Terrorism is currently a major challenge that confronts the world. Terrorism is a frightening and horrifying event; It has the ability to take away your sense of security and leave us feeling vulnerable, causing the individuals and nations unease. This decade has witnessed some of the most notorious terrorist acts. In recent memory many can easily recall the attacks of 9/11, The day two 767 Boeing jets took down the world-trade centers. Despite, world-wide agreement that 9/11 was an act of terrorism, there remains much dispute on the specifics of what defines terrorism.
The definitions provided in one dictionary differ in another. Lets take into example Merriam-Webster’s definition, which states that terrorism is “the systematic use of terror as a means of coercion. ”? The problem with this definition is its simplicity. It can applied to almost anything and sometimes things that traditionally wouldn’t be considered terrorism. For example, an elementary school kid ‘systematically’ bullies a kid daily in-order to ‘coerce’ him into giving lunch money. Is this an act of terrorism? Should you agree on charging this child with terrorism? the answer clearly ought to be no.
However, Terrorism is more accurately defined as act(s) of violence by an organization directed towards civilians, rather than against the military done to achieve an objective. As a our nation continues to fight the “war of terror[ism]”, It’s important to as quickly as possibly clarify this term so correct measures can be taken in identifying the who’s and what’s of terrorism. To begin terrorism is never a solo-enterprise, It requires the efforts of more than one individual to plan and carry-out those plans. In all internationally recognized plots of terrorism, there seems to always be more than one perpetrator.
It’s very important to note this because for an attack to be categorized as an act of terrorism it must originate from a group rather than an individual for very good reasons. First, Individuals that do carry out violent attacks fail to fall into this definition because they fail in spreading fear. This failure to spread ‘terror’ is what inhibits them from being included in the definition. Here is a hypothetical scenario illustrating this point, A 24/7 store gets robbed in the middle of the night and the robber leaves behind a dead clerk.
The authorities get on the case and the community returns to normality knowing in time the robber will get caught. A more real-life example that mimics 9/11 would be the 2010 Austin plane crash. In this incident, a distraught man named Joseph Stack who was frustrated with the IRS decided to take matters into his own hands. In a final act of vengeance Stack crashed his personal airplane at full speed into a IRS building. This attack did cause terror, it was premeditated and like 9/11 Joseph Stack had committed suicide. It sounds like a terrorist attack, but it isn’t.
Here’s why, Stack had no intent for coercion because he would be dead and he was not a part of a organization that could possibly gain any benefit from his death. But most importantly, His reign of terror ended with his end. Regardless of how despicable both these scenario might be neither can be classified as an act of terrorism, Because for those engaging in terrorism, there is clear intent to leave an impression after an attack, and to let the designated target(s) know that this is not the end. This can only be achieved if the perpetrators are still at large.
Once again, I return back to the attacks of 9/11 to illustrate the difference. Al Qaeda wanted to spread terror, which unfortunately happened. But unlike the robber or the distraught man, They are still at large despite the death of its members. Even after a decade, The world is still in a state of fear and apprehension since Al Qaeda is free to strike while enjoying limited impunity. These are distinctions that should be taken into consideration when classifying terrorism, because for it to be terrorism there must be deliberate effort by a group rather than a sole individual in hopes of fulfilling an objective.
Sadly enough, acts of terrorism rarely take aim at the source of their discontent, usually being a government or military. Instead aim is taken towards civilians because there is no way that a “civilian target rate of 93. 3 present” (Chasdi 378) for terrorists can be an accident. Consider that on 9/11 there were no active military people in the world-trade center. Present however, were civilians who were going about their daily tasks. Yet, Al Qadea choose to attack this business center aware of this fact.
This is something that all acts of terrorism seem to share and one that ought to be included in the definition. Besides 9/11, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq both highlight the significance of civilian attacks by terrorists. The state of Israel faces alot of security challenges due to its geographic location and also because of its occupation of Palestinian land. As a result Israeli presence has given birth to many Palestinian terrorist organizations. These organizations however have no intent of fighting the Israeli military. Rather than taking rms against a well-equipped military, who’s has more firepower than Canada, they’ve decided to take an alternative. By random attacks of terrorism from suicide bombings to car bombs. One these Palestinian groups is Hamas. Earlier this year, A report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) showed that, “Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups have over several years launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and towns… The rockets unlawfully struck populated areas up to 40 kilometers inside Israel, placing roughly 800,000 Israeli civilians at risk” (HRW).
