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The need to define terrorism

Logic_on_rails
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3/9/2012 5:37:42 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
This will be a lengthy post.

I wrote a short document recently on what terrorism is and what a terrorist is. To many here it will seem like a foolish question, yet it's a critical issue to define terrorism when it comes to applying it to criminal law. I'm looking for comments on the issue in general and also some feedback on the definition I propose and it's problems.

The Document:

What is terrorism and what is a terrorist?

‘What is terrorism?' and ‘What is a terrorist?' are both poignant questions that are at the heart of decisions on the national and international level. To call somebody a terrorist or hand down sentences for acts of terrorism one must first define terrorism and somehow be able to apply it. Indeed, it is this application that is so controversial, often in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self-determination [1] . Because of the difficulty in creating a definition that encompasses these issues definitions of terrorism often are not easily applied in criminal law. This is seen in the fact there is no academic or international legal consensus on the definition of terrorism [2] . This is because the term terrorism has so many connotations, in particular negative connotations which influence how the word terrorism is interpreted. However, there is a need to define terrorism – the need to condemn violations of human rights, to protect the state and deliberative politics, to differentiate public and private violence, and to ensure international peace and security [3] . Furthermore, criminal law is noted to have three main purposes [4] - to declare conduct forbidden, to prevent it, and to express society's condemnation of wrongful acts.

The first step to developing a working definition of terrorism is to examine current definitions and see their failings (remembering the lack of applicability of current definitions) and then improve upon them. For example, the British government's definition of terrorism from 1989 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."[5] The issue with this definition is that it is too encompassing. Espionage, war and many other state sponsored activities constitute as ‘terrorism' under this definition. In fact, as police work is meant to put the public, and in particular criminals, in fear of breaking the law, we could constitute police work as terrorism were the definition assumed to be accurate. Clearly, the general nature of this definition is inadequate to be applied in a court of law and fails to do things like differentiate public and private violence and protect the state and deliberative politics, both of which were established as part of the need to define terrorism earlier. Furthermore, usage of a word in common parlance is also important to determining how a word should be used. As common parlance would not have us refer to police work such as catching murderers as terrorism. Because of these issues, we can consider the British definition of terrorism inadequate and that it should not be accepted. Improvements on the British definition centre on the phrase ‘any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public in fear', where specifics need to be used such as ‘a use of violence primarily intended to stoke fear or terror into a section of the public for criminal purposes' . Criminal purposes can be described as those that are against the law and unnecessarily put the public in danger or harm in some manner.

A superior definition and the one most commonly accepted definition among academics is the United Nations definition of 1992. [6]

"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 immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative of symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat – and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organisations), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought." [7] (Schmid, 1998) .

This definition essentially states that terrorism is a method promoting anxiety through repeated violence that is executed in secret. Terrorism's primary aim is to achieve various things and is achieved by means where the direct targets of violence are not the main threat. What is good about this definition is that it specifies the aim of terrorism and delves into the detail of how terrorist acts are executed and how they occur. This serves as a solid foundation for a definition of terrorism.

However, there are still problems when this definition is applied to the idea of terrorism as it is commonly thought of. For example, the majority of the public would consider 9/11 to be a prime example of terrorism. However, the UN definition states that terrorism is "an anxiety inspiring method of repeated [emphasis mine] violent action" and that terrorism is employed by ‘(semi) clandestine individual, group or state actors". These two sections of the definition raise problems. On the first statement the issue is that terrorist attacks are often isolated, and so aren't able to be considered repeated violent action. And, in the case of a link between attacks being established one still must necessarily exclude the first example of aggression (many people believe 9/11 to be the first example of terrorist action by Al Qaeda) as being ‘terrorism' because the first action can never be repeated due to being the first action! On the second statement one has issues with the usage of the word ‘clandestine'. This is problematic because clandestine often refers to keeping secret in addition to being done secretively yet many terrorist groups claim responsibilities for their attacks which is hardly what a clandestine actor is. Of course, these issues raise the question of whether the definition should be kept yet 9/11 not be considered a terrorist action, although given the basis of defining words partly on common usage, this definition should be rejected.

