Definition of Terrorism

Although the definition of terrorism has been provided in such documents as the U.S. Code, it has remained ambiguous as to the extent of activities that may be considered as acts of terror. For instance, it is not always clear whether activities such as guerilla warfare, political kidnappings and assassinations, and repression of citizens by their state constitute acts of terrorism (Shughart, 2006). According to the U.S code, terrorism is for instance defined as the “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience” (U.S Department of State, 2000, p. iii). While the U.S. department of State has adopted this definition, other agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) modify this definition by emphasizing the terrorists’ “unlawful use of force or violence” (Shughart, 2006, p. 9). Additionally, the definition by the FBI recognizes people and property as potential targets and proposes that such acts may be made in pursuit of not only political interests but also social, religious or ideological interests (Shughart, 2006, pp. 9-10).

As more literature has tried to clarify the definition of terrorism, various characteristics may be noted that distinguish terrorism from other acts of violence. As recounted by Shughart (2006), these characteristics include that terrorism involves violence or threat of violence to achieve a political effect through planned acts executed in a systematic fashion. Terrorist are also “not bound by established rules of warfare or codes of conduct” and their acts are designed to have widespread psychological consequences that are not specific to the immediate target or victim (Shughart, 2006, p. 10). Despite such clarifications, there still exists ambiguity as whether to include activities such as revolutions against authoritarian rule – which encompass most of the characteristics defining terrorism e.g. unlawful violence, and achieving a political effect – as terrorism. Although some suggestions have been that revolutions are distinguished from terror by their just cause (e.g. Yassir Arafat as quoted in Shughart, 2006, p. 10), such distinction remains largely subjective since what is perceived as “a just cause” may not be perceived as such by other individuals (Cronin, 2003).

For this paper’s purpose, it would be vital to expand the definition by the U.S state department to include the aspect of fear and uncertainty. In this respect, terrorism achieves its goals (e.g. political, social and religious), through threats or violence that creates a sense of insecurity resulting to excessive fear amongst the public (Shughart, 2006). Additionally, it is by making their actions uncertain and creating a belief that everyone could be a target, that terrorists are able to maintain such sense of insecurity (Shughart, 2006). Further, terrorists design their activities to attract massive publicity that would aid in intimidating an alarmed public and in the process use such public, indirectly, to demand that their leaders rectify some perceived wrongs (Shughart, 2006). Failure of the leaders (government) to rectify such wrongs combined with the government’s incapacity to protect its citizenry from terror activities, could serve as a source of crises of authority (Viotti & Kauppi, 2009). Go to part 3 here.

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