Jan 11, 2019 in History

Defining Terrorism

Terrorism has been a very controversial and topical issue for the last few decades that causes serious disputes among average people as well as scientists. For some reason, many people think that terrorism is a new phenomenon that appeared only few decades ago and earlier never existed in the history of humankind. In general, terrorism is a form of a conflict, which is based on various backgrounds (religion, politics, etc.) that involves lawless violent actions against a group of people or the whole nation.

In fact, there is still no clear and universal definition of terrorism. Moreover, it cannot be defined only by one criterion, for example, state, politics, constitution, etc. The main reasons are the variety of goals and suppositions for providing terroristic actions by one person or a group of people. Main goals of such actions are: making a large group of people pay attention to something, punishing, making people fear, etc. On the other hand, suppositions may also vary, and they can be based on religion, politics, ideology, or national backgrounds. The abovementioned reasons create difficulties in defining the phenomenon of terrorism because they could be either separated from each other or combined.

One of the most significant features of terrorism is its target. In a vast majority of cases, terrorists’ targets are directed to civilians and people who cannot defend themselves properly during the attack. Another feature is the organization of every attack itself. Every terrorist act is planned carefully by a group of people, which brings to a conclusion that it cannot be a spontaneous decision of one person.

Another problem in defining terrorism is the general idea of taking systematic violent actions towards a person or a group of people to make them fear and obey certain rules. For example, when a teenager or a child is systematically bullying one or a few other children so that they will willingly give him something (for example, money for lunch), such action could also be referred to terrorism because it implies aggression, violence, and causes fear that raises further actions like force compliance. However, the abovementioned example does not universally refer to terrorism though it has a similar idea. Therefore, the keywords in the definition of terrorism should be ideology, politics, religion, and utter violence towards weaker people.

In the vast majority of cases, terrorist acts are premised on various kinds of ideology. On the other hand, no one can say that it is the only criterion that causes acts of terrorism all over the world. Sometimes, terrorist acts can take place on an emotional basis that does not imply religion or politics, as they can take a form of revenge or mental health problems.

The purpose of terrorism is based not on the violence itself, but on paying attention to certain aspects of life such as religion, political and economic situations, etc., or raising strong emotions for forcing people to take actions by making them feel fear. If terrorists take credit for certain violent actions, they state their purposes rather clear. Unfortunately, sometimes terrorist achieve their goals without revealing themselves. In fact, three main purposes can be named: punishment, intimidation, and sometimes distraction. Terrorist acts taken towards a country can be based on willing to punish the nation for taking part in the military combats, or for having other religious and ideological views, which was seen on July 7th, 2005, in London. Intimidation is the second purpose of such violent actions as terrorism. Fear is one of the strongest emotions, and by making people feel fear a person or a group of people can dictate their own rules and be sure that they will be followed. Unfortunately, terrorists always choose to intimidate average citizens, and they never take significant violent actions towards military forces directly (for instance, September 11, 2001, New York, The World Trade Center Attack). The third purpose of terrorism that could exist with a high possibility is distraction. Unfortunately, no specific examples can be placed because no terrorist organization will reveal real plans on something they do not want other nations to know about.

The History of Terrorism

Terrorism has a very long history among humankind. Scientists still cannot reach an agreement of what exact century gave birth to terrorism. However, many of them agree that the history of terrorism begins in the first century, when the Jewish Sikarii sect existed (from 66 to 73 CE). This sect was responsible for extortion, banditry, and insurgency against Romans (Likar 38). The second most famous case of terrorism in the history took place in the 11th century. Members of the Hashashin sect were acting under their radical faith in Islam religion. They are famous for assassination of many famous leaders, Christians, and even Muslims, claiming that all assassinations were done only to protect their faith and every violent action was performed only in the name of faith. The impact of Hashashins on politics and religion was not very significant; however, they are one of the most known terrorist sects in the history (Buxton and Provenzo 134). The origin of modern terrorism takes its roots from the French Revolution (1793-1794). In this particular case, terror was based on politics and all mass executions were provided to eliminate all enemies of the regime and retain power (Rubin and Rubin 7). All abovementioned cases of terrorism differ from the one we have today, however, this was the beginning of terror evolution among people.

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In the work “The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism,” David C. Rapoport highlights and describes the four waves of modern terrorism. Each wave had its own main feature. The first wave was characterized by being mostly domestic and political. The growth of hostility and ambivalence among some groups of people resulted in the mass killings. The idea of terrorism as the quickest and the easiest way to bring own rules into politics made people take violent actions. At the same time, terror was also used to regulate violence among new radicals. The second wave of terrorism reached new international level. At the same time, terrorists consider themselves as “freedom fighters,” and the second wave took place at the time of establishing new states, for example, Ireland, Cyprus, Israel, etc. Moreover, this wave was on the new economy level, more money was invested, which allowed new terrorists to plan their actions carefully and better. Moreover, politicians were not the only target anymore. In fact, the second wave can be considered as an intermediate element between domestic and international terrorism.

The third wave of terror took place under the idea of punishment. Moreover, 1/3 of all terrorist targets were American people. This can be explained with the new role of the US on the international level, especially when it comes to military investments and combat actions in the East region. Some parts of assassinations were replaced by hijacking and kidnappings as a tool for making other nations obey their rules and follow demands. The fourth wave of terrorism is clearly a religious one. The number of Islamic terrorist groups rose dramatically and more “peaceful” tactics were replaced by suicide bombing that raised violent counteractions in democratic countries, which led to a bigger number of wars (Rapoport 46-68).

A person can be named a terrorist under certain conditions. First of all, being a terrorist implies having a certain state of mind and set of beliefs. It is a strong belief in the legitimacy of violent actions towards other people who cannot defend themselves and can bring any harm to the terrorist in return. Moreover, willing of a person or some groups of people to force into application their own ideology or religion that can be based on social, political, or religious grounds makes them terrorists. For example, in terms of the First Crusade, Christians entered Jerusalem and assassinated thousands of Orthodox Christian and Muslims (Martin).

With a high possibility, there will be no clear definition of terrorism with its variety of purposes, goals, methods, and participants. Since terrorism also has a tendency to evolve in all aspects, it will be even harder to define it. Taking into account all abovementioned facts, one can say that cases of terrorism have been taken place along the history of humankind. On the other hand, people should think of the proper way to eliminate this phenomenon in the nearest future.

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