The question then is to how one should form a definition of terrorism given the problems raised in prior definitions. The British definition of terrorism shows that any definition must be specific and detailed in order to not wrongly imprison innocents. The UN definition shows that one has difficulty specifying whether the perpetrator of the actions is kept secret or whether terrorist acts are repeated or singular. On these two points terrorism doesn't fit into ‘one category or another', so a definition should avoid specifying on these points. Also, a good definition should incorporate the strengths of the UN definition – specifying the aims of terrorism and the nature of terrorist acts and their execution.

So, a definition of terrorism should strongly follow the strengths and general idea found in the UN definition. Furthermore, it should be altered when talking about clandestine actors and whether violence is repeated or not. Thereby, a definition of terrorism similar to the UN definition looks like this:

Continued in the next post
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Logic_on_rails
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3/9/2012 5:44:14 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
A method of provoking anxiety and fear through either singular or repeated violent / threatening actions that are conducted in a clandestine manner and are undertaken by individual, group or state actors for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons in which the direct targets of violence are not the primary targets. The targets are most often chosen randomly from a target / focus group although exceptions do occur. These people then serve as a form of ‘communication' in which the terrorists threaten their targets in order to manipulate the primary targets, through terror, in order to achieve intimidation, coercion or propaganda depending on which is sought to achieve various aims. These aims include the changing of existing legislation, a changing of views among a populace or government on an issue (or issues), the development and spread of beliefs central to the terrorist organisation, the overthrowing of perceived oppression or subjugation and also the establishment of communication between terrorists and their primary targets.

So, having answered the question ‘what is terrorism?' through defining ‘terrorism' we turn to the question ‘what is a terrorist?' This is a far simple question as the word terrorist is derived from the word terrorism. A terrorist is one use uses terrorism in the pursuit of the aims discussed under the definition of terrorism. Of course, this leaves the definition of terrorist open to change if the word terrorism is changed, but this is a minor concern.

The main issue discussed so far has been the definition of terrorism. The reason this was deemed so important is the difficulties in applying current definitions in criminal law, due to issues like self-determination and wars of national liberation. The problem though is that this statement presupposes that we can determine what actions are those of national liberation and self determination and also assumes that we know that those actions are justified. This is not necessarily true. However, this problem can be resolved. The problem can be resolved as many of the crimes committed under terrorism such as murder, theft and so forth are already covered by existing laws, which means that terrorists can be prosecuted for terrorist acts under existing laws. The question of difficulty is whether current laws have the sufficient sentencing power / deterrent to take into account the terrorism element or whether additional charges should be pressed. A similar issue is whether there should additional punishment for a ‘hate crime'. Alas though, these are separate questions outside the reach of the questions asked – what is terrorism and what is a terrorist? These questions have been answered through creating a definition of terrorism which the word terrorist is derived from.

Bibliography (footnotes are in brackets as footnotes can't be copied into posts on DDO)

Angus Martyn, The Right of Self-Defence under International Law-the Response to the Terrorist Attacks of 11 September, Australian Law and Bills Digest Group, 2002. [1]

Alex Schmid, The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, Routledge, 2009

http://www.angelfire.com..., Angelfire, 2002, 17th February [7]

Myra Williamson, Terrorism, war and international law: the legality of the use of force against Afghanistan in 2001, Ashgate Publishing, 2009 [2]

Ben Saul, Defining ‘Terrorism' to Protect Human Rights, University of Sydney – Faculty of Law,
Australia, 2008 [3]

