Providing Analytical Understanding: No Consensus

Terrorist insurgencies, in all their configurations and local conflicts, constitute some of the primary warfare threats facing the international community. This was especially the case following September 2001, when al Qaeda demonstrated that it had world class ambitions to inflict catastrophic damages on its adversaries. In other conflicts, such as the Palestinian-Israeli arena, terrorist rebellions are primarily localized. Because of the worldwide reach of al Qaida and its affiliates, including the emergence of al Qaeda-inspired “homegrown” cells and groups in Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere, many nations have been upgrading their homeland security defenses and calling on their academic communities to provide analytical understanding of the nature and magnitude of the threat and how to counteract and resolve it. As a result, terrorism courses, research institutes and certificate programs have been proliferating at universities and other academic institutions around the world. Despite the great attention being devoted to terrorism studies; however, there is no consensus about the most fundamental starting point in terrorism studies: how to define terrorism.  Photo: Taliban in Afghanistan.  http://www.causes-of-terrorism.net/usviolence.htm

Video: 2014 
The US justifies pursuing potential targets around the world on the pretext of 'terrorism' but has the word been abused?

Definition: US Department of State

Hezbollah training campDefining terrorism is the most ambiguous component in terrorism studies, with no universally accepted definition that differentiates attacks against civilian noncombatants or armed military or takes into account the latest trends in terrorist objectives and warfare. In 1983, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) formulated one of the most widely used definitions of terrorism. According to this definition, terrorism is "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."[i] As part of this definition, the term "noncombatant" includes civilians and military personnel who are unarmed or not on duty.[ii] The term 'international terrorism' refers to terrorism "involving citizens or the territory of more than one country,"[iii] while the term 'terrorist group' refers to "any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism."[iv]  Photo: Hezbollah training camp. http://flssglobal.net/christian-faust/terrorism-definition-history-on-terrorism/

This is the author's revised version of an article originally published in "Perspectives on Terrorism,"  
Vol. 2, No. 4 (2008), http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/33/html.

[i]  United States Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, April 2004), p. xii.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

You must be logged in to access the rest of this content.

Login form

TRAC is a unique, comprehensive resource for the study of political violence of all kinds.
Already a member? Login here.

Table of Contents

About the Contributor

Joshua Sinai

Dr. Joshua Sinai is a Director of Analytics & Business Intelligence at the Resilient Corporation (www.resilient.com) and at its wholly-owned subsidiary, CRA (www.cra-usa.net), where he...