Terrorism is, in the broadest sense, the use of intentional violence for political or religious purposes. It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence during peacetime or in the context of war against non-combatants (mostly civilians and neutral military personnel). The terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” originated during the French Revolution of the late 18th century but gained mainstream popularity in the 1970s during the conflicts of Northern Ireland, the Basque Country and Palestine. The increased use of suicide attacks from the 1980s onwards was typified by the September 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. in 2001.
There are various different definitions of terrorism, with no universal agreement about it. Terrorism is a charged term. It is often used with the connotation of something that is “morally wrong”. Governments and non-state groups use the term to abuse or denounce opposing groups. Varied political organizations have been accused of using terrorism to achieve their objectives. These include right-wing and left-wing political organizations, nationalist groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments. Legislation declaring terrorism a crime has been adopted in many states. When terrorism is perpetrated by nation states, it is not considered terrorism by the state conducting it, making legality a largely grey-area issue. There is no consensus as to whether or not terrorism should be regarded as a war crime.
The Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the University of Maryland, College Park, has recorded more than 61,000 incidents of non-state terrorism, resulting in at least 140,000 deaths, between 2000 and 2014.
See also: Terrorism Quotes
Etymologically, the word terror is derived from the Latin verb Tersere, which later becomes Terrere. The latter form appears in European languages as early as the 12th century; its first known use in French is the word terrible in 1160. By 1356 the word terreur is in use. Terreur is the origin of the Middle English term terrour, which later becomes the modern word “terror“.
Main article: Reign of Terror
The term terroriste, meaning “terrorist”, is first used in 1794 by the French philosopher François-Noël Babeuf, who denounces Maximilien Robespierre‘s Jacobin regime as a dictatorship. In the years leading up to what became known as the Reign of Terror, the Brunswick Manifesto threatened Paris with an “exemplary, never to be forgotten vengeance: the city would be subjected to military punishment and total destruction” if the royal family was harmed, but this only increased the Revolution’s will to abolish the monarchy. Some writers attitudes about French Revolution grew less favorable after the French monarchy was abolished in 1792. During the Reign of Terror, which began in July 1793 and lasted thirteen months, Paris was governed by the Committee of Public safety who oversaw a regime of mass executions and public purges.
Prior to the French Revolution, ancient philosophers wrote about tyrannicide, as tyranny was seen as the greatest political threat to Greco-Roman civilization. Medieval philosophers were similarly occupied with the concept of tyranny, though the analysis of some theologians like Thomas Aquinas drew a distinction between usurpers, who could be killed by anyone, and legitimate rulers who abused their power—the latter, in Aquinas’ view, could only be punished by a public authority. John of Salisbury was the first medieval Christian scholar to defend tyrannicide.
Most scholars today trace the origins of the modern tactic of terrorism to the Jewish Sicarii Zealots who attacked Romans and Jews in 1st-century Palestine. They follow its development from the Persian Order of Assassins through to 19th-century anarchists. The “Reign of Terror” is usually regarded as an issue of etymology. The term terrorism has generally been used to describe violence by non-state actors rather than government violence since the 19th-century Anarchist Movement.
In December 1795, Edmund Burke used the word “Terrorists” in a description of the new French government called ‘Directory’:
At length, after a terrible struggle, the [Directory] Troops prevailed over the Citizens … To secure them further, they have a strong corps of irregulars, ready armed. Thousands of those Hell-hounds called Terrorists, whom they had shut up in Prison on their last Revolution, as the Satellites of Tyranny, are let loose on the people.(emphasis added)
The terms “terrorism” and “terrorist” gained renewed currency in the 1970s as a result of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the Northern Ireland conflict, the Basque conflict, and the operations of groups such as the Red Army Faction. Leila Khaled was described as a terrorist in a 1970 issue of Life magazine. A number of books on terrorism were published in the 1970s. The topic came further to the fore after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings and again after the 2001 September 11 attacks and the 2002 Bali bombings.
See also: Definitions of terrorism
There are over 109 different definitions of terrorism. American political philosopher Michael Walzer in 2002 wrote: “Terrorism is the deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of its political leaders”. Bruce Hoffman, an American scholar, has noted that it is not only individual agencies within the same governmental apparatus that cannot agree on a single definition of terrorism. Experts and other long-established scholars in the field are equally incapable of reaching a consensus.