C.F. Diaz-Paniagua, Negotiating terrorism: The negotiation dynamics of four UN counter-terrorism treaties, 1997-2005, City University of New York, 2008 [4]

http://www.terrorism-research.com..., Terrorism Research, unknown publication date, 17th February2012

http://www.official-documents.gov.uk..., Lord Carlile of Berriew British Government, 2007, 19th February 2012 [5]

http://www.cfr.org... , Council on Foreign Relations, 2002, 17th February 2012

-----------------------

Obviously the document looks far worse and such in DDO and referencing doesn't look good in this editor. Nevertheless, I look forward to feedback and hope the length of these posts isn't too much of a deterrent.
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Logic_on_rails
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3/10/2012 3:57:22 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Reposting to get some feedback. Does nobody care about defining terrorism?

This is actually a reasonably detailed OP for once and it's not even replied to. That says something about the politics forum currently.
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Wnope
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3/10/2012 4:05:39 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/9/2012 5:37:42 PM, Logic_on_rails wrote:
This will be a lengthy post.

ations definition of 1992. [6]

"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 immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative of symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat – and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organisations), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought." [7] (Schmid, 1998) .

This definition essentially states that terrorism is a method promoting anxiety through repeated violence that is executed in secret. Terrorism's primary aim is to achieve various things and is achieved by means where the direct targets of violence are not the main threat. What is good about this definition is that it specifies the aim of terrorism and delves into the detail of how terrorist acts are executed and how they occur. This serves as a solid foundation for a definition of terrorism.

However, there are still problems when this definition is applied to the idea of terrorism as it is commonly thought of. For example, the majority of the public would consider 9/11 to be a prime example of terrorism. However, the UN definition states that terrorism is "an anxiety inspiring method of repeated [emphasis mine] violent action" and that terrorism is employed by ‘(semi) clandestine individual, group or state actors". These two sections of the definition raise problems. On the first statement the issue is that terrorist attacks are often isolated, and so aren't able to be considered repeated violent action. And, in the case of a link between attacks being established one still must necessarily exclude the first example of aggression (many people believe 9/11 to be the first example of terrorist action by Al Qaeda) as being ‘terrorism' because the first action can never be repeated due to being the first action! On the second statement one has issues with the usage of the word ‘clandestine'. This is problematic because clandestine often refers to keeping secret in addition to being done secretively yet many terrorist groups claim responsibilities for their attacks which is hardly what a clandestine actor is. Of course, these issues raise the question of whether the definition should be kept yet 9/11 not be considered a terrorist action, although given the basis of defining words partly on common usage, this definition should be rejected.

The question then is to how one should form a definition of terrorism given the problems raised in prior definitions. The British definition of terrorism shows that any definition must be specific and detailed in order to not wrongly imprison innocents. The UN definition shows that one has difficulty specifying whether the perpetrator of the actions is kept secret or whether terrorist acts are repeated or singular. On these two points terrorism doesn't fit into ‘one category or another', so a definition should avoid specifying on these points. Also, a good definition should incorporate the strengths of the UN definition – specifying the aims of terrorism and the nature of terrorist acts and their execution.

So, a definition of terrorism should strongly follow the strengths and general idea found in the UN definition. Furthermore, it should be altered when talking about clandestine actors and whether violence is repeated or not. Thereby, a definition of terrorism similar to the UN definition looks like this:

Continued in the next post

Your semantic objects to the UN version aren't very interesting.

The UN definition of terrorism includes Timothy McVeigh who only attacked once. Al Qaeda attacked America several times before 9/11 (see: U.S.S. Cole)

A majority of terrorist attacks are carried out in a "clandestine manner" and later recognition is claimed. That's how most terrorism functions if the group wants to get across a particular message. Again, part of the UN Definition.

There are many domestic terrorists in America who are prosecuted for that crime. For instance, Animal Liberation Front.
Logic_on_rails
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3/10/2012 4:13:51 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/10/2012 4:05:39 PM, Wnope wrote:

Your semantic objects to the UN version aren't very interesting.

