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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What is terrorism? Discussion

  • Are hate crimes acts of terrorism? Why or why not? Provide examples to support your response.
Martin contends that it is the factor of political violence” that differentiates between hate crime, and hate crime as terrorism (2012, p.30). As an example, we can look to acts of racial violence in the United States. Acts of lynching or “polar bear hunting” can be seen as limited to racial hatred motives, but the cross burnings and and organized assaults committed by the various Klan groups, while racially motivated, also had political objectives and can be defined as terrorism. A report to the Illinois legislature specifies the political nature of the Klan's objective; “Another well-known purpose of the Klan is to foster racial purity and white supremacy” (1976, p.35). In a similar vein, we can liken the rhetoric of the New Black Panther Party to the terrorist rhetoric of the Klan.
  • How important is extremism in defining terrorism? Why? What are the characteristics of extremists that make it easy for them to resemble terrorists?
Although some terror researchers maintain that “political extremists pose a risk to the American community” (Chermak, Freilich, & Simone, 2010, p. 1020), it should be noted that while all terrorists are extremists, not all extremists are terrorists. Extremists share the base philosophy with terrorists that their ideology is superior to the existing order; “Behind each incident of terrorist violence is some deeply held belief system that has motivated the perpetrators. Such systems are, at their core, extremist systems characterized by intolerance” (Martin, 2012, p. 31). However, Martin goes on to further distinguish the difference; “Only persons who violently act out their extremist beliefs are labeled terrorists” (2012, p. 32).
  • How is the definition of terrorism in the United States different from terrorism in other parts of the world? Why is this so?
The short answer is yes; however, terrorism as a concept has no universally accepted definition. “In contrast to other countries, the United States has no legal definition of terrorism. There is no organized body of legislation one might call the law of terrorism, and there is no inherent crime of terrorism (terrorists are charged with other offenses)“ (O'Connor, 2006, para. 14). In addition, within the US government, the State Department, FBI, and Department of Defense all have different formal definitions of terrorism. This dilemma is not limited to the US, either; “A vexed question raised by proponents of both the 'wars' is how international lawyers and lawpersons may make sense of the relationship between 'terror' and human rights. ... This important question has not been fully addressed by either philosophers or international law persons” (Baxi, 2005, p.16). Chermak et al state that “Schmid and Jongman found that academics writing on this topic used over 100 different definitions
of terrorism in their work “ (2010, p. 1021). Nacos further discusses the changing nature of the definition of terrorism; historically moving from being defined by State actions to being defined by anti-State actions (2011, p.19). Finally, the definition of terror is often motivated by the politics of the actors defining terrorism; some people will only want to discuss terrorism as committed by the right-wing, some will only want to discuss terrorism as committed by Islamists, some will want to focus only on Leftist terror. One theme I will develop through this course is the steadfast refusal of the Obama administration to acknowledge Islamist terror as such.

  • Can terrorism ever be justified? Why or why not? What do you perceive as the problems with arriving at a universal definition of terrorism?
Terrorism can not be justified under my definition of terrorism, which is based on just war theory. In my own definition, terrorism is defined as including the deliberate targeting of noncombatants, and thus violates the principles of jus in bello. Under the Geneva Convention, those that do not abide by the laws and customs of war are considered illegal combatants, and have no protections as Prisoners of War (POWs), despite what the newspapers might have tried to say during the War on Terror.


Baxi, U. (2005, Spring/Summer). The "War on Terror" and the "War of Terror": Nomadic multitudes, aggressive incumbents, and the "new" international law: Prefactory remarks on two "wars”. Osgoode Hall Law Journal.Volume 43, Number 1/2. Retrieved June 16, 2006 from http://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/ohlj/vol43/iss1/2

Chermak, S. M., Freilich, J. D., & Simone, J. (2010). Surveying American State Police Agencies About Lone Wolves, Far-Right Criminality, and Far-Right and Islamic Jihadist Criminal Collaboration. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33(11), 1019–1041. doi:10.1080/1057610X.2010.514698

Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission. (1976). Ku Klux Klan: A Report to the Illinois General Assembly. Retrieved October 10, 2014 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/46433NCJRS.pdf

Martin, G. (2012). Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues, 4th Edition. [VitalSource Bookshelf version]. Retrieved January 12, 2015 from http://digitalbookshelf.southuniversity.edu/books/9781452255699/id/ch2

Nacos, B. L. (2011). Terrorism and Counterterrorism, 4th Edition. [VitalSource Bookshelf version]. Retrieved January 12, 2015 from http://digitalbookshelf.southuniversity.edu/books/9781256378334/id/ch02

O'Connor, D. (2006, May 6). The criminology of terrorism: History, law, definitions, typologies. Cults and Terror. Retrieved June 16, 2006 from http://www.cultsandterror.org/sub-file/TOConnor%20Lecture.htm


You make an excellent point in that creating a formal definition of terrorism  would "officially" make some "allies" terrorists themselves.

These kind of relationships become tangled rapidly.  The US has been accused of funding ISIS...before having to bomb ISIS; "You cannot fight ISIS in Iraq, yet support it in Syria" (MEMRI, 2014).  Our supply of aid to Afghani rebels fighting the Soviet invasion was redirected by the ISI (Pakistan's intelligence service and heavily influenced by Islamists) to the Taliban.

The Middle East Media Research Institute. (2014, June 10). Iraqi politician Ayad Jamal Al-Din: Al-Maliki should be tried for high treason following ISIS capture of Mosul. Retrieved January 15, 2015 from http://www.memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/4301.htm

The Wilcox book is great;  I am using it in my thesis.  Another book (or series, actually) that you may be interested in is:

The Tree of Liberty: A Documentary History of Rebellion and Political Crime in America edited by Kittrie and Wedlock, and published by the John Hopkins University Press (1986)

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