C. A. J. Coady has written that the question of how to define terrorism is “irresolvable” because “its natural home is in polemical, ideological and propagandist contexts”.
Experts disagree about “whether terrorism is wrong by definition or just wrong as a matter of fact; they disagree about whether terrorism should be defined in terms of its aims, or its methods, or both, or neither; they disagree about whether or not states can perpetrate terrorism; they even disagree about the importance or otherwise of terror for a definition of terrorism.”
Main article: State terrorism
State terrorism refers to acts of terrorism conducted by a state against its own citizens or against another state.
In November 2004, a Secretary-General of the United Nations 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”. The international community has been slow to formulate a universally agreed, legally binding definition of this crime. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term “terrorism” is politically and emotionally charged. In this regard, Angus Martyn, briefing the Australian parliament, stated,
The international community has never succeeded in developing an accepted comprehensive definition of terrorism. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United Nations attempts to define the term floundered mainly due to differences of opinion between various members about the use of violence in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self-determination.
These divergences have made it impossible for the United Nations to conclude a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that incorporates a single, all-encompassing, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism. The international community has adopted a series of sectoral conventions that define and criminalize various types of terrorist activities.
Since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism:
Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.
Various legal systems and government agencies use different definitions of terrorism in their national legislation.
U.S. Code Title 22 Chapter 38, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as: “Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience”.
18 U.S.C. § 2331 defines “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism” for purposes of Chapter 113B of the Code, entitled “Terrorism“:
“International terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.
A definition proposed by Carsten Bockstette at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, underlines the psychological and tactical aspects of terrorism:
Terrorism is defined as political violence in an asymmetrical conflict that is designed to induce terror and psychic fear (sometimes indiscriminate) through the violent victimization and destruction of noncombatant targets (sometimes iconic symbols). Such acts are meant to send a message from an illicit clandestine organization. The purpose of terrorism is to exploit the media in order to achieve maximum attainable publicity as an amplifying force multiplier in order to influence the targeted audience(s) in order to reach short- and midterm political goals and/or desired long-term end states.
Terrorists attack national symbols, which may negatively affect a government, while increasing the prestige of the given terrorist group or its ideology.
Terrorist acts frequently have a political purpose. Some official, governmental definitions of terrorism use the criterion of the illegitimacy or unlawfulness of the act. to distinguish between actions authorized by a government (and thus “lawful”) and those of other actors, including individuals and small groups. For example, carrying out a strategic bombing on an enemy city, which is designed to affect civilian support for a cause, would not be considered terrorism if it were authorized by a government. This criterion is inherently problematic and is not universally accepted, because: it denies the existence of state terrorism. An associated term is violent non-state actor.
According to Ali Khan, the distinction lies ultimately in a political judgment.
See also: Controversies about labeling terrorism
Having the moral charge in our vocabulary of ‘something morally wrong’, the term ‘terrorism‘ is often used to abuse or denounce opposite parties, either governments or non-state groups.
Those labeled “terrorists” by their opponents rarely identify themselves as such, and typically use other terms or terms specific to their situation, such as separatist, freedom fighter, liberator, revolutionary, vigilante, militant, paramilitary, guerrilla, rebel, patriot, or any similar-meaning word in other languages and cultures. Jihadi, mujaheddin, and fedayeen are similar Arabic words that have entered the English lexicon. It is common for both parties in a conflict to describe each other as terrorists.
On whether particular terrorist acts, such as killing non-combatants, can be justified as the lesser evil in a particular circumstance, philosophers have expressed different views: while, according to David Rodin, utilitarian philosophers can (in theory) conceive of cases in which the evil of terrorism is outweighed by the good that could not be achieved in a less morally costly way, in practice the “harmful effects of undermining the convention of non-combatant immunity is thought to outweigh the goods that may be achieved by particular acts of terrorism”. Among the non-utilitarian philosophers, Michael Walzer argued that terrorism can be morally justified in only one specific case: when “a nation or community faces the extreme threat of complete destruction and the only way it can preserve itself is by intentionally targeting non-combatants, then it is morally entitled to do so”.
