terrorism, regardless of who commits them, for however noble a cause.
A loose definition of contemporary terrorism is:
"A synthesis of war and theater, a dramatization of the most proscribed kind of violence — that which perpetrated on innocent victims — played before an audience in the hope of creating a mood of fear, for political purposes". (Walter Laqueur, 1999.)
1. Violence, Audience and a mood of fear
Terrorism is fundamentally a violent act. Sits-in, picket lines, walk-outs, and other similat form of protest, no mater how disruptive are NOT terrorist acts.
The threat of violence where the capacity and willingness to commit violence are displyed — is endemic to terrorism. The violence need not be fully perpetrated — that is, the bomb need not be detonated or all of the passengers aboard an airliner killed — for it be considered terrorist act. But the capacity and the willingness to commit a violent act must be present.
This means, that it is the perception of the audience of that violent potential is crussial to classifiying an act as terrorism. Essentially designed before an audience to call the attention of hundreds of millions to an often unrelated situation through shock — producing situations of outrage and horror, doing unthinkable without apology or remorse.
2. Victims: The right place, But the wrong time
As one schoolar notes : "To qualify as an appropriate victim of terrorist today, we need not be tyrants or their sympathizers, we need not be connected in any way with the evil the terrorist perceives; We need not belong to a particular group. We need only in the wrong place in the wrong time." (Irving Howe, 1989).
Terrorism is thus distinguished from guerilla warfare by deliberate attacks on innocent persons adn the separation of its victims from the ultimate goal — the "playing to an audience" aspect of a terrorist act.
Terrorism can be distingusihed from legal acts of warfare and ordinary crimes of murder. Other schoolar points out as:
"Unlike the soldier, the guerilla fighter,or the revolutionist, the Terrorist … is always in paradoxical position of undertaking actions the immediate physical consequences of which are not particulary desired by him. An ordinary murderer will kill someone because he wants the person to be dead, but a terrorist will shoot somebody even though it is a matter of complete indifference to him whether that person lives or dies." (David Fromkin, 1975).
Let’s put it more simply, the difference between a terrorist act and similar crime or war activity is that terrorist acts are perpetrated deliberately on innocent third parties in an effort to coerce the opposing party or persons into some desired political course of action. Victim are thus chosen, not primarily because of their personal guilt (in terms of membership in an opposing military or govermental group), but because their death or injuries will so shock the opposition that the concession can be forced to prevent a recurrence of the incident or will focus attention on a particular political cause.
Terrorist acts, in other words, are constructed to deliberately "make war" on innocent persons.
Unlike the terrorism practised by nineteenth-century anarchists, twentieth-century terrorist acts are deliberately aimed against noncombatants, unarmed third parties whose loss of well-being can be expected to evoke a desired response from the opposition or from the audience watching the event throughout the world. But twentyfirst-century terrorist acts are more randomized, it is being directed against a wider range of innocent persons even children. Seems like military targets are not attracted anymore to support their product of fear.
Terrorism, then, is an act comprised of atleast four crucial elements:
(1) It is an act of violence; (2) it has a political motive or goal; (3) it is perpetrated against innocent persons; and (4) it is staged to be played before an audience ehose reaction of fear and terror is desired result. This definition eliminates violence in TV, lunatics on killing spree, the assassin who tries to kill a bad ruler, from the label of terrorist. All acts of violence are not terrorist acts, however heinous the acts may be.
The line between acceptable types of violence and unacceptable types is, unfortunately, not always clear. Violence by revolutionaries and by the state is sometimes difficult to catagorize clearly as terrorist, even given the working definition evolved here. Further study of history, ideology, and individuals involved in terrorist acts may increase our understanding of this important but confusing term.
1. Irving Howe, "The Ultimate Price of Random Terror", New York: Cambridge University Press; 1989.
2. David Fromkin, "The Strategy of Terror"; Foreign Affairs 53 (July 1975): 689.
3. Walter Laqueur, "The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction"; Oxford University Press; 1999.