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“”Virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue…
|—Maximilien Robespierre, On the Principles of Political Morality (1794)|
Terrorism, in popular meaning, is the tactic of killing civilians or non-combatants, from random assassinations by non-state actors to fire-bombing campaigns by national militaries, 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 14 years.
It is both a legal term and a political swear-word that is either accurately or inaccurately used against a foe.
 Terrorism as term is recently used in West
“”This highlights the ugliest propaganda tactic on which the War on Terror centrally depends, one in which the U.S. media is fully complicit: American and Western victims of violence by Muslims are endlessly mourned, while Muslim victims of American and Western violence are completely disappeared.
Remi Brulin, a Research Fellow and professor at New York University, and whose doctoral dissertation was titled The US Discourse on Terrorism Since 1945, and how The New York Times has Covered the Issue of Terrorism, documents the evolving Western use of the term over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st. No international definitions exists, and multiple definitions are used even within nation-states.
For the West, frequent use of the term appears when Israel began referring to its Arab enemies in the 70s as "terrorists," and by the 80s had persuaded the U.S. to follow suit -- Americans "[began] to talk about terrorism in ways similar to how Israel had been talking about it for 10 or 15 years." But in the U.S. under Reagan the word was largely restricted to groups in Latin America and Central America.
In due course, the U.S. would also apply "terrorism" to Arab actors and to Iran. But it ran into the problem that if nations were going to be listed as "state sponsors" of terrorism, then U.S. ally Saudi Arabia would have to go on the list, and that would not do. The result has been that multiple definitions of terrorism are used in U.S. statutes and policies, as well as in everyday discourse, and the Western nations are opposed to any attempt to settle on an international definition:
|Since ’87 [every other year] there has been a proposal at the UN to convene an international conference to define terrorism and differentiate terrorism from struggles of national liberation....the majority of member states votes in favor of it, and every other year, the Western world, every single Western state votes against it....the rest of the world they want to have a conference, and that tells you a lot about how power is wielded in the world, and of course for those countries that are not powerful, the UN is the one place where they have a voice, where they feel like they have some power, so of course they do want the definition. We don’t, because it serves our interests to not have [it].|
 Fascinating case of Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK)
In recent years, many powerful Americans took lavish compensation for speaking fees and services from the Iranian group MEK while it sat with Al Qaeda on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations.  MEK assassinated multiple Iranian nuclear scientists, are "financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service," and had assisted in overthrowing the Shah, killing Americans, and holding Americans hostages in the Iranian embassy. Notwithstanding a federal statute severely penalizing providing "material support" to any groups on that list, the following people all took money to speak to and/or advocate for MEK: Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell(D), Louis Freeh, Tom Ridge, former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey and John Bolton. None has been charged with a crime.
The draconian "material support" law has been used to savagely punish other people -- mostly Muslims -- including a Pakistani sentenced to almost six years in prison for the "crime" of including a Hezbollah news channel in the cable package he offered to television viewers in Brooklyn. American civil libertarians are up in arms over the statute's prohibition of political speech and expression. But, not one of the well-connected people materially suppoting MEK had to be concerned. Rather, their influence succeeded in getting MEK removed from the State Department's terrorism list. That is, their (bountiful) material support worked:
...here we have a glittering, bipartisan cast of former US officials and other prominent Americans who are swimming in cash as they advocate on behalf of a designated terrorist organization. After receiving their cash, Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani met with MEK leaders, and Dean actually declared that the group's leader should be recognized by the west as President of Iran. That is exactly the type of coordinated messaging with a terrorist group with the supreme court found, in its 2010 Humanitarian Law v. Holder ruling, could, consistent with the First Amendment, lead to prosecution for "material support of terrorism" ...
In sum, there are numerous American Muslims sitting in prison for years for far less substantial interactions with terror groups than this bipartisan group of former officials gave to MEK. This is what New York Times Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal meant when he wrote back in March that the 9/11 attacks have "led to what's essentially a separate justice system for Muslims".