The UN definition of terrorism includes Timothy McVeigh who only attacked once. Al Qaeda attacked America several times before 9/11 (see: U.S.S. Cole)

My question is how could the UN definition possibly incorporate a single attacked under 'repeated domestic violence' ? That was my strongest objection to the definition is that it logically allowed a first strike.

A majority of terrorist attacks are carried out in a "clandestine manner" and later recognition is claimed. That's how most terrorism functions if the group wants to get across a particular message. Again, part of the UN Definition.

I recognised that in my document. I thought that my clandestine argument was relatively weak and that the problem of the UN definition was more to do with the potential for misinterpretation than anything else.

I suppose the subject matter is relatively dry stuff focusing on semantics, yet the definition of terrorism is an issue in the modern world.
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Wnope
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3/10/2012 4:18:35 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/10/2012 4:13:51 PM, Logic_on_rails wrote:
At 3/10/2012 4:05:39 PM, Wnope wrote:

Your semantic objects to the UN version aren't very interesting.

The UN definition of terrorism includes Timothy McVeigh who only attacked once. Al Qaeda attacked America several times before 9/11 (see: U.S.S. Cole)

My question is how could the UN definition possibly incorporate a single attacked under 'repeated domestic violence' ? That was my strongest objection to the definition is that it logically allowed a first strike.

A majority of terrorist attacks are carried out in a "clandestine manner" and later recognition is claimed. That's how most terrorism functions if the group wants to get across a particular message. Again, part of the UN Definition.

I recognised that in my document. I thought that my clandestine argument was relatively weak and that the problem of the UN definition was more to do with the potential for misinterpretation than anything else.

I suppose the subject matter is relatively dry stuff focusing on semantics, yet the definition of terrorism is an issue in the modern world.

A "method" is generally not only applied once. For instance, we might define a sewing method as "slipping a needle in and out of cufflinks."

Now, you could say this definition is wrong because you can also sew only ONE cufflink, and it's still sewing.

In the same way, terrorism as a method is repeated, but groups/people can engage in only a single act of terrorism.
airmax1227
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3/10/2012 4:21:47 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Well, I find the word terrorism generally to be far too politically loaded. It can be used interchangeably and generally reduced to being meaningless. I find the term, 'anti-social behavior' to be more all encompassing when looking to discuss the roots and cause of 'terrorism' in general.

For example, In the US, acts that can be considered terrorism persist but are generally not referred to as such as they don't have the illicit political motivations and yet have generally the same consequence (even if ignored) and are a product of the same conditions.

In other words, that which motivates an individual to do 'drive by shootings', or other acts of violence (perpetuated by gangs in the US inner cities) in the US are the result of the same circumstances that cause terrorism in the more common examples, like the Middle East.

Both are similarly a result of an unsustainable society, and show many identical characteristics. A high birth rate coupled with a low literacy rate characterize both situations. The connection between the two may not be as obvious, as its difficult to often show which is the cause and effect. Does the high birth rate lead to the low literacy rate or vice versa? Either way, in these circumstances its generally true that these societies will be more religious, and this seems to be corollary with the literacy rate.

regardless of that, constant 'anti-social behavior' will be manifested as a matter of necessity for any society that exceeds sustainability. If it is not constant killing and conflict by the members of this society, then sustainable levels will be enforced through starvation, plague, or even natural disasters.

On the other hand, a different brand/type/manifestation of 'anti-social behavior' has been witnessed by the world that doesn't follow these general themes. In this case a group of individuals who are not impoverished will partake due to the constant presence of cultural brainwashing. While this is party due to the above, it seems to be a different category, as the example of 9/11 seems to show.
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Logic_on_rails
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3/10/2012 4:27:17 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Airmax, I acknowledged that terrorism is often a politically loaded term when I discussed negative connotations in my introduction.

