Terrorism is the deliberate use of violence to create a general environment of fear in a society in order to achieve a specific political goal. Terrorism has been perpetrated by right-wing and left-wing political organizations, nationalistic and religious groups, revolutionaries, and even official agencies including militaries, intelligence services, and police.
Definitions of terrorism
Terrorism definitions are frequently difficult and contentious, and the term has acquired a strong stigma in common usage due to its inherent ferocity and violence. It was first used in the 1790s to describe the fear utilized by revolutionaries against their opponents during the French Revolution.
Maximilien Robespierre’s Jacobin party waged a Reign of Terror that included mass guillotine deaths. Although terrorism in this sense refers to a state’s use of violence against its domestic opponents, the term has been used most commonly in the twentieth century to refer to violence directed at governments, either directly or indirectly, in order to influence policy or overturn an existing regime.
Terrorism is not defined by law in all jurisdictions; nonetheless, the statutes that do exist tend to have some common components. Terrorism is defined as the use or threat of violence with the intent of instilling fear in a large number of people, not simply the direct victims.
Terrorism differs from both conventional and guerilla combat in how much it relies on fear. Although conventional military forces constantly engage in psychological warfare against their adversaries, the strength of weaponry remains their primary means of success.
Guerrilla forces, like the Viet Cong in Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, aspire for military victory and occasionally achieve (e.g., the Viet Cong in Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia). When outright military triumph is not attainable, terrorism is defined as the deliberate use of violence to create fear and so achieve political aims.
Guerrilla warfare has been dubbed the “weapon of the weak” by some social scientists, while terrorism has been dubbed the “weapon of the weakest.”
Terrorists must carry out increasingly dramatic, brutal, and high-profile acts in order to garner and sustain the media attention required to inspire widespread fear. Hijackings, hostage-takings, kidnappings, mass killings, car bombings, and, most notably, suicide bombings have all occurred.
Terrorist attack victims and sites are typically meticulously selected for shock value, despite the fact that they appear to be random. Schools, shopping malls, bus and train stations, restaurants, and nightclubs have all been targeted because they draw huge crowds and are locations where civilians are comfortable and at ease. Terrorism’s overall purpose is to erode the public’s sense of security in places they are most familiar with.
Buildings or other facilities that are important economic or political symbols, such as embassies or military installations, are occasionally used as major targets. Terrorists hope that by instilling fear in the public, citizens would exert pressure on political leaders to achieve a specific political goal.
Some definitions treat all acts of terrorism as simple criminal actions, regardless of their political intentions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States, for example, characterizes both international and domestic terrorism as “violent, illegal activities.”
However, the aspect of criminality is problematic since it does not distinguish between different political and legal systems, making it impossible to account for instances in which violent attacks against a government are justified.
The African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa is a well-known example of a group that carried out violent acts against the country’s apartheid government but received widespread international support. Another example is the resistance movement in France during World War II against the Nazi occupation.
Ideology and political expediency have caused a number of countries to participate in international terrorism since the twentieth century, frequently in the pretext of aiding national liberation movements. (As a result, the phrase “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” became popular.)
The line between terrorism and other forms of political violence blurred—especially since many guerrilla groups used terrorist tactics—and questions of jurisdiction and legality were also muddled.
These issues have led some social scientists to develop a definition of terrorism that is based on the reality that the victims of terrorist violence are almost always innocent civilians, rather than criminality.
Even this definition, however, is flexible, and it has been broadened on occasion to include many other criteria, such as the fact that terrorist activities are clandestine or covert, and that terrorist acts are designed to instill fear in the public.
The word “ecoterrorism” was coined in the late twentieth century to describe acts of environmental degradation committed to achieving a political aim or as an act of war, such as the Iraqi army’s fire of Kuwaiti oil wells during the Persian Gulf War.
The word was also used to describe various ecologically friendly but criminal operations, such as the spiking of lumber trees, that were meant to interrupt or impede supposedly harmful to the environment activities.
Types of terrorism
Different attempts have been made to differentiate between different sorts of terrorist activities. It’s important to remember, too, that there are many different types of terrorist movements, and no single theory can account for them all.