In his book Inside Terrorism Bruce Hoffman offered an explanation of why the term terrorism becomes distorted:
On one point, at least, everyone agrees: terrorism is a pejorative term. It is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one’s enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore. ‘What is called terrorism,’ Brian Jenkins has written, ‘thus seems to depend on one’s point of view. Use of the term implies a moral judgment; and if one party can successfully attach the label terrorist to its opponent, then it has indirectly persuaded others to adopt its moral viewpoint.’ Hence the decision to call someone or label some organization terrorist becomes almost unavoidably subjective, depending largely on whether one sympathizes with or opposes the person/group/cause concerned. If one identifies with the victim of the violence, for example, then the act is terrorism. If, however, one identifies with the perpetrator, the violent act is regarded in a more sympathetic, if not positive (or, at the worst, an ambivalent) light; and it is not terrorism.
The pejorative connotations of the word can be summed up in the aphorism, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. This is exemplified when a group using irregular military methods is an ally of a state against a mutual enemy, but later falls out with the state and starts to use those methods against its former ally. During the Second World War, the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army were allied with the British, but during the Malayan Emergency, members of its successor organisation (the Malayan Races Liberation Army) started campaigns against them, and were branded “terrorists” as a result. More recently, Ronald Reagan and others in the American administration frequently called the mujaheddin “freedom fighters” during the Soviet–Afghan War yet twenty years later, when a new generation of Afghan men were fighting against what they perceive to be a regime installed by foreign powers, their attacks were labelled “terrorism” by George W. Bush. Groups accused of terrorism understandably prefer terms reflecting legitimate military or ideological action. Leading terrorism researcher Professor Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Ottawa’s Carleton University, defines “terrorist acts” as unlawful attacks for political or other ideological goals, and said:
There is the famous statement: ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ But that is grossly misleading. It assesses the validity of the cause when terrorism is an act. One can have a perfectly beautiful cause and yet if one commits terrorist acts, it is terrorism regardless.
Some groups, when involved in a “liberation” struggle, have been called “terrorists” by the Western governments or media. Later, these same persons, as leaders of the liberated nations, are called “statesmen” by similar organizations. Two examples of this phenomenon are the Nobel Peace Prize laureates Menachem Begin and Nelson Mandela. WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange has been called a “terrorist” by Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.
Sometimes, states that are close allies, for reasons of history, culture and politics, can disagree over whether or not members of a certain organization are terrorists. For instance, for many years, some branches of the United States government refused to label members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) as terrorists while the IRA was using methods against one of the United States’ closest allies (the United Kingdom) that the UK branded as terrorism. This was highlighted by the Quinn v. Robinson case.
Media outlets who wish to convey impartiality may limit their usage of “terrorist” and “terrorism” because they are loosely defined, potentially controversial in nature, and subjective terms.
Main article: History of terrorism
Depending on how broadly the term is defined, the roots and practice of terrorism can be traced at least to the 1st century AD. Sicarii Zealots, though some dispute whether the group, a radical offshoot of the Zealots which was active in Judaea Province at the beginning of the 1st century AD, was in fact terrorist. According to the contemporary Jewish-Roman historian Josephus, after the Zealotry rebellion against Roman rule in Judea, when some prominent Jewish collaborators with Roman rule were killed, Judas of Galilee formed a small and more extreme offshoot of the Zealots, the Sicarii, in 6 AD. Their terror was directed against Jewish “collaborators”, including temple priests, Sadducees, Herodians, and other wealthy elites.
The term “terrorism” itself was originally used to describe the actions of the Jacobin Club during the “Reign of Terror” in the French Revolution. “Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible”, said Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre. In 1795, Edmund Burke denounced the Jacobins for letting “thousands of those hell-hounds called Terrorists … loose on the people” of France.
In January 1858, Italian patriot Felice Orsini threw three bombs in an attempt to assassinate French Emperor Napoleon III. Eight bystanders were killed and 142 injured. The incident played a crucial role as an inspiration for the development of the early terrorist groups.
Arguably the first organization to utilize modern terrorist techniques was the Irish Republican Brotherhood, founded in 1858 as a revolutionary Irish nationalist group that carried out attacks in England. The group initiated the Fenian dynamite campaign in 1881, one of the first modern terror campaigns. Instead of earlier forms of terrorism based on political assassination, this campaign used timed explosives with the express aim of sowing fear in the very heart of metropolitan Britain, in order to achieve political gains.