 Terrorist vs. Freedom Fighter
In theory, the terms "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" are orthogonal: the latter describes an objective (achieving freedom), the former is an embrace of specific tactics. In practice, whether a group is labeled "terrorists" or "freedom fighters" usually depends on whether they are on the side of the labeler. These terms are now so loaded that the Western press employs a range of other designations, but these also vary in connotation. Where "militants" is negative, "rebels" is positive. The same reporter will even switch between the labels depending on the official view of the actors. As discussed, no one definition of terrorism exists. However, the set of criteria generally used in international relations is:
- Non-state or covert actions
- Targets civilians
- Political agenda
 Notable terrorist groups
- Al-Qaeda - Salafist (Sunni)
- Ahrar al-Sham - Salafi (Sunni)
- Jaysh al-Islam - Salafi (Sunni)
- Al-Mourabitoun - Salafist (Sunni)
- Al Shabaab- Salafist (Sunni)
- Anti-Balaka - Dominionist
- Ansar Dine - Salafist (Sunni)
- Aum Shinrikyo - cult
- Army of God - Dominionist
- Babbar Khalsa - Sikh
- Boko Haram - Salafist (Sunni)
- Branch Davidians - Dominionist
- DAESH - Salafist (Sunni)
- Lord's Resistance Army, Dominionist
- Hutaree - Dominionist
- Ku Klux Klan - Dominionist
- Those who are a part of the Saffron terror - Hindu
- Séléka - Islamist
- Taliban - Salafist (Sunni)
- 969 Movement - Buddhist
- The Baader-Meinhof Gang (self styled as "Rote Armee Fraktion") - leftist, German
- Badr Organization - Iran proxy, Iraq
- Brigate Rosse - leftist, Italian
- The Contra in Nicaragua during the 1980s - right-wing
- El Salvador death squads - right-wing
- The Freikorps - right-wing, Germany
- Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) - leftist, populist, drug dealing
- Nihon Sekigun (Japanese Red Army) - leftist, Japan
- Mujahedin-e Khalq - leftist, Iran
- The fascist MVSN (Blackshirts) - right-wing, Italian
- The Nazi SA (Brownshirts) - right-wing, German
- National Socialist Underground - right-wing, German
- Red Shirts - right-wing, America
- Shining Path - leftist, Peruvian
- Sovereign citizens - right-wing, America
- Symbionese Liberation Army - leftist, America
- United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) - right-wing, populist, drug dealing
- Ustaše - right-wing, Croatia
- Weather Underground - leftist, American
- White League - right-wing, America
- African National Congress during apartheid period (i.e. 1983 Church Street bombing)
- 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 no longer regarded as terrorists by the US and Israel
- Hamas - nationalist, wrapped in religious package
- Irgun and the Stern Gang - Zionist terrorist organizations responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946, ethnically cleansing Arab villages, assassinating a UN mediator and innovating the letter bomb
- The Irish Republican Army - Roman Catholic as a reaction to British protestant oppression based largely on religion
- Tamil Tigers - India and Sri Lanka
- Timothy McVeigh and the militia movement more generally
- Ulster loyalist groups such as Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
- The Viet Cong ("Victor Charlie")
- Most "national liberation organizations" you disagree with
 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.
 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:
- 43% of membership loss happened when members converted to mainstream political/religious movements.
- 40% of the decline happened because of law enforcement activities and apprehension.
- 10% of membership left because the group achieved their stated or perceived goals.
- 7% by being neutralized through military action.
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. 
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. And that could pay for a great many lightning conductors.
- Defining “Terrorism”: The 1972 General Assembly debates on “international terrorism” and their coverage by the New York Times (pdf), by Remi Brulin
- Evolution and Debates about the Concept of Terrorism: Klinghoffer vs Tunis(pdf), by Remi Brulin
 See also
- ↑ https://theintercept.com/2015/04/24/central-war-terror-propaganda-tool-western-victims-acknowledged/
- ↑ http://www.salon.com/2010/03/14/brulin/
- ↑ Thorny problems like this are why the U.S. stands alone in the word, even from Israel, in holding "that state terrorism doesn’t exist but more importantly that state sponsored terrorism doesn’t exist." Brulin
- ↑ MEK's prime goal is the removal of Iran's government.
- ↑ http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0808/Iranian-group-s-big-money-push-to-get-off-US-terrorist-list
- ↑ http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/02/08/10354553-israel-teams-with-terror-group-to-kill-irans-nuclear-scientists-us-officials-tell-nbc-news
- ↑ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/16/conservatives-democrats-free-speech-muslims
- ↑ https://www.aclu.org/news/supreme-court-rules-material-support-law-can-stand
- ↑ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/23/iran-usa
- ↑ We Have Found the Enemy and He Is Us.
- ↑ No matter what China says, the President of Taiwan is not a terrorist for saying that Taiwan is an independent country.
- ↑ If a military does it, it's a war crime, not terrorism. However, this is usually considered the most debatable of the criteria.
- ↑ If it targets a military, it's guerrilla warfare, not terrorism. Yes, that includes the attack on the USS Cole.
- ↑ If it's announced, it's not terrorism.
- ↑ 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.
- ↑ American Jihadist Terrorism: Congressioanal Research Service, January 23, 2013, p.5; 138-139 pdf.
- ↑ Now someone needs to make a graph of the amount of money our government has spent to (ostensibly) stop each of these things.
- ↑ RAND report
- ↑ 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