Terrorism

 

Video: Louise Richard talks to Harry Kreisler on 'What Terrorists Want'

 

Terrorism in the modern sense is violence or other harmful acts committed (or threatened) against civilians for political or other ideological goals. Most definitions of terrorism include only those acts which are intended to create fear or "terror", are perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack), and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants. Many definitions also include only acts of unlawful violence.

 

As a form of unconventional warfare, terrorism is sometimes used when attempting to force political change by convincing a government or population to agree to demands to avoid future harm or fear of harm, destabilizing an existing government, motivating a disgruntled population to join an uprising, escalating a conflict in the hopes of disrupting the status quo, expressing a grievance, or drawing attention to a cause.

 

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. A 1988 study by the United States Army found that more than one hundred definitions of the word exist and have been used. In many countries, acts of terrorism are legally distinguished from criminal acts done for other purposes, and "terrorism" is defined by statute. 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.

 

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. 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 political end.

 

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. Mass executions of hostages, as by the Nazi military forces in the Second World War, certainly constituted crimes against humanity but are not commonly called terrorism.

 

Unlawfulness or illegitimacy – Some official (notably government) definitions of terrorism add a criterion of illegitimacy or unlawfulness to distinguish between actions authorized by a "legitimate" 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 "legitimate" 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.

 

Acts of terrorism can be carried out by individuals, groups, or states. According to some definitions, clandestine or semi-clandestine state actors may also carry out terrorist acts outside the framework of a state of war. However, the most common image of terrorism is that it is carried out by small and secretive cells, highly motivated to serve a particular cause and many of the most deadly operations in recent times, such as 9/11, the London underground bombing, and the 2002 Bali bombing were planned and carried out by a close clique, comprised of close friends, family members and other strong social networks. These groups benefited from the free flow of information and efficient Telecommunications to succeed where others had failed. Over the years, many people have attempted to come up with a terrorist profile to attempt to explain these individuals' actions through their psychology and social circumstances. Others, like Roderick Hindery, have sought to discern profiles in the propaganda tactics used by terrorists.

 

A state can sponsor terrorism by funding a terrorist organization, harboring terrorism, and also using state resources, such as the military, to directly perform acts of terrorism. Opinions as to which acts of violence by states consist of state-sponsored terrorism or not vary widely. When states provide funding for groups considered by some to be terrorist, they rarely acknowledge them as such.

 

Terrorism is a form of asymmetric warfare, and is more common when direct conventional warfare either cannot be (due to differentials in available forces) or is not being used to resolve the underlying conflict.

 

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:

 

  • Secession of a territory to form a new sovereign state

  • Dominance of territory or resources by various ethnic groups

  • Imposition of a particular form of government, such as democracy, theocracy, or anarchy

  • Economic deprivation of a population

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.

 

Many opinions exist concerning the causes of terrorism. They range from demographic to socioeconomic to political factors. Demographic factors may include congestion and high growth rates. Socioeconomic factors may include poverty, unemployment, and land tenure problems. Political factors may include disenfranchisement, ethnic conflict, religious conflict, territorial conflict, access to resources, or even revenge.

 

Factors that May Contribute to Terrorism:

 

  • High population growth rates (so-called “youth bulges”)

  • High Unemployment

  • Lagging economies

  • Political disenfranchisement

  • Extremism

  • Ethnic conflict

  • Religious conflict

  • Territorial conflict

 

In some cases, the rationale for a terrorist attack may be uncertain (as in the many attacks for which no group or individual claims responsibility) or unrelated to any large-scale social conflict (such as the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by Aum Shinrikyo).

 

A global research report An Inclusive World prepared by an international team of researchers from all continents has analyzed causes of present day terrorism. It has reached the conclusions that terrorism all over the world functions like an economic market. There is demand for terrorists placed by greed or grievances. Supply is driven by relative deprivation resulting in triple deficits - developmental deficit, democratic deficit and dignity deficit. Acts of terrorism take place at the point of intersection between supply and demand. Those placing the demand use religion and other denominators as vehicles to establish links with those on the supply side. This pattern can be observed in all situations ranging from Colombia to Colombo and the Philippines to the Palestine.

 

Responses to terrorism are broad in scope. They can include re-alignments of the political spectrum and reassessments of fundamental values. The term counter-terrorism has a narrower connotation, implying that it is directed at terrorist actors.

 

Specific types of responses include:

 

  • Targeted laws, criminal procedures, deportations, and enhanced police powers

  • Target hardening, such as locking doors or adding traffic barriers

  • Pre-emptive or reactive military action

  • Increased intelligence and surveillance activities

  • Pre-emptive humanitarian activities

  • More permissive interrogation and detention policies

  • Official acceptance of torture as a valid tool

 

This article is licensed under the the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Terrorism".