Madjd-Sadjadi, Zagros ; Venicll, C. Daniel
Author Affiliation, Ana.
Department of Economics
On the problematic definition of terrorism
Journal of Diplomatic Language
Date of Publication
This article explores the question of how 'terrorism' is defined in international diplomatic and military discourse, and how that definition influences responses to the issue. It traces how the term has evolved from describing a political tactic employed by states to reinforce existing regimes to a method of attacking legitimate governments and societies in an effort to bring about regime change. It explores the problem with trying to define terrorism in a systematic fashion, and potential conflicts involving the political goals of those doing the defining. Examining seven different definitions proffered by the US government for the term, it shows that, while there is considerable overlap, each also defines terrorism in such a way as to include certain acts and exclude others that are covered by the other definitions. None of the existing definitions meet the criterion of defining terrorism in a systematic fashion that is internally consistent. Some definitions attempt to criminalize certain legitimate actions of political protest or refuse to acknowledge terrorism's political protest roots. Moreover each definition fails to address the need for legitimate freedom fighting in societies. The authors propose just such a definition, by beginning with a discussion of what terrorism is, and is not, and proceeding from that discussion to devise an internally consistent and broad-based definition that acknowledges the legitimacy of civil rebellion when conducted in a proper fashion. By using economic theory to analyze the situation, it is demonstrated that without a proper definition the incentives of terrorists will be to strike at the civilian heartland, while the goal should be to get them to concentrate on solely military targets.....