Another early terrorist group was Narodnaya Volya, founded in Russia in 1878 as a revolutionary anarchist group inspired by Sergei Nechayev and “propaganda by the deed” theorist Carlo Pisacane. The group developed ideas—such as targeted killing of the ‘leaders of oppression’—that were to become the hallmark of subsequent violence by small non-state groups, and they were convinced that the developing technologies of the age—such as the invention of dynamite, which they were the first anarchist group to make widespread use of—enabled them to strike directly and with discrimination.
David Rapoport refers to four major waves of global terrorism: “the Anarchist, the Anti-Colonial, the New Left, and the Religious. The first three have been completed and lasted around 40 years; the fourth is now in its third decade.”
See also: Number of terrorist incidents by country
In early 1975, the Law Enforcement Assistant Administration in the United States formed the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. One of the five volumes that the committee wrote was titled Disorders and Terrorism, produced by the Task Force on Disorders and Terrorism under the direction of H. H. A. Cooper, Director of the Task Force staff.
The Task Force defines terrorism as “a tactic or technique by means of which a violent act or the threat thereof is used for the prime purpose of creating overwhelming fear for coercive purposes”. It classified disorders and terrorism into six categories:
- Civil disorder – A form of collective violence interfering with the peace, security, and normal functioning of the community.
- Political terrorism – Violent criminal behaviour designed primarily to generate fear in the community, or substantial segment of it, for political purposes.
- Non-Political terrorism – Terrorism that is not aimed at political purposes but which exhibits “conscious design to create and maintain a high degree of fear for coercive purposes, but the end is individual or collective gain rather than the achievement of a political objective”.
- Quasi-terrorism – The activities incidental to the commission of crimes of violence that are similar in form and method to genuine terrorism but which nevertheless lack its essential ingredient. It is not the main purpose of the quasi-terrorists to induce terror in the immediate victim as in the case of genuine terrorism, but the quasi-terrorist uses the modalities and techniques of the genuine terrorist and produces similar consequences and reaction. For example, the fleeing felon who takes hostages is a quasi-terrorist, whose methods are similar to those of the genuine terrorist but whose purposes are quite different.
- Limited political terrorism – Genuine political terrorism is characterized by a revolutionary approach; limited political terrorism refers to “acts of terrorism which are committed for ideological or political motives but which are not part of a concerted campaign to capture control of the state”.
- Official or state terrorism – “referring to nations whose rule is based upon fear and oppression that reach similar to terrorism or such proportions”. It may be referred to as Structural Terrorism defined broadly as terrorist acts carried out by governments in pursuit of political objectives, often as part of their foreign policy.
Other sources have defined the typology of terrorism in different ways, for example, broadly classifying it into domestic terrorism and international terrorism, or using categories such as vigilante terrorism or insurgent terrorism. One way the typology of terrorism may be defined:
- Political terrorism
- Sub-state terrorism
- Social revolutionary terrorism
- Nationalist-separatist terrorism
- Religious extremist terrorism
- Religious fundamentalist Terrorism
- New religions terrorism
- Right-wing terrorism
- Left-wing terrorism
- Communist terrorism
- State-sponsored terrorism
- Regime or state terrorism
- Sub-state terrorism
- Criminal terrorism
- Pathological terrorism
Causes and motivations
Choice of terrorism as a tactic
Individuals and groups choose terrorism as a tactic because it can:
- Act as a form of asymmetric warfare in order to directly force a government to agree to demands
- Intimidate a group of people into capitulating to the demands in order to avoid future injury
- Get attention and thus political support for a cause
- Directly inspire more people to the cause (such as revolutionary acts) – propaganda of the deed
- Indirectly inspire more people to the cause by provoking a hostile response or over-reaction from enemies to the cause
Attacks on “collaborators” are used to intimidate people from cooperating with the state in order to undermine state control. This strategy was used in Ireland, in Kenya, in Algeria and in Cyprus during their independence struggles.
