Since time immemorial scholars have attempted to define terrorism. They have come up with many definitions but there is no one particular definition that has been universally acceptable. This is so because terrorism is quite wide and there are many activities that fall under terrorism. This paper will attempt to find out which is perhaps the most suitable definition of terrorism. The most suitable will be one that is able to incorporate almost all activities that are classified under terrorism.
Terrorism is a method where fear is used as a means of coercion to force a person or a particular group of people to do or fail to do a particular thing. One definition that is commonly used for terrorism and emanated from the Rome community is the killing of innocent people by a group of people in such manner that the killings attract the attention of the public. The security council of the United Nations, in their report tabled in the month of November year 2004, defined terrorism as any act that is intended to cause grievous bodily harm or even death to person with the main goal being to instill fear in people thus intimidating and compelling them to do a particular thing or fail to do it.
In several countries though terrorism is a criminal act is always distinguished form other criminal activities and dealt with separately from other acts of crime. Although there is no one universal definition of terrorism there are some key elements that scholars have agreed that any definition of terrorism must have. (Crenshaw, 1995) Violence is one of the elements. It has been agreed that any act of terrorism will usually involve some degree of violence or at least threats of violence. However this element of violence alone cannot be used since there are other acts of violence that cannot be classified as terrorism, for example, simple assault or riots.
Another element is imposition of fear. A terrorism act must be one that instills fear to a person or even a group of people making them psychologically terrorized. Another common element in many though not all is an element of political connection. Research that has been done over the years indicates that many acts of terrorism usually have a political motivation. Intentional target to innocent people or non- combatants is yet another key element of terrorism. (Robert, 1979)Major targets include small children, women and the elderly who re murdered in cold blood causing a public outcry and thus fear is instilled in the rest of the community and at this they point they have no alternative than to comply with the requirements of the terrorists.
Terrorists will tend to hide their identity and will in most cases fight in the midst of innocent people to prevent easy identification by authorities and the larger community. Disguise is thus another element of terrorism. Most government sin their definition include the concept of unlawfulness so that any act that is authorized by the notwithstanding the magnitude of the act, for instance fire bombing of a city does not amount to terrorism provided it was done under the authority. However this element has been heavily disputed with many arguing that any act of terrorism should be classified as such not withstanding that authority under which it was done (Townshend, 2002).
From the above discussion it is clear that it is not easy to come up with a universally accepted definition since terrorism involves quite a number of things. However as already said whichever definition that one may adapt it must have the key elements to qualify as a definition of terrorism.
Crenshaw, M. (1995. Terrorism in Context, Penn State Press, London
H. Robert. (1979). Threat, Reality and Response, Hoover Institution Press, California.
Townshend, C. (2002). Terrorism, Oxford University Press, London.