I think that establishing a solid, internationally accepted definition of terrorism is superior to using something like 'anti-social behaviour' because anti-social behaviour encompasses is too large a category; terrorism would be a subcategory and there'd still be a need for differing levels of punishment. Essentially, I think classifying terrorism under anti social behaviour doesn't really solve the problem, it just moves the problem to a different area of the law.

Of course, getting an internationally accepted definition of terrorism is no easy task though.
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Logic_on_rails
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3/10/2012 4:32:26 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/10/2012 4:18:35 PM, Wnope wrote:

A "method" is generally not only applied once. For instance, we might define a sewing method as "slipping a needle in and out of cufflinks."

Now, you could say this definition is wrong because you can also sew only ONE cufflink, and it's still sewing.

In the same way, terrorism as a method is repeated, but groups/people can engage in only a single act of terrorism.

That's a very interesting point.

I'd say a method could be used once, although I can see problems both ways. I think perhaps, like my definition attempted to say, that specifying whether something is repeated or not shouldn't be done in a definition.

My definition's focus was on taking out anything from the UN definition that I thought was liable to be misinterpreted.
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airmax1227
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3/10/2012 4:35:59 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/10/2012 4:27:17 PM, Logic_on_rails wrote:
Airmax, I acknowledged that terrorism is often a politically loaded term when I discussed negative connotations in my introduction.

I think that establishing a solid, internationally accepted definition of terrorism is superior to using something like 'anti-social behaviour' because anti-social behaviour encompasses is too large a category; terrorism would be a subcategory and there'd still be a need for differing levels of punishment. Essentially, I think classifying terrorism under anti social behaviour doesn't really solve the problem, it just moves the problem to a different area of the law.

Of course, getting an internationally accepted definition of terrorism is no easy task though.

The term 'terrorism' will be used based on a specific nations (or individuals) particular interests and perspective. Thus I don't think the world will ever agree when and how it should be used or defined.
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Logic_on_rails
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3/10/2012 4:40:03 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/10/2012 4:35:59 PM, airmax1227 wrote:

The term 'terrorism' will be used based on a specific nations (or individuals) particular interests and perspective. Thus I don't think the world will ever agree when and how it should be used or defined.

Fair enough. There's definitely no chance of all individuals agreeing. There's a (remote) possibility that all countries could agree to a single definition, yet it's definitely not likely given present circumstances. I suppose we can agree to disagree on a definition being agreed to in say, 100 or 200 years.
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Zetsubou
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3/10/2012 4:44:26 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
By maintaining a vague definition it allows governments to equivocate when they need to. This freedom to pervert words and play with semantics serves a purpose when one tries to label there enemy. Terrorist seems to be a simple word, one who uses coercion, "terror tactics", in an attempt to achieve an objective.

It is my belief that is impossible for a codified and internationally accepted definition to be agreed upon. This is principally because of the benefits from the liberty to equivocate. Your [7] illustrates this perfectly, with so many irreconcilable definitions of the word.

Expecting a just rule of law which lacks an ulterior political motive is far too noble for present day world politics. The enemies of state are to punished and if that means playing semantics, fiat.

Also, the charge against terrorists in most countries is as harsh as it get. It doesn't serve as a deterrent, that's not the prime purpose. It's punishment, execution or life long abuse.
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airmax1227
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3/10/2012 4:51:34 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/10/2012 4:40:03 PM, Logic_on_rails wrote:
At 3/10/2012 4:35:59 PM, airmax1227 wrote:

The term 'terrorism' will be used based on a specific nations (or individuals) particular interests and perspective. Thus I don't think the world will ever agree when and how it should be used or defined.

Fair enough. There's definitely no chance of all individuals agreeing. There's a (remote) possibility that all countries could agree to a single definition, yet it's definitely not likely given present circumstances. I suppose we can agree to disagree on a definition being agreed to in say, 100 or 200 years.