Stated motives for the September 11 attacks included inspiring more fighters to join the cause of repelling the United States from Muslim countries with a successful high-profile attack. The attacks prompted some criticism from domestic and international observers regarding perceived injustices in U.S. foreign policy that provoked the attacks, but the larger practical effect was that the United States government declared a War on Terror that resulted in substantial military engagements in several Muslim-majority countries. Various commentators have inferred that al-Qaeda expected a military response, and welcomed it as a provocation that would result in more Muslims fight the United States. Some commentators believe that the resulting anger and suspicion directed toward innocent Muslims living in Western countries and the indignities inflicted upon them by security forces and the general public also contributes to radicalization of new recruits. Despite criticism that the Iraqi government had no involvement with the September 11 attacks, Bush declared the 2003 invasion of Iraq to be part of the War on Terror. The resulting backlash and instability enabled the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the temporary creation of an Islamic caliphate holding territory in Iraq and Syria, until ISIL lost its territory through military defeats.
Attacks used to draw international attention to struggles that are otherwise unreported have included the Palestinian airplane hijackings in 1970 and the 1975 Dutch train hostage crisis.
Causes motivating terrorism
Specific political or social causes have included:
- Independence or separatist movements
- Irredentist movements
- Adoption of a particular political philosophy, such as socialism (left-wing terrorism), anarchism, or fascism (possibly through a coup or as an ideology of an independence or separatist movement)
- Environmental protection (ecoterrorism)
- Supremacism of a particular group
- Preventing a rival group from sharing or occupying a particular territory (such as by discouraging immigration or encouraging flight)
- Subjugation of a particular population (such as lynching of African Americans)
- Spread or dominance of a particular religion – religious terrorism
- Ending perceived government oppression
- Responding to a violent act (for example, tit-for-tat attacks in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, in The Troubles in Northern Ireland, or Timothy McVeigh’s revenge for the Waco siege and Ruby Ridge incident)
Causes for right-wing terrorism have included white nationalism, ethnonationalism, fascism, anti-socialism, the anti-abortion movement, and tax resistance.
Sometimes terrorists on the same side fight for different reasons. For example, in the Chechen–Russian conflict secular Chechens using terrorist tactics fighting for national independence are allied with radical Islamist terrorists who have arrived from other countries.
Main article: Radicalization
Various personal and social factors may influence the personal choice of whether or not to join a terrorist group or attempt an act of terror, including:
- Identity, including affiliation with a particular culture, ethnicity, or religion
- Previous exposure to violence
- Financial reward (for example, the Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund)
- Mental health disorder
- Social isolation
- Perception that the cause responds to a profound injustice or indignity
A report conducted by Paul Gill, John Horgan and Paige Deckert found that for “lone wolf” terrorists:
- 43% were motivated by religious beliefs
- 32% had pre-existing mental health disorders, while many more are found to have mental health problems upon arrest
- At least 37% lived alone at the time of their event planning and/or execution, a further 26% lived with others, and no data were available for the remaining cases
- 40% were unemployed at the time of their arrest or terrorist event
- 19% subjectively experienced being disrespected by others
- 14% percent experienced being the victim of verbal or physical assault
Ariel Merari, a psychologist who has studied the psychological profiles of suicide terrorists since 1983 through media reports that contained biographical details, interviews with the suicides’ families, and interviews with jailed would-be suicide attackers, concluded that they were unlikely to be psychologically abnormal. In comparison to economic theories of criminal behaviour, Scott Atran found that suicide terrorists exhibit none of the socially dysfunctional attributes—such as fatherless, friendless, jobless situations—or suicidal symptoms. By which he means, they do not kill themselves simply out of hopelessness or a sense of ‘having nothing to lose’.
Abrahm suggests that terrorist organizations do not select terrorism for its political effectiveness. Individual terrorists tend to be motivated more by a desire for social solidarity with other members of their organization than by political platforms or strategic objectives, which are often murky and undefined.
Michael Mousseau shows possible relationships between the type of economy within a country and ideology associated with terrorism. Many terrorists have a history of domestic violence.
Democracy and domestic terrorism
Terrorism is most common in nations with intermediate political freedom, and it is least common in the most democratic nations.
