What is terrorism? 1

Terrorism is a method. 

It is not an ideology, or a movement, or a conspiracy, or a policy, or an aim.

Its users might be an organized movement that conspires to adopt the tactic; and a state might use it against its own people as a matter of policy. But terrorism itself is simply a method. A tactic.

Terrorism is not hard to define:

Terrorism is the systematic use of violence to create public fear.

As a method of intimidation it is as old as mankind and will surely continue to be used as long as our species continues to exist.

It has been used for various types of causes, such as religious (eg. the Catholic Church with its Inquisition; Protestant powers such as Calvin in Geneva, the Puritans at Salem); commercial and criminal (eg. the Mafia); and political, by rebels, and revolutionaries, and adherents of diverse ideologies.

Whether terrorism is used by a small group like the Weather Underground or the Baader-Meinhof gang; a large group like the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland and England, or Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru; or a state like the Third Reich or the USSR, it is a method of instilling fear into many more people than it can directly attack so they or their rulers will do or not do what the terrorists want done or not done. That is why the attacks need to be random. Though you have done nothing personally to affront the terrorist organization doing its evil deeds in your corner of the world, you must be made to understand that their bomb could be in the bus you take to work or your child takes to school, and so could as easily kill or maim you or your child as anyone else.

The mentality behind terrorism is similar to the mentality of the racist. The users of the method target individuals indiscriminately because they “belong” to a group or class that the terrorists designate their enemy. You are a member of a political party that they oppose. You have a nationality they don’t like. You are a capitalist. You work for the “military-industrial complex”. Or you are one person in a national collective under a despotism that would keep you obedient.

Terrorism punishes the innocent. If a tyrant is killed, it is not terrorism; if his infant children are killed as “collateral damage”, it is.

Can the use of terrorism ever be justified? It is the moral question every terrorist needs to answer for himself. He alone makes the decision to do the deed. It is no excuse that he is obeying others. He – or she – is still responsible even under threat. The exception of course is when – for instance – a person is forcibly strapped into a suicide vest, deposited in a public place, and is detonated without taking any action himself. Islamic terrorists use children in this way.

An argument is sometimes put forward by persons – usually academics – who want, for various and usually disgraceful reasons, to discourage action against this or that terrorist organization, that the number of people who are hurt or killed in a specified period by terrorist action is smaller than the number killed by (eg) car accidents in the same time span. But an accident is by definition nobody’s fault. Because terrorism is a moral question, depending on people making decisions and implementing them, such comparisons are not only invalid but invidious.

What of war? Does that not harm and kill many innocents? Of course. But when war happens, all normal constraints are abandoned and the moral questions are changed. Was Churchill right to have Dresden bombed flat? Was America right to drop nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima? If more people were saved by these acts which brought war to an end than were hurt and killed by the actions themselves, were they good or were they evil?

The morality of war is open to argument. But clear acts of terrorism can be carried out within wars, and need to be unequivocally condemned. For instance, in World War Two, the Germans massacred all the inhabitants (642), men women and children, of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944, in reprisal for one of their officers being captured and held there. It was plainly a “war crime”, and plainly an act of terrorism.

What – it is sometimes asked – of random violence used against a conqueror occupying your country in war? Is that terrorism? And even if it is, is it not justified? Not an easy question to answer. The best one can do to decide the morality of (eg) blowing up a train that is bringing enemy reinforcements into your country but also bearing some of your fellow countrymen, is to ask whether the action would make most of your fellow countrymen feel more safe or more threatened. If the answer is “more safe”, it could be argued that the act was therefore justified. But much depends on what an action is, whom it kills and in what way; on the circumstances of the occupation, and on whether it is oppressive or comparatively benign. In each case, judgment is needed.

Communism and Islam are inherently terrorist ideologies.

 

Jillian Becker   March 18, 2015

(Jillian Becker was director of the London-based Institute for the Study of Terrorism 1985-1990)

What terrorism is and is not 0

What is terrorism?

First, what it is not. It is not a movement. It is not in itself an ideology.

Terrorism is a method. It can be defined as: The use of violence to create public fear.

It can be used for various ends. The mafia uses it for commercial ends. The Papal and Spanish Inquisitions used it for religious ends. Most often and most urgently it has long been and continues to be used for political ends. It is as old as mankind and is unlikely to fall into disuse while there is human life on earth.

Generally speaking one can class an act of violence as terroristic by asking the question; Does it make most people feel safer or less safe? A terrorist act is designed to make the public feel unsafe: “It could happen to any of us” and “If they get their way we’ll be worse off” versus “If that blow sets us free from fear it was a blow well struck”. So Hamas bombs lobbed into Israel are terroristic, while Israel targeting Hamas leaders holds out the chance of liberation from the true oppressors of Gaza as well as warning them off. Israel kills civilians only by accident, not design. Knowing that Israel does not want to kill civilians, Hamas uses women, children, and hospital patients as human shields.

In the case of tyrannicide, it is not terroristic to kill the tyrant, but if you deliberately kill his wife, kid, or aunt it is an act of terrorism.

Question: If terrorism is a method – therefore allowing one to deny that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter – and terrorism is bad, how do we avoid condemning Horoshima, Dresden, Napalm in Vietnam?

Answer: Britain and the US were not the aggressors in WW2 nor in Vietnam. Nuclear bombs and napalm were not used to terrify but to win. If you are hit with ruthless attack, hit back hard, really hard, no punches pulled, fight to win. War is terrifying, but it is not terrorism. Acts of terrorism are sometimes carried out within war as a different sort of thing, as when Nazis shot all the men of a French village they were occupying in retaliation for one of them being killed by an unknown villager. That was to terrify the whole population, not leaders or military forces, into compliance.

Churchill said, “They wanted total war, they’ll get total war.” Dresden was beautiful, but it was also a place where industry was feeding the German war machine. (There were more than 100 factories there; arms plants, including aircraft components factories, a poison gas factory, and an anti-aircraft and field gun factory; and barracks and munitions stores.)

Napalm was to clear forests so that the hidden enemy could be revealed.

The Hiroshima bomb did end the war.

Question: But strictly logically speaking, Dresden was meant to terrify – that was the proximate aim. And the IRA could say they wanted to win. Is it possible to separate acts of terrorism within a war from terrifying acts of war without reference to whether the cause is good or bad?

Answer: Churchill bombed Dresden to destroy the military targets, hoping also to convince the Nazi leadership that Germany would be bombed flat if they did not soon capitulate. Terror was meant to play its part. Terror is always present in war, but neither side relies exclusively on terror to win it. Yes, the IRA [Irish Republican Army] wanted to win, exclusively by the method of terrorism. If they had won, Northern Ireland would have been less free under their (Communist as much as nationalist) rule than it was as a British province. Terrorists use the morality of their target society against itself. The West hates the deliberate and random murder and maiming of its citizens: the terrorists do not care. Nazism and Communism are terroristic by their very nature. What makes a cause right or wrong is whether its supporters have moral scruples. The allies in WW2 wanted to restore a society that had moral scruples. To do so they had to fight a defensive war – with its inevitable terrorizing – against terroristic powers: Nazi Germany and fascist Italy and their ally Japan (which was not terroristic at home but was very much so toward its prisoners of war and in its conquered territories.)

There are rare times when it is hard or even impossible to say whether an act of violence is terroristic or not – eg blowing up a train carrying arms to an evil power when the train is also carrying civilians. One can only look to the ends in such cases – so yes, the good or bad of the ends counts. Collectivists, not individualists, believe that the end justifies the means. But as with the unwanted killings of civilians in Gaza, the end sometimes is achieved by means that do harm to the innocent.

All collectivism, whether of the egalitarian kind like Communism, or the inegalitarian kind like Nazism and Islam, is intrinsically terroristic. The control of many by the few is terroristic. As big government is the master of the citizens rather than their servant, it is terroristic by nature even if it is restrained in its use of violent force. Only a system which guards individual freedom does not threaten the innocent but protects them from threat. Under what circumstances could you imagine a free society using terrorism? None, if it is to remain a free society. If it has to go to war against another power that threatens its freedom – then yes, it too will terrorize, it too might regrettably find it has killed civilians. But that is not what it aims for, and not what characterizes it.

Terrorism is often called “the warfare of the weak”. It has been allowed to succeed. The Western world is now terrified of offending Muslims because they do not scruple to use random murderous violence in pursuit of their political, religious, ideological ends. They do so within free societies. It is urgently necessary for political leaders to find effective ways of dealing with this evil.

Jillian Becker, July 5, 2010

Jillian Becker was Director of the Institute for the Study of Terrorism, London, 1985-1990.