I actually believe its less likely as time goes on. If (by my thesis) unsustainable population levels are the root cause of terrorism in general, then a larger world will just increase the occasions and the justifications we all have for it happening. In 100 or 200 years, unless something dramatically changes, 'terrorism' will just be a synonym for 'act of violence'.
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Logic_on_rails
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3/10/2012 6:53:28 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/10/2012 4:51:34 PM, airmax1227 wrote:

I actually believe its less likely as time goes on. If (by my thesis) unsustainable population levels are the root cause of terrorism in general, then a larger world will just increase the occasions and the justifications we all have for it happening. In 100 or 200 years, unless something dramatically changes, 'terrorism' will just be a synonym for 'act of violence'.

A fascinating idea. While I don't agree that it is the root cause of terrorism and I've read things to suggest that violence and such is decreasing, I'd be interested in reading the thesis if that's possible. If not (say, it hasn't been completed or shouldn't be leaked for some reason; not really sure how thesis writing works as only a high school student) then that's fine.

The thesis sounds very interesting.
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airmax1227
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3/10/2012 8:21:39 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/10/2012 6:53:28 PM, Logic_on_rails wrote:
At 3/10/2012 4:51:34 PM, airmax1227 wrote:

I actually believe its less likely as time goes on. If (by my thesis) unsustainable population levels are the root cause of terrorism in general, then a larger world will just increase the occasions and the justifications we all have for it happening. In 100 or 200 years, unless something dramatically changes, 'terrorism' will just be a synonym for 'act of violence'.

A fascinating idea. While I don't agree that it is the root cause of terrorism and I've read things to suggest that violence and such is decreasing, I'd be interested in reading the thesis if that's possible. If not (say, it hasn't been completed or shouldn't be leaked for some reason; not really sure how thesis writing works as only a high school student) then that's fine.

The thesis sounds very interesting.

I didn't mean it was a formal thesis. I just meant according to my theory, as I had been stating along those lines earlier. I may have been too pessimistic in my response though, who knows what kind of technology might be available in even 100 years that mitigates the problem with regional over-population.

In fact, just by getting proper desalinization technology (which is available) to every place that needs it would solve many of the problems associated with the issue. The same goes for food, of which there is enough for the entire Word.

There are plenty of reasons for 'terrorism', I happen to believe that when it happens systematically and regularly as part of the social condition, it can invariably be blamed on the reasons I've stated.

I'd be more than happy to further explain my thinking either here, or formally, in a debate if you'd like...
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BlackVoid
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3/11/2012 1:31:40 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
I think you could improve the document by adding a couple of examples. Basically, your reason for having a more sound definition is so that charges are clear and understood in a criminal court. To support that, you should add a couple of examples where an ambiguous definition of terrorism led to a questionable trial or sentence, if there are any.
1Historygenius
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3/11/2012 9:51:46 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/9/2012 5:37:42 PM, Logic_on_rails wrote:
This will be a lengthy post.

I wrote a short document recently on what terrorism is and what a terrorist is. To many here it will seem like a foolish question, yet it's a critical issue to define terrorism when it comes to applying it to criminal law. I'm looking for comments on the issue in general and also some feedback on the definition I propose and it's problems.

The Document:


What is terrorism and what is a terrorist?

‘What is terrorism?' and ‘What is a terrorist?' are both poignant questions that are at the heart of decisions on the national and international level. To call somebody a terrorist or hand down sentences for acts of terrorism one must first define terrorism and somehow be able to apply it. Indeed, it is this application that is so controversial, often in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self-determination [1] . Because of the difficulty in creating a definition that encompasses these issues definitions of terrorism often are not easily applied in criminal law. This is seen in the fact there is no academic or international legal consensus on the definition of terrorism [2] . This is because the term terrorism has so many connotations, in particular negative connotations which influence how the word terrorism is interpreted. However, there is a need to define terrorism – the need to condemn violations of human rights, to protect the state and deliberative politics, to differentiate public and private violence, and to ensure international peace and security [3] . Furthermore, criminal law is noted to have three main purposes [4] - to declare conduct forbidden, to prevent it, and to express society's condemnation of wrongful acts.

