Anatomy of Terror: Who’s the Real Terrorist?

With the attack of  9/11 followed by the never ending onslaught of attacks on the United States (Boston Bombing as of recent) and the thousands of lives lost everyday around the world to radical ideology, can any country claim to be terror free? People fail to realize that civilizations have been terrorizing each other for millennia even since the beginning of time for a variety of reasons including but not limited to food, land, water, religion, political favor, oppression, genocide and the list goes on. Waging a formal war is only one way people express radicalism in their beliefs and radicalism is not exclusive to religion as many want to believe. People use terror as a form of gaining attention for their cause and does not always mean an extreme act resulting in violence or worse death. Using terror or fear throughout history has proven to be effective in swaying public opinion and people to do others bidding. Violence does not necessarily need to be a part of terrorism just the threat of it is enough for people to pay attention to an organization look at Anonymous who has hacked into systems around the world to bring light to their cause. In some cases, governments wage wars of terror or fear mongering on a daily basis in order to instill fear in their people by preventing access to information or basic necessities. So who’s the real terrorist? Again by no means am I condoning any terrorism of the sort, however the hope is to start a much needed dialogue about what terrorism actually means, the correct use of the term and for people to understand some of the root causes behind it in order to prevent it through peaceful means not violence.

“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love…Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.” — Martin Luther King Jr., 1958

Terror, from the french word terreur in Latin meaning “great fear”, a noun derived from the Latin verb terrere meaning “to frighten”, is a policy of political repression and violence intended to subdue political opposition according to Wikipedia. The term was first used for the Reign of Terror imposed by Jacobins during the French Revolution and in modern terms included red terror or white terror. The term terrorism in the English language was sometime used interchangeably with terror as the modern definition refers to criminal or illegal acts of violence at randomly chosen targets in order to raise fear. The practice is used by extremist groups with limited political base or parties on the weaker side in asymmetric warfare and by governments and law enforcement officials within the legal framework of the state. Terrorism is the systematic use of terror often violence as a means of coercion. In the international arena, terrorism has no legally binding, criminal law definition. The terms refers to those who acts intended to create fear, perpetrated for religious, political, or ideological goals and deliberately targeting or disregarding the safety of non-combatants (civilians). Some include unlawful violence and war in the definition of terrorism. The use of these tactics by criminal organizations for protection rackets or enforcing a code of silence are not considered under the same definition, however these same acts can be considered terrorism if done by a politically motivated group.

The writer Heinrich Boll and scholars Raj Desai and Harry Eckstein view the act of preventing terrorism as leading to social oppression. The word terrorism carries deep emotional and political meaning as there are over 100 definition of what terrorism is. The concept of terrorism is highly controversial as it is used by the state and individual who have access to state support to delegitimize political or other opponents and potential legitimize the state own use of armed force against opponents such as force used by the opponents of the state can be called terror. Revolutionary terror or red terror refers to tactics used by revolutionary governments against counterrevolutionaries i.e. the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution in 1794, in the Soviet Union in 1918-1922, in the Hungarian Soviet Republic and in Finland around the same time and in China Red Terror in 1966 and 1967 started the Cultural Revolution. The counterrevolutionary terror or white terror can be seen in terror campaigns in France in 1794-1795, in Russia in 1917-1920, in Hungary in 1919-1921 and in Span with modern examples in South America Operation Condor. Fear mongering or scare tactics add another layer to terrorism by inducing fear or influencing opinions and actions of others towards some end. The feared object or subject becomes exaggerated and patterns of fear mongering use repetition in order to reinforce the intended effects.

Terrorism has been practice in many political organizations to further their objectives. The right wing and left wing political parties, nationalistic groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments have all used indiscriminate violence against noncombatants for purpose of shedding light on their group, cause or an individual. The potential uses for these tactics can leverage human fear for political gains or help achieve goals. Terrorism is not a new concept even though the definition is not clear as its users see it as a tactic and strategy, a crime and duty and a justified reaction to oppression and an inexcusable abomination. The tactic has been effective for the weaker side of the conflict lending its coercive power to an asymmetric form of conflict and giving all the advantages of military force at a fraction of the cost. Because many terrorist organizations are small, they give their opponents no clear organization for which to defend or fight against. In some cases, it means to carry on conflict without knowing the nature of the threat mistaking terrorism for criminal activity. The problem with the popularity of the concept is there is no clear definition used within a single governmental body like the U.S. where a different definition is used by several agencies responsible for different functions.

