Defining terrorism

Defining terrorism is not merely a theoretical issue but an operative concern of the first order. Since terrorism is an international phenomenon, responses to terrorism must also be on an international scale. Developing an effective international strategy requires agreement on what it is we are dealing with, in other words, we need a definition of terrorism.

An internationally accepted definition of terrorism is required to strengthen cooperation between countries in the struggle against terrorism, and to ensure its effectiveness. This need is particularly obvious in all that concerns the formulation and ratification of international conventions against terrorism_conventions forbidding the perpetration of terrorist acts, assistance to terrorism, transfer of funds to terrorist organizations, state support for terrorist organizations, commercial ties with states sponsoring terrorism-and conventions compelling the extradition of terrorists.

The Fifth Islamic summit meeting in Kuwait, 1987, stated in its resolutions that: "The conference reiterates its absolute faith in the need to distinguish the brutal and unlawful terrorist activities perpetrated by individuals, by groups, or by states, from the legitimate struggle of oppressed and subjugated nations against foreign occupation of any kind. This struggle is sanctioned by heavenly law, by human values, and by international conventions."< In the Arab League document entitled "Arab Strategy in the Struggle against Terrorism (1998)," Arab Ministers emphasized that belligerent activities aimed at "liberation and self determination" are not in the category of terrorism, whereas hostile activities against regimes or families of rulers will not be considered political attacks but rather criminal assaults.

In the book [Terrorism: How the West Can Win], Binyamin Netanyahu states that terrorism is "the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends."< Former President of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, stated in April 1981, during the visit of the Libyan ruler, Muamar Qadhafi: "Imperialists have no regard either for the will of the people or the laws of history. Liberation struggles cause their indignation. They describe them as 'terrorism'."< US Senator Jackson was quoted in Benyamin Netanyahu's book Terrorism: How the West Can Win, as saying, "The idea that one person's 'terrorist' is another's 'freedom fighter' cannot be sanctioned. Freedom fighters or revolutionaries don't blow up buses containing non-combatants; terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don't set out to capture and slaughter schoolchildren; terrorist murderers do. It is a disgrace that democracies would allow the treasured word 'freedom' to be associated with acts of terrorists."< Alex P. Schmid defines terrorism: 'Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by clandestine individual groups or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby_in contrast to assassination_the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human targets of violence are generally chosen randomly or selectively from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat and violence based communication processes between terrorists' victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target, turning it into a targeting of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion or propaganda is primarily sought.'< The common definition of terrorism which the ministers of justice of the EU agreed upon in 2001 is more restrictive than initially proposed by the European Commission, in order to prevent that the new rules infringing on the freedom to demonstrate. Under the compromise, the new definition explicitly guarantees the freedom of association, of meeting, of expression, and of demonstrating. A terrorist offence is defined as the act that causes serious damage on purpose to a country or international organization, destabilizes or destroys the economical fundamental structures. The definition is more restrictive in order to avoid that protesters of anti-globalization movements being punishable for terrorist acts.

1. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

2. "Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic assault on civilians to inspire fear for political ends."< 3. Terrorism is the intentional use of, or threat to use violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims.

4. Without answering the question of "what is terrorism," no responsibility can be imposed on countries supporting terrorism, nor can steps be taken to combat terrorist organizations and their allies.

5. Terrorism continues to pervade the political system because there is no acceptable definition; and hence no punitive action against the perpetrator is possible either by the government or by the international organisations.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies