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Defining Terrorism

FiremanRyan

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in another thread, someone brought up the idea that Americans are terrorists because there is no difference in them killing our civilians while we're over there doing the same thing. i keep hearing this argument but it holds little weight. going by this logic, both world wars would have been fought entirely by terrorists.

first of all, war is a conflict between military and militia powers and any collateral damage in the way of lost civilian life is unintended. obviously, during a time of war, the invaded country will experience this loss. i believe that the biggest part of defining terrorism is examining how and why innocent deaths come into play. the difference between war and terrorism is when civilians are intentionally targeted.

the argument by this group, saying that the Iraq war is merely terrorism on the United States part, is, in other words, saying that if we are soldiers, so are members of Al Quaeda. this is far from true. they are terrorist, not soldiers. put it blindly:

lets say country A wishes to wage war with country B because of some sort of national conflict. country A does not have the military power to engage country B in war so they send people from A to covertly attack innocent civilians within B. are these killers from A soldiers or terrorists?
 
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FiremanRyan

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and please, this is about terrorism and how it should be defined, not a discussion on whether or not you think we should be in Iraq in the first place or a time to blame Bush.
 

IValueFreedom

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Well, there is no clear definition of terrorism. Within the academic community, there has been no concensus as to the actual definition. Usually it will go something like this though:

The threat or use of force for political purposes.

I personally think that is too broad. Given that definition, writing to your congressman demanding he vote a certain way would be terrorism. Too general for my purposes.

But yeah, there are numerous books and papers attempting to define it, everyone seems to have their own definition though.

P.S. good thread:)
 

Tashah

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Hmm... It's defined somewhere in the US Code of Law and is worded something like this:

"An intentional overt or covert physical attack on a civilian population/facility with the intent to coerce a government to change its domestic or foreign policy."



 

Surenderer

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Tashah said:
Hmm... It's defined somewhere in the US Code of Law and is worded something like this:

"An intentional overt or covert physical attack on a civilian population/facility with the intent to coerce a government to change its domestic or foreign policy."






That defination is way to broad though because by that logic would'nt Hiroshima been considered a terrorist act? Although long term wise it saved many lives(possibly thats probable but cant be proven so it's hypothetical) the imediate actual effect was the deaths of 120,000 people immediatly and twice that many over time.....Also where does the nations who harbor or support terrorists fit into that defination?


peace
 

Simon W. Moon

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Some thoughts about the difficulties of defining terrorism from a US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute monograph by Dr. Jeffery Record

Bounding the Global War on Terror
Terrorism is a recourse of the politically desperate and militarily helpless, and, as such, it is hardly going to disappear. The challenge of grasping the nature and parameters of the GWOT is certainly not eased by the absence of a commonly accepted definition of terrorism or by the depiction of the GWOT as a Manichaean struggle between good and evil, “us” versus “them.”
Even inside the U.S. Government, different departments and agencies use different definitions reflecting different professional perspectives on the subject.9 A 1988 study counted 109 definitions of terrorism that covered a total of 22 different definitional elements.10 Terrorism expert Walter Laqueur also has counted over 100 definitions and concludes that the “only general characteristic generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence.”11 Yet terrorism is hardly the only enterprise involving violence and the threat of violence. So does war, coercive diplomacy, and barroom brawls.
The current U.S. national security strategy defines terrorism as simply “premeditated, politically motivated violence against innocents.”12 as opposed to actual violence? Is not the inducement of fear a major object of terrorism, and is not threatened action a way of inducing fear? Is not the very threat of terrorist attack terrorism?
The Defense Department officially defines terrorism as the “calculated use of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”13 The U.S. National Strategy for Combating Terrorism places similar emphasis on terrorism as a nonstate phenomenon directed against the state and society; terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”14
This definition, however, begs the question of who is innocent and by what standards is innocence determined. The U.S. fire bombing of Japanese cities in 1945 certainly terrified their inhabitants, many of whom were women and children who had nothing to do with Japan’s war effort. And what about threatenedThe problem with both these definitions is that they exclude state terrorism, which since the French Revolution has claimed far more victims--in the tens of millions--than terrorism perpetrated by nonstate actors. The lethality of the likes of al-Qaeda, the Tamil Tigers, and Sendero Luminoso pales before the governmental terrorism of Stalinist Russia, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and of course Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. By excluding state terrorism these definitions moreover give states facing violent internal challenges, even challenges based on legitimate grievances (e.g., Kurdish and Shiite uprisings against Saddam Hussein), the benefit of the moral doubt, and in so doing invite such states to label their internal challenges “terrorism” and to employ whatever means they deem necessary, including the terrorism of counterterrorist operations of the kind practiced by the French in Algeria and the Russians in Chechnya.
9 Bruce Hoffman, “Defining Terrorism,” in Russell D. Howard and Reid
L. Sawyer, eds., Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security
Environment, Guilford, CT: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2003, p. 22.

10. Alex P. Schmid, Albert J. Jongman, et al., Political Terrorism: A New Guide to
Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, and Literature, New Brunswick, NJ:
Transaction Books, 1988, pp. 5-6.

13. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,
Washington, DC: Department of Defense, April 2001, p. 428.

14. National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, Washington, DC: The White
House, February 2003, p. 1.
 

Tashah

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Excellent post Simon. Terrorism is difficult to define because it often involves complex yet nebulous relationships. My conception of a terrorist is relational to my circumstances. So too, a 'martyr' is relational to different circumstances. Everyone recognizes terrorism from their vantage point, but not all vantage points recognize terrorism.

To address the issue raised by Surenderer, many confuse terrorism with 'war crimes' or 'crimes against humanity'. There is a subtle yet critical distinction. War crimes and crimes against humanity are explicitly defined and agreed upon by the global community via such devices as the Geneva Conventions. Terrorism remains ill-defined and amorphous, sort of like recognizing the evil of the scythe... but not the criminality of the devil that wields it.

Perhaps much like war crimes and crimes against humanity, terrorism will eventually demand a concise definition with global agreeance.


 
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Arch Enemy

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You can call both America and the Insurgents terrorists. We see the insurgents killing their selves for their beliefs (not religious but faction beliefs) so we call them terrorists because they're trying to spread their political power via bloodshed. Are we not doing the same? We're trying to "throw" Democracy onto other countries, sometimes through blood-shed. They can easily view us as terrorists as well, they wouldn't be wrong.
 

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Arch Enemy said:
You can call both America and the Insurgents terrorists. We see the insurgents killing their selves for their beliefs (not religious but faction beliefs) so we call them terrorists because they're trying to spread their political power via bloodshed. Are we not doing the same? We're trying to "throw" Democracy onto other countries, sometimes through blood-shed. They can easily view us as terrorists as well, they wouldn't be wrong.
but the difference is that we have officially declared war on the country and we arent intentionally targeting civilians to advance democracy. we attacked their government and military, civilians were collateral damage. to me, thats the big difference between the price of war and terrorism.

now that isnt to say that war and terrorism cannot coincide with each other. say a US soldier walked into a train station in Iraq and blew himself up. even though we're at war, that would be an act of terrorism because of the nature of the bombing and the fact that he intentionally targeted civilians.

theres a shady area in between though. what about the attack on the USS Cole? it was an unannounced attack by a group not at war with the US, but it was on a military vessel.
 
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26 X World Champs

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FiremanRyan said:
in another thread, someone brought up the idea that Americans are terrorists because there is no difference in them killing our civilians while we're over there doing the same thing. i keep hearing this argument but it holds little weight. going by this logic, both world wars would have been fought entirely by terrorists.

first of all, war is a conflict between military and militia powers and any collateral damage in the way of lost civilian life is unintended. obviously, during a time of war, the invaded country will experience this loss. i believe that the biggest part of defining terrorism is examining how and why innocent deaths come into play. the difference between war and terrorism is when civilians are intentionally targeted.
I think that Americans who believe that we are acting as terrorists in Iraq are in a very slim minority. I do not have one friend or colleague that's ever even suggested the possibility.

I believe only our enemies see us as terrorists, and even then it's political doublespeak.

Bad war? Yes! But it is a war, not an act of terrorism.
 

Surenderer

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teacher said:
Yea I know I'm defining terrorists and not terrorism but.....


My third.

Brainwashed zealots who are going straight to hell. Imagine their surprise when the 72 virgins are named "Bubba".




Your actually telling the truth even though you dont realize it Teacher (goes to your brilliance I suppose :lol: ) Virgins in the Koran doesnt mean sexual......it means innocence because nothing in Heaven is sinful.....Dont know how many zealots realize that though


peace
 

Surenderer

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FiremanRyan said:
but the difference is that we have officially declared war on the country and we arent intentionally targeting civilians to advance democracy. we attacked their government and military, civilians were collateral damage. to me, thats the big difference between the price of war and terrorism.

now that isnt to say that war and terrorism cannot coincide with each other. say a US soldier walked into a train station in Iraq and blew himself up. even though we're at war, that would be an act of terrorism because of the nature of the bombing and the fact that he intentionally targeted civilians.

theres a shady area in between though. what about the attack on the USS Cole? it was an unannounced attack by a group not at war with the US, but it was on a military vessel.