According to the Terror Website the definitions are as follows:
The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Within this definition, there are three key elements—violence, fear, and intimidation—and each element produces terror in its victims. The FBI uses this: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The U.S. Department of State defines terrorism to be “premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience”.

Outside the United States Government, there are greater variations in what features of terrorism are emphasized in definitions. The United Nations produced the following definition of terrorism in 1992; “An anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.” The most commonly accepted academic definition starts with the U.N. definition quoted above, and adds two sentences totaling another 77 words on the end; containing such verbose concepts as “message generators” and “violence based communication processes”. Less specific and considerably less verbose, the British Government definition of terrorism from 1974 is “…the use of violence for political ends, and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public, or any section of the public, in fear.”

The purpose or drive for terrorists in general is for the acts themselves to influence beyond just their victims and to commits these acts of violence to draw the attention of the local populace, the government, and the world to their cause. A great deal of planning and time goes into the attack plan in order to get the most publicity by choosing targets that represent what the group oppose whether it be a person or place. The success is not measure by the act itself but the response it receives from the public or government. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Black September Organization killed 11 Israelis, however the target was the 1 billion people watching the televised event to bring to light the plight of the Palestinian refugees. In October 1983, Middle Eastern terrorist bombed the Marine Battalion Landing Team Headquarters at Beirut International Airport killing 241 U.S. military personnel and wounding over 100 others, but the target was the American people and U.S. Congress who decided to withdraw the Marines from Beirut making the campaign a success.

There are three aspects of terrorism: the terrorist, the victim and the general public. Terrorist do not see themselves as evil but as legitimate combatants, fighting for what they believe in and doing whatever is necessary to reach their goals. The victims of the act see the terrorist as criminal with no regard for life while the general public’s view is not always so black and white. The terrorist tries to portray themselves as a Robin Hood of sorts hoping to sway opinion in their favor and toward their cause making it an important part of the psychological warfare used  and causing governments, the media and other organizations to fight against this. Of the 158 countries the Institute for Economics and Peace covered in their first global terrorism index, only 31 had no attacks in 10 years to 2011. The majority of these attacks were concentrated in a handful of countries with Iraq ranking number one based on a five year average of number of incidents, deaths, injuries and property damage with 11 of the world’s worst 20 attacks. Other terrorist hop spots were Pakistan, Afghanistan and India with the worst attack over the period in Nepal where 518 people died and 216 injured. The silver lining in all of this is that incidents of terrorism have plateaued after their peak in 2008.

According to Charles Tilly, Sociological Theory, Vol. 22, No. 1, Theories of Terrorism: A Symposium, terror is defined as “asymmetrical deployment of threats and violence against enemies using means that fall outside the forms of political struggle routinely operating within some current regime.” If this holds true, then it can range from intermittent actions by members of groups that are engaged in wider political struggles to one segment in the modus operandi of durably organized specialists in coercion, including government-employed and government-backed specialists in coercion to the dominant rationale for distinct, committed groups and networks of activists. According to Tilly, the definition provided included a variety of human cruelties from Stalin’s use of executions to clandestine attacks by groups like the Basque separatists and the IRA and even ethnic cleansing and genocide. On this same line of logic, M. Korstanje and P. Tarlow, in the Journal of Tourism and Social Change, recognizes that terror movies draw an ethnocentric discourse where vulnerable tourists, most of them young, are attacked during their journeys. The war on terror, triggered by Bush’s administration, not only modified the way of making terror movies, but also engendering a discourse following these lines: a) devils do not respect hospitality, b) hospitality may be defined as the emergence of hostility, c) tourists are vulnerable because they are not familiar with visited territory, and d) terror tends to demonize the others. Certainly, 9/11 and war on terror have closed the boundaries of US and strengthened its ethnocentrism.

4 thoughts on “Anatomy of Terror: Who’s the Real Terrorist?

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