Some examples of “terrorism” in non-democratic nations include ETA in Spain under Francisco Franco (although the group’s terrorist activities increased sharply after Franco’s death), the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in pre-war Poland, the Shining Path in Peru under Alberto Fujimori, the Kurdistan Workers Party when Turkey was ruled by military leaders and the ANC in South Africa. Democracies, such as Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, Indonesia, India, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Philippines, have experienced domestic terrorism.
While a democratic nation espousing civil liberties may claim a sense of higher moral ground than other regimes, an act of terrorism within such a state may cause a dilemma: whether to maintain its civil liberties and thus risk being perceived as ineffective in dealing with the problem; or alternatively to restrict its civil liberties and thus risk delegitimizing its claim of supporting civil liberties. For this reason, homegrown terrorism has started to be seen as a greater threat, as stated by former CIA Director Michael Hayden. This dilemma, some social theorists would conclude, may very well play into the initial plans of the acting terrorist(s); namely, to delegitimize the state and cause a systematic shift towards anarchy via the accumulation of negative sentiments towards the state system.
Terrorist acts throughout history have been performed on religious grounds with the goal to either spread or enforce a system of belief, viewpoint or opinion. The validity and scope of religious terrorism is limited to an individual’s view or a group’s view or interpretation of that belief system’s teachings.According to the Global Terrorism Index by the University of Maryland, College Park, religious extremism has overtaken national separatism and become the main driver of terrorist attacks around the world. Since 9/11 there has been a five-fold increase in deaths from terrorist attacks. The majority of incidents over the past several years can be tied to groups with a religious agenda. Before 2000, it was nationalist separatist terrorist organizations such as the IRA and Chechen rebels who were behind the most attacks. The number of incidents from nationalist separatist groups has remained relatively stable in the years since while religious extremism has grown. The prevalence of Islamist groups in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria is the main driver behind these trends.
Four of the terrorist groups that have been most active since 2001 are Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIL. These groups have been most active in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. Eighty percent of all deaths from terrorism occurred in one of these five countries. In 2015 four Islamic extremist groups were responsible for 74% of all deaths from Islamic terrorism: ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2016. Since approximately 2000, these incidents have occurred on a global scale, affecting not only Muslim-majority states in Africa and Asia, but also states with non-Muslim majority such as United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Russia, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, Israel, China, India and Philippines. Such attacks have targeted both Muslims and non-Muslims, however the majority affect Muslims themselves.
Terrorism in Pakistan has become a great problem. From the summer of 2007 until late 2009, more than 1,500 people were killed in suicide and other attacks on civilians for reasons attributed to a number of causes—sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims; easy availability of guns and explosives; the existence of a “Kalashnikov culture”; an influx of ideologically driven Muslims based in or near Pakistan, who originated from various nations around the world and the subsequent war against the pro-Soviet Afghans in the 1980s which blew back into Pakistan; the presence of Islamist insurgent groups and forces such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba. On July 2, 2013 in Lahore, 50 Muslim scholars of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) issued a collective fatwa against suicide bombings, the killing of innocent people, bomb attacks, and targeted killings declaring them as Haraam or forbidden.
In 2015, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report on terrorism in the United States. The report (titled The Age of the Wolf) found that during that period, “more people have been killed in America by non-Islamic domestic terrorists than jihadists.” The “virulent racist and anti-semitic” ideology of the ultra-right wing Christian Identity movement is usually accompanied by anti-government sentiments. Adherents of Christian Identity are not connected with specific Christian denominations, and they believe that whites of European descent can be traced back to the “Lost Tribes of Israel” and many consider Jews to be the Satanic offspring of Eve and the Serpent. This group has committed hate crimes, bombings and other acts of terrorism. Its influence ranges from the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups to the anti-government militia and sovereign citizen movements. Christian Identity’s origins can be traced back to Anglo-Israelism, which held the view that the British people were descendants of ancient Israelites. However, in the United States, the ideology started to become rife with anti-Semitism, and eventually Christian Identity theology diverged from the philo-semitic Anglo-Israelism, and developed what is known as the “two seed” theory. According to the two-seed theory, the Jewish people are descended from Cain and the serpent (not from Shem). The white European seedline is descended from the “lost tribes” of Israel. They hold themselves to “God’s laws”, not to “man’s laws”, and they do not feel bound to a government that they consider run by Jews and the New World Order. The Ku Klux Klan is widely denounced by Christian denominations.
