What do you think when you hear the word “terrorism” implemented into a conversation? Does it stir up a sense of fear or concern? Over the past few years, the definition of terrorism has continually evolved. While some definitions express the seriousness of oppressive rulership others tend to unfairly label peaceful protesters challenging perceived injustices. (White, 2006, p. 4) A search query on the word “terrorism” on an online dictionary and The Encyclopedia of Britannica yield one result with the same generic definition that can be found on various online sources and ; “ the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population”(Jenkins, 2012)
A google search of the term leads me straight to Wikipedia. In the opening paragraph on the Wikipedia page it stated that the word terrorism has no “legally binding criminal definition.” Included in that paragraph was a common definition of terrorism; “violent acts that are intended to create fear or terror; are perpetrated for a religious, political or ideological goal.” I also used two different variations of terrorism, which were “terrorists” and “terror.” The definitions yielded from those results.
Terrorism is, usually, described in broad terminology because it’s not a physical entity that can be measured or accurately described by examining it. Terms vary because it is a social construct meaning that various groups of people have their definition of terrorism based on their social and political realities. Walter Laqueur simply defined terrorism as; illegitimate use of force to achieve a political objective by targeting innocent people. (White 2006 p.11) This definition suggests that terrorism is an act of crime committed towards a group of innocent people for shock value in order to prove a political point.
Alex Schmid believes that there is no set definition for the word terrorism, but he sees terrorism as a “method of combat in which victims serve as a symbolic target”. The violent acts committed can invoke a “chronic state of fear by using violence outside the realm of normative behavior.” (White 2006 p.13) Schmid analysis proposes that terrorism is acts of a heinous crime that are devoid of human emotion.
Thomas Badey, a political science professor, straddles the fence when it comes to defining terrorism. While he believes that applying a set definition to the term can be difficult, it must be defined for the purpose of criminalizing terrorism. Badey supports the U.S Department of definition although it doesn’t fully encompass the term it divides terrorism in “functional terms”. (White 2006, p 13) The U.S Department definition of terrorism examines the intentions of motivations of terroristic acts.
Although, terrorism is a broad term, applying the definition to the word is essential, especially for legal purposes. Often, the term can be misused when applying it to people who have committed terrible acts of crime, labelling them as a terrorist can be considered has. Also, decades ago terrorism were a term that could have easily been applied to opposing armies in war. So applying an acceptable definition to terrorism helps in classifying crimes in the legal system.
Jenkins, J. P. (2012). terrorism. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/588371/terrorism
Terrorism. (2014, September 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:13,
September 27, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Terrorism&oldid=626912285
White, J. R. (2006). An Introduction to Issues in Terrorism. In Terrorism and homeland security (7th ed)