Not only are the goals, members, views, and resources of terrorist organizations vary, but so are the political environments in which they operate. One popular classification divides terrorism into three categories: revolutionary, subrevolutionary, and establishment terrorism.
Despite criticism that it is incomplete, this typology provides a valuable framework for assessing and evaluating terrorist operations.
The most common type of terrorism is revolutionary terrorism. Terrorists who practice this sort of terrorism aim to completely destroy a political system and replace it with new structures.
Campaigns by the Italian Red Brigades, the German Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof Gang), the Basque separatist organization ETA, the Peruvian Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), and ISIL are recent examples of such activity (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant; also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]).
Subrevolutionary terrorism is a rare occurrence. It is used to change the existing sociopolitical framework rather than overthrow an existing regime. Subrevolutionary groups are harder to identify since they frequently achieve this transformation by threatening to depose the present authority.
The African National Congress (ANC) and its battle to end apartheid in South Africa is an example.
Establishment terrorism, sometimes known as establishment or state-sponsored terrorism, is a type of terrorism used by governments—or more commonly, factions within governments—against their own citizens, factions within the government, or other countries or organizations.
This form of terrorism is fairly widespread, but it’s tough to spot because the government’s assistance is always shady.
Various Muslim countries (e.g., Iran and Syria) purportedly provided logistical and financial aid to Islamic revolutionary groups engaged in campaigns against Israel during the Cold War; in the 1980s, the US-supported rebel groups in Africa that allegedly engaged in acts of terrorism, such as UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola); and during the Cold War, the Soviet Union and its allies allegedly supported widespread international terrorism; and during the Cold War, the US-supported rebel groups in Africa that allegedly
Brazil’s military dictatorships (1964–85), Chile’s (1973–90), and Argentina’s (1976–83) committed acts of state terrorism against their own people. The violent police states of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein in Iraq are examples of countries where one branch of government—usually the executive branch or the intelligence establishment—engaged in widespread terror against not only the population but also other government organs, including the military.
Unlike nonstate terrorism, all kinds of establishment terrorism have a persistent element of secrecy. States typically attempt to disavow their active participation in such activities in order to escape international condemnation as well as political and military retaliation from those they target.
Terrorism has been used by both state and non-state entities throughout history and around the globe. Xenophon (c. 431–c. 350 BCE), an ancient Greek historian, spoke about the usefulness of psychological warfare against enemy people.
Banishment, seizure of property, and execution were employed by Roman emperors such as Tiberius (14–37 CE) and Caligula (37–41 CE) to deter opposition to their authority.
The action of the Jewish Zealots, also known as the Sicarii (Hebrew: “Daggers”), who participated in frequent violent attacks against fellow Hebrews accused of complicity with the Roman authorities, is the most widely cited example of early terror.
Similarly, during the French Revolution, Robespierre openly encouraged the use of terror, and the Spanish Inquisition utilized arbitrary arrest, torture, and execution to punish what it saw as religious heresy.
Defiant Southerners created the Ku Klux Klan after the American Civil War (1861–65) to intimidate advocates of Reconstruction (1865–77) and newly liberated former slaves.
Terror was advocated by anarchists in Western Europe, Russia, and the United States in the latter part of the nineteenth century, who believed that assassinating people in positions of authority was the greatest method to effect revolutionary political and social change.
Anarchists killed a number of kings, presidents, prime ministers, and other government figures between 1865 and 1905.
The use and practice of terror underwent significant modifications during the twentieth century. It became the defining characteristic of a variety of political movements ranging from the far right to the far left of the political spectrum.
Terrorists gained increased mobility and lethality thanks to technological improvements such as automatic guns and compact, electrically detonated explosives, and the growth of air travel brought new ways and possibilities.
In totalitarian nations like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin, terrorism was practically an official strategy. To establish a climate of terror and induce obedience to the state’s proclaimed economic, social, and political goals, arrests, incarceration, torture, and executions were carried out without legal direction or limits in these states.