Israel has had problems with Jewish religious terrorism even before independence in 1948. During British mandate over Palestine, the Irgun were among the Zionist groups labelled as terrorist organisations by the British authorities and United Nations, for violent terror attacks against Britons and Arabs. Another extremist group, the Lehi, openly declared its members as “terrorists”. Historian William Cleveland stated many Jews justified any action, even terrorism, taken in the cause of the creation of a Jewish state. In 1995, Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. For Amir, killing Rabin was an exemplary act that symbolized the fight against an illegitimate government that was prepared to cede Jewish Holy Land to the Palestinians.
The perpetrators of acts of terrorism can be individuals, groups, or states. According to some definitions, clandestine or semi-clandestine state actors may carry out terrorist acts outside the framework of a state of war. 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 the September 11 attacks, the London underground bombing, 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2002 Bali bombing were planned and carried out by a close clique, composed 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, much research has been conducted to distill a terrorist profile to explain these individuals’ actions through their psychology and socio-economic circumstances. Others, like Roderick Hindery, have sought to discern profiles in the propaganda tactics used by terrorists. Some security organizations designate these groups as violent non-state actors. A 2007 study by economist Alan B. Krueger found that terrorists were less likely to come from an impoverished background (28 percent versus 33 percent) and more likely to have at least a high-school education (47 percent versus 38 percent). Another analysis found only 16 percent of terrorists came from impoverished families, versus 30 percent of male Palestinians, and over 60 percent had gone beyond high school, versus 15 percent of the populace.A study into the poverty-stricken conditions and whether or not, terrorists are more likely to come from here, show that people who grew up in these situations tend to show aggression and frustration towards others. This theory is largely debated for the simple fact that just because one is frustrated, does not make them a potential terrorist.
To avoid detection, a terrorist will look, dress, and behave normally until executing the assigned mission. Some claim that attempts to profile terrorists based on personality, physical, or sociological traits are not useful. The physical and behavioral description of the terrorist could describe almost any normal person. the majority of terrorist attacks are carried out by military age men, aged 16 to 40.
Groups not part of the state apparatus of in opposition to the state are most commonly referred to as a “terrorist” in the media.
According to the Global Terrorism Database, the most active terrorist group in the period 1970 to 2010 was Shining Path (with 4,517 attacks), followed by Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), Irish Republican Army (IRA), Basque Fatherland and Freedom (ETA), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Taliban, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, New People’s Army, National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Main article: State-sponsored terrorism
A state can sponsor terrorism by funding or harboring a terrorist group. Opinions as to which acts of violence by states consist of state-sponsored terrorism vary widely. When states provide funding for groups considered by some to be terrorist, they rarely acknowledge them as such.
Main article: State terrorism
Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur it is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.— Derrick Jensen
As with “terrorism” the concept of “state terrorism” is controversial. The Chairman of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee has stated that the committee was conscious of 12 international Conventions on the subject, and none of them referred to State terrorism, which was not an international legal concept. If States abused their power, they should be judged against international conventions dealing with war crimes, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law. Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that it is “time to set aside debates on so-called ‘state terrorism’. The use of force by states is already thoroughly regulated under international law”. he made clear that, “regardless of the differences between governments on the question of the definition of terrorism, what is clear and what we can all agree on is that any deliberate attack on innocent civilians [or non-combatants], regardless of one’s cause, is unacceptable and fits into the definition of terrorism.”
State terrorism has been used to refer to terrorist acts committed by governmental agents or forces. This involves the use of state resources employed by a state’s foreign policies, such as using its military to directly perform acts of terrorism. Professor of Political Science Michael Stohl cites the examples that include the German bombing of London, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Allied firebombing of Dresden, and the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. He argues that “the use of terror tactics is common in international relations and the state has been and remains a more likely employer of terrorism within the international system than insurgents.” He cites the first strike option as an example of the “terror of coercive diplomacy” as a form of this, which holds the world hostage with the implied threat of using nuclear weapons in “crisis management” and he argues that the institutionalized form of terrorism has occurred as a result of changes that took place following World War II. In this analysis, state terrorism exhibited as a form of foreign policy was shaped by the presence and use of weapons of mass destruction, and the legitimizing of such violent behavior led to an increasingly accepted form of this behavior by the state.