I agree but how about this hypothetical.....suppose a soldier (dont wanna target U.S. specifically because I was one once and that would be wrong) is sitting in a train station and a insurgent sees him and blows himself up......he kills 30 civilians but also the soldier.(original target)....still terrorism?


peace
 

teacher

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Surenderer said:
Your actually telling the truth even though you dont realize it Teacher (goes to your brilliance I suppose :lol: ) Virgins in the Koran doesnt mean sexual......it means innocence because nothing in Heaven is sinful.....Dont know how many zealots realize that though
Nah, knew exactly what I was saying. What God would reward the blowing up of children.
Didn't know that about the virgin thing though. I choose to ignore that information. The thought of a line 72 long behind Mohamed Atta's behind is very pleasing to me.
 

Surenderer

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teacher said:
Nah, knew exactly what I was saying. What God would reward the blowing up of children.
Didn't know that about the virgin thing though. I choose to ignore that information. The thought of a line 72 long behind Mohamed Atta's behind is very pleasing to me.



That part of your post is what I was refering too




peace
 

debate_junkie

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Surenderer said:
I agree but how about this hypothetical.....suppose a soldier (dont wanna target U.S. specifically because I was one once and that would be wrong) is sitting in a train station and a insurgent sees him and blows himself up......he kills 30 civilians but also the soldier.(original target)....still terrorism?


peace
I know this question wasn't directed to me, but I think yes, that act would still be terrorism. Why, because the insurgent is just that, an insurgent and not an "official" soldier engaged in combat.
 

Surenderer

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debate_junkie said:
I know this question wasn't directed to me, but I think yes, that act would still be terrorism. Why, because the insurgent is just that, an insurgent and not an "official" soldier engaged in combat.



Hey bro,

No actually that question is for anybody but your answer is interesting...just an insurgent? so are you saying that anybody lived in a country that was invaded and fought back you would then be fit the definition of terrorist? What is a "official" soldier?


peace
 

FiremanRyan

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Surenderer said:
I agree but how about this hypothetical.....suppose a soldier (dont wanna target U.S. specifically because I was one once and that would be wrong) is sitting in a train station and a insurgent sees him and blows himself up......he kills 30 civilians but also the soldier.(original target)....still terrorism?


peace
assuming that its a soldier of an official military that we're at war with, id say its terrorism, but its more of a personal opinion at this point. kind of like when i brought up the attack on the USS Cole and how i said theres a shady area in between.
 

Simon W. Moon

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What if we started from the other end and sougt to define things that definitely were NOT terrorism?

It seems that there're prob'ly at least three categories of acts, those that definitely are not terrorism, those that definitely are, and those that may be.

What criteria would definitely exclude something from being an act of terrorism?

I'd say that a lack of political goal. Violence for violence's sake would not be terrorism.
 

ncallaway

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In terms of defining terrorism, I think the intention of using violence to create terror is important. The idea that you are acting to create fear seems important (to me, at least). Obviously that's not all of the definition, but I feel it's a component to it, that hasn't really been mentioned yet.

In terms of what isn't terrorism, I would be inclined to say an open rebellion targeting military installations would not be terrorism. Any intentional attempt to avoid civilian casualties would not be terrorism (in my eyes).

The hypothetical situation of an insurgent targeting a single soldier, but killing 30 innocents is definitely in the gray area. He makes no attempt to reduce civilian casualties, but he is not targeting civilians...
I would call it more of a war crime (even though it's hard to put that on insurgents). But it feels more like a war crime (or something in that area) than terrorism.

Really good thread, by the way.
 

Kelzie

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One of the problems we had in my ethics class when we were trying to define terrorism is the definition of a civilian.

I think almost everyone agrees that the intention targeting of civilians is a terrorist act.

However, the problem is that terrorists don't see the civilians as innocent. They see them as active supporters of whatever wrong the terrorists are opposed to.

Not saying I agree with it, I'm just saying that we are working with two definitions of terrorists.
 

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Surenderer said:
Hey bro,

No actually that question is for anybody but your answer is interesting...just an insurgent? so are you saying that anybody lived in a country that was invaded and fought back you would then be fit the definition of terrorist? What is a "official" soldier?


peace
Enlisted in the countries armed forces of course. I know that leaves alot of gray, because Sadaam under his regime had people HE considered soldiers, but to the western world, they were nothing more than glorified henchmen. So truthfully, it's up to interpretation. I'm looking at the definition of soldier, as I see it here in the US.
 
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