Defining Terrorism

Essay by townsspecialCollege, UndergraduateA, September 2006

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Terrorism by nature is difficult to define. Acts of terrorism create emotional responses in the victims as well as in the terrorist. There are a verity of definitions used by many different organizations and societies around the world. All though similar, the definition changes depending on who is using it.

The Defense Department of the United States defines terrorism "as the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives" (White, 2006, p. 6). To me this is the simplest definition of terrorism. It makes no distinction between planning methods, groups, individuals or lone criminals. In the eyes of the Defense Department, if an unlawful act is initiated for the sole purpose of creating fear or destruction among civilians of any kind or recognized state governments, it is terrorism.

Unlike the Defense Department definition, the Defense Intelligence Agency defines terrorism as a "premeditated, political violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine state agents, usually to influence an audience" (White, 2006, p.

6). I find the definition weak and deficient because not all terrorist attacks are premeditated. Sure the premeditated attacks bring the most destruction and cause the most casualties, but some religious terrorist act solely because they believe they received a spiritual calling and acted independent of any known terrorist groups. The agency also uses the word "noncombatants" to describe the victims of terrorist. There have been dozens of attacks on U.S. troops (many at barracks) dating back to the 1980s. As history has shown us, combatants are often victims of terrorist during peace time as well as war time.

Another simple definition of terrorism comes from Walter Laqueur. Laqueur breaks down the definition by saying...