Charles Stewart Parnell described William Ewart Gladstone’s Irish Coercion Act as terrorism in his “no-Rent manifesto” in 1881, during the Irish Land War. The concept is used to describe political repressions by governments against their own civilian populations with the purpose of inciting fear. For example, taking and executing civilian hostages or extrajudicial elimination campaigns are commonly considered “terror” or terrorism, for example during the Red Terror or the Great Terror. Such actions are often described as democide or genocide, which have been argued to be equivalent to state terrorism. Empirical studies on this have found that democracies have little democide. Western democracies, including the United States, have supported state terrorism and mass killings, with some examples being the Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66 and Operation Condor.
Connection with tourism
The connection between terrorism and tourism has been widely studied since the Luxor massacre in Egypt. In the 1970s, the targets of terrorists were politicians and chiefs of police while now, international tourists and visitors are selected as the main targets of attacks. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were the symbolic center, which marked a new epoch in the use of civil transport against the main power of the planet. From this event onwards, the spaces of leisure that characterized the pride of West, were conceived as dangerous and frightful.
Main article: Terrorist financing
State sponsors have constituted a major form of funding; for example, Palestine Liberation Organization, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other groups considered to be terrorist organizations, were funded by the Soviet Union. The Stern Gang received funding from Italian Fascist officers in Beirut to undermine the British authorities in Palestine.
“Revolutionary tax” is another major form of funding, and essentially a euphemism for “protection money”. Revolutionary taxes “play a secondary role as one other means of intimidating the target population”.
Other major sources of funding include kidnapping for ransoms, smuggling (including wildlife smuggling), fraud, and robbery. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has reportedly received funding “via private donations from the Gulf states”.
The Financial Action Task Force is an inter-governmental body whose mandate, since October 2001, has included combating terrorist financing.
Main article: Tactics of terrorism
Terrorist attacks are often targeted to maximize fear and publicity, usually using explosives or poison. Terrorist groups usually methodically plan attacks in advance, and may train participants, plant undercover agents, and raise money from supporters or through organized crime. Communications occur through modern telecommunications, or through old-fashioned methods such as couriers. There is concern about terrorist attacks employing weapons of mass destruction. Some academics have argued that while it is often assumed terrorism is intended to spread fear, this is not necessarily true, with fear instead being a by-product of the terrorist’s actions, while their intentions may be to avenge fallen comrades or destroy their perceived enemies.
Terrorism is a form of asymmetric warfare, and is more common when direct conventional warfare will not be effective because opposing forces vary greatly in power. Yuval Harari argues that the peacefulness of modern states makes them paradoxically more vulnerable to terrorism than pre-modern states. Harari argues that because modern states have committed themselves to reducing political violence to almost zero, terrorists can, by creating political violence, threaten the very foundations of the legitimacy of the modern state. This is in contrast to pre-modern states, where violence was a routine and recognised aspect of politics at all levels, making political violence unremarkable. Terrorism thus shocks the population of a modern state far more than a pre-modern one and consequently the state is forced to overreact in an excessive, costly and spectacular manner, which is often what the terrorists desire.
The type of people terrorists will target is dependent upon the ideology of the terrorists. A terrorist’s ideology will create a class of “legitimate targets” who are deemed as its enemies and who are permitted to be targeted. This ideology will also allow the terrorists to place the blame on the victim, who is viewed as being responsible for the violence in the first place.
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 or become part of a different state
- Dominance of territory or resources by various ethnic groups
- Imposition of a particular form of government
- Economic deprivation of a population
- Opposition to a domestic government or occupying army
- Religious fanaticism
Responses to terrorism are broad in scope. They can include re-alignments of the political spectrum and reassessments of fundamental values.
Specific types of responses include:
- Targeted laws, criminal procedures, deportations, and enhanced police powers
- Target hardening, such as locking doors or adding traffic barriers
- Preemptive or reactive military action
- Increased intelligence and surveillance activities
- Preemptive humanitarian activities
- More permissive interrogation and detention policies
The term “counter-terrorism” has a narrower connotation, implying that it is directed at terrorist actors.
Response in the United States
See also: War on Terror