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Terrified people do not want to be free, they want to be protected. If you can keep the people in a state of terror, you won't have to take away their freedom — they'll give it to you willingly.
—Alden Loveshad

Terrorism, in popular meaning, is the tactic of killing civilians or non-combatants, from fire-bombing air-campaigns air forces in national miltiaries to one of several tactics used in guerrilla warfare by a non-state actor, in order to force changes in policies of a government in the pursuit of ideological or political ends.

A secondary aim may be to trick the government to overreact by introducing indefinite detention, torture, resorting to war crimes and other decisions that would play into the terrorist state/groups aims. EG; the British governments of the 1970s and '80s fell into this trap, particularly by using 'internment' in Northern Ireland in response to attacks on UK civilians by the Irish Republican Army, and the Bush Administration in the USA responding to the attack on 11 September 2001 to invade Afghanistan despite it being one of the aims of the attack in the first place, thereby bogging it down into a mountainous country by guerrilla warfare for more than 10 years.

It is both a legal term and a political swear-word that is either inaccurately or accurately used against a foe.


[edit] Terrorist vs. freedom fighter

In theory, the terms "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" are orthogonal: the latter describes an objective (achieving freedom), the former - tactics (and any freedom fighter resorting to terrorism loses the moral high ground). In practice, whether a group is labeled "terrorists" or "freedom fighters" usually depends on whether they are on the side of the label-er. These terms are now so loaded that the contemporary English language press employs a range of terms to describe such actors, but these also vary in connotation. Where "militants" is negative, "rebels" is positive. The same reporter will even switch the labels used depending on the official view of the actors.[1] A strict definition is almost impossible, as everyone uses the term slightly differently. However, a common set of criteria used in international relations is:

  1. Violence[2]
  2. Non-state or covert actions[3]
  3. Targets civilians[4]
  4. Clandestine[5]
  5. Political agenda[6]

[edit] Notable terrorist groups

[edit] Religious

[edit] Political

  • The Baader-Meinhof Gang (self styled as "Rote Armee Fraktion") - leftist, German
  • Weather Underground - leftist, American
  • The Nazi SA (Brownshirts) - right-wing
  • The fascist MVSN (Blackshirts) - right-wing
  • Colombian guerrillas - leftist, populist, drug dealing (their ideology seems to be waning with the passage of time)
  • El Salvador death squads - right-wing
  • The Contra in Nicaragua during the 1980s - right-wing
  • Shining Path - leftist, Peruvian
  • Brigate Rosse - leftist, Italian

[edit] Nationalist

  • Hamas - more religious than nationalist
  • The Irish Republican Army - with religious (Catholic) overtones
  • Timothy McVeigh and the militia movement more generally
  • The Viet Cong ("Victor Charlie")
  • ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) - Basque country
  • Fatah / PLO / PFLP - secular alternatives to Hamas all but the last one have rejected violence in recent years and are not regarded as terrorist by the US and Israel any more
  • Tamil Tigers - India and Sri Lanka
  • Irgun - a Zionist terrorist organization responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946
  • Most "national liberation organizations" you disagree with

[edit] Domestic terrorism in the USA

Liberals and humanists in the US have begun to adopt the phrase "domestic terrorism" when addressing attacks motivated by hatred of one group for a specific trait. Laws that limit acts which are generally categorized as "hate crimes" by so-called "hate groups" are more easily understood as "terrorism" than "hate".

Legal experts legitimately ask, "how can you legislate hate?" Perhaps we cannot. But advocates of the term "domestic terrorism" would say that the goal of the terrorists (be they KKK members, people who shoot ob-gyns who perform abortions, or someone killing a gay man just for being gay) is not acting out hatred, but causing the entire community who share that trait to be afraid to go on with their daily lives - the attempt to control a class of people through fear of violence.

There is an interesting discussion of domestic terrorism and its roots here.

The global jihad has also brought the phenomena of homegrown jihad to the United States. Between September 11, 2001 and December 2012 the Congressional Research Service reports 63 homegrown violent jihadist terrorist plots and attacks. They are occurring with increasing frequency, with 42 in the last two and half years of that period. In at least 36 cases, the jihadists received or intended to receive training abroad.[7]

[edit] How terrorist groups end

In 2008 the RAND Corporation released a study that examined terrorist activities, looking specifically at how they are ultimately destroyed or self-destruct. Their report suggested that any US policy truly grounded in the idea of ending terrorism and not just "playing politics" should focus on measures to either remove adherents' reasons for being in terrorist groups or provide better options for adherents to address their grievances. Specifically, the study found that membership in terrorist cells and organizations declined for the following reasons:

  1. 43% of membership loss happened when members converted to mainstream political/religious movements.
  2. 40% of the decline happened because of law enforcement activities and apprehension.
  3. 10% of membership left because the group achieved their stated or perceived goals.
  4. 7% by being neutralized through military action.
The threat of terrorism.[8]

Under Bush, virtually all US resources were directed at the single least effective method of ending terrorism: Military action.

The study also noted that, with regard to religion, strong religious convictions make any terrorist group harder to break up. The religious convictions are actually more likely to be realized (and this, RAND states, is good for peaceful, non-military intervention), and perhaps most obvious, rich countries are less likely to have religiously-motivated terrorism.

RAND's conclusion is that police work and intelligence gathering, in conjunction with a disciplined and straightforward commitment to realizing and resolving a terrorist group's grievances, are not only far more likely to be successful, but are actually significantly less expensive than military action. [9]

The War on Terror unleashed after 9/11 has cost the US government almost 400 billion dollars. Within the United States, the risk of dying from a lightning strike exceeds the risk of dying as a result of airplane terrorism about 50-fold.[10] And that could pay for a great many lightning conductors.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. We Have Found the Enemy and He Is Us.
  2. No matter what China says, the President of Taiwan is not a terrorist for saying that Taiwan is an independent country.
  3. If a military does it, it's a war crime, not terrorism. However, this is usually considered the most debatable of the criteria.
  4. If it targets a military, it's guerrilla warfare, not terrorism. Yes, that includes the attack on the USS Cole.
  5. If it's announced, it's not terrorism. Probably a useless criterion, but it's there.
  6. If someone shoots up a McDonald's to send a message to the US, it's terrorism. If they do so because their dog told them to, they're a mass murderer. And insane, too, but that goes without saying.
  7. American Jihadist Terrorism: Congressioanal Research Service, January 23, 2013, p.5; 138-139 pdf.
  8. Now someone needs to make a graph of the amount of money our government has spent to (ostensibly) stop each of these things.
  9. RAND report
  10. http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2010/01/odds_of_dying_in_terrorist_attack_on_airline_1_in_25_million_struck_by_lightning_1_in_500000.php
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