Hamas was well aware of their surrounding but the purpose of those rocket attacks is not to win a war, but to cause terror and to gain political leverage from the Israeli government. Another conflict in the middle-east that also shows how terrorism targets civilians rather than the military would be the current war in Iraq. There’s no argument that Iraqis dislike the American occupation, and the majority of them want the troops out. Rather than hoping for this to happen, A few Iraqis are willingly to go as far as possible to make this a reality.
Not wanting to engage in warfare with the worlds most powerful military, they have formed groups to engage in terrorism . As time progressed these groups would randomly kidnap foreigners and news-reporters to behead on live feed. Why do this? despite how inhumane it is to behead another human being, these terrorists organizations see this as an opportunity to gain political leverage. By broadcasting the beheading (or its threat) they can make claims for what they want, In numerous kidnappings of reporters and civilians these have ranged from release of prisoners at Guantanamo to the withdrawal of all western troops from Muslim lands.
In essence citizens become collateral damage. Counter-arguments may rise against these two examples. In both instances, It could be considered as form of dissent against an invader rather than acts of terrorism. Yet unlike a freedom fighter who fights against a despised authority, A terrorist cowardly chooses to target innocent individuals who’s death is usually in vain. The organization Al Qaeda is living example of this claim. In what seems like a completely idiotic paradox Al Qaeda, “kills eight-times more Muslims than non-Muslims” (Helfstein, Abdullah and Al-Obaidi 12).
The Irony in this is that Al Qaeda’s mission is a Muslim world, yet its killing more Muslims trying to accomplish this goal. Most of these Muslims were innocent civilians when car bomb perhaps roadside bomb or a gigantic 767 Boeing jet suddenly brought their lives to an end. Weather its Al Qaeda, Hamas or some other organization engaging in the deliberate targeting of civilians should be used as criteria for determining what defines an act of terrorism. To fully understand terrorism, It’s crucial to understand its objective(s).
Terrorist organizations wouldn’t waste time,money and freedom in-order to simply terrorize for a sport. There is something that they desire to achieve, or a change they would like to see in the world. As the name terrorism,indicates ‘terror’ is the first and foremost objective. The logic behind almost all cases of terrorism is always to terrorize. This tactic of terrorizing then allows terrorist to at-least attempt or fulfill objective(s) . This could relate to matters on religion to troop withdrawal.
At times its related to neither, Sometimes the intent might be to embarrass, harass or weaken a government. For example, the attacks of 9/11 had this objective. The former president George W. Bush explained this in his state of the union address following 9/11. The president states, “they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way” (CNN). Al Qaeda desired to weaken the American people and their influence in the world by terrorizing them, fortunately this failed.
Then the president explains what this is intended to accomplish, he states, “They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa ”(CNN). In this clear-cut example, the president is informing the American people of why terrorists engage in terrorism. He explains that 9/11 was an act of terrorism and its objective is to exile Jews and Christians, overthrow governments, and to establish Muslim nations.
In agreement with my definition, He further explains that, “terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life with every atrocity” (CNN). Weather an act of terrorism is committed by Al Qaeda or not, there is always an objective. As stated earlier these objectives can come in the form of a demand, harassment, or to communicate a message. This tendency for those who engage in terrorism to always want something for there actions is why this distinction ought to be included when defining this term. Terrorism is a frighting experience, but by giving this term clarity, It can help the world in combating It.
The distinctions that were covered above could one day help do this. As we have seen from 9/11, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the current war in Iraq, acts of terrorism seem to all share distinct features. These recognizable features include the deliberate targeting of civilians, which is done by an organization whose intent is to advance specific objectives. Despite these characteristics, Its important to remember the words of President Roosevelt, that, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” when dealing with terrorism.