The first step to developing a working definition of terrorism is to examine current definitions and see their failings (remembering the lack of applicability of current definitions) and then improve upon them. For example, the British government's definition of terrorism from 1989 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."[5] The issue with this definition is that it is too encompassing. Espionage, war and many other state sponsored activities constitute as ‘terrorism' under this definition. In fact, as police work is meant to put the public, and in particular criminals, in fear of breaking the law, we could constitute police work as terrorism were the definition assumed to be accurate. Clearly, the general nature of this definition is inadequate to be applied in a court of law and fails to do things like differentiate public and private violence and protect the state and deliberative politics, both of which were established as part of the need to define terrorism earlier. Furthermore, usage of a word in common parlance is also important to determining how a word should be used. As common parlance would not have us refer to police work such as catching murderers as terrorism. Because of these issues, we can consider the British definition of terrorism inadequate and that it should not be accepted. Improvements on the British definition centre on the phrase ‘any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public in fear', where specifics need to be used such as ‘a use of violence primarily intended to stoke fear or terror into a section of the public for criminal purposes' . Criminal purposes can be described as those that are against the law and unnecessarily put the public in danger or harm in some manner.

A superior definition and the one most commonly accepted definition among academics is the United Nations definition of 1992. [6]

"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 immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative of symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat – and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organisations), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought." [7] (Schmid, 1998) .

This definition essentially states that terrorism is a method promoting anxiety through repeated violence that is executed in secret. Terrorism's primary aim is to achieve various things and is achieved by means where the direct targets of violence are not the main threat. What is good about this definition is that it specifies the aim of terrorism and delves into the detail of how terrorist acts are executed and how they occur. This serves as a solid foundation for a definition of terrorism.

However, there are still problems when this definition is applied to the idea of terrorism as it is commonly thought of. For example, the majority of the public would consider 9/11 to be a prime example of terrorism. However, the UN definition states that terrorism is "an anxiety inspiring method of repeated [emphasis mine] violent action" and that terrorism is employed by ‘(semi) clandestine individual, group or state actors". These two sections of the definition raise problems. On the first statement the issue is that terrorist attacks are often isolated, and so aren't able to be considered repeated violent action. And, in the case of a link between attacks being established one still must necessarily exclude the first example of aggression (many people believe 9/11 to be the first example of terrorist action by Al Qaeda) as being ‘terrorism' because the first action can never be repeated due to being the first action! On the second statement one has issues with the usage of the word ‘clandestine'. This is problematic because clandestine often refers to keeping secret in addition to being done secretively yet many terrorist groups claim responsibilities for their attacks which is hardly what a clandestine actor is. Of course, these issues raise the question of whether the definition should be kept yet 9/11 not be considered a terrorist action, although given the basis of defining words partly on common usage, this definition should be rejected.

The question then is to how one should form a definition of terrorism given the problems raised in prior definitions. The British definition of terrorism shows that any definition must be specific and detailed in order to not wrongly imprison innocents. The UN definition shows that one has difficulty specifying whether the perpetrator of the actions is kept secret or whether terrorist acts are repeated or singular. On these two points terrorism doesn't fit into ‘one category or another', so a definition should avoid specifying on these points. Also, a good definition should incorporate the strengths of the UN definition – specifying the aims of terrorism and the nature of terrorist acts and their execution.

So, a definition of terrorism should strongly follow the strengths and general idea found in the UN definition. Furthermore, it should be altered when talking about clandestine actors and whether violence is repeated or not. Thereby, a definition of terrorism similar to the UN definition looks like this:

Continued in the next post

I got a simpler definition. Terrorism = bad
"The chief business of the American people is business." - Calvin Coolidge
logicrules
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3/11/2012 9:59:22 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
Terror is extreme fear
Terrorism is governing by terror

First use according to OED English Parliament in reference to American Colonists