What Is Terrorism?

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What Is Terrorism?

Postby Lomax on June 27th, 2017, 10:35 am 

I'm reading an old essay by Christopher Hitchens, from his Prepared for the Worst, called Wanton Acts of Usage, which he opened by questioning the definition of "terrorism". Could Terrell E. Arnold, he asked,

Christopher Hitchens wrote:offer a definition of "terrorism" that was not:

Tautological or vacuous ("the use of violence for political ends", as Constantine Menges, late of the National Security Council, once put it) in a way that would cover any state, party, movement, or system not explicitly committed to pacifism;

A cliché ("an attack on innocent men, women and children") of the kind that all warring states and parties have always used to attack all other warring states and parties; or

A synonym for "swarthy opponent of United States foreign policy."

I thought I already had the answer to this: terrorism is the use of violence, deliberately and primarily targeted at civilians, for the purpose of scaring people in order to further one's own political aims. But on reflection this won't do: it is simply a description of the justice system. Perhaps we could insert the word "innocent" against "civilians", but this won't cut the mustard either. The justice system defines legal innocence for itself, which gives it the advantage of being able to define "terrorism" to its own ends. In other words, "terrorism" becomes nothing but a propaganda term.

We might try something like Google's comparatively good definition:

Google wrote:the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

This too is inadequate. It has the twin faults of being tautologous and false. Tautologous because it again allows the state to define the word for itself, which degrades it to a propaganda term. False because slavery is a violent breach of international law, yet nobody calls it terrorism. If the UN finally gets its act together and deems the death penalty illegal, I have doubts that anybody will label it terrorism.

If it seems excessively pedantic to demand that the definition not be tautologous (after all, some people try to argue that definitions are tautologies by their very nature), I point out that it is a morally loaded word and one which state actors and others use to codify and justify their foreign policies. In other words it is used to make the listener hate whatever the speaker wants them to hate. We need a better criterion than "because somebody says so", or else we might find ourselves left with Hitchens's third definition. My point here is not to exculpate or ameliorate al Qaeda or the IRA, but to make sure we don't ameliorate the hypocrisy of many politicians and the vacuity of many journalists. So: has anybody got a working definition of the word "terrorism"? Cheers.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Serpent on June 27th, 2017, 12:01 pm 

Why are the Paris Underground. Yugoslav Partisans, Polish Agat and Dutch Resistance still considered heroes?
They used violence of any kind they could manage, against the German occupation in WWII.

Two characteristics stand out: They operated on their own native soil; their efforts were directed against the army of a more powerful nation and largely unsuccessful. The many forms of mutiny, sabotage and resistance of subject nations in the famed British Empire remain almost completely unrecorded and uncelebrated, because they were brutally quashed. The IRA may have taken a few extra steps outside its own borders, but were still fighting for their national integrity - with slow, very limited success. The Irgun attacked native civilians, and sometimes occupation police, in a disputed territory, yet achieved its aims.

All that's happened is globalization. As imperial powers reach clandestine tentacles into every target nation's internal affairs - supplying information, arms, contractors and money to their favoured regimes - and loose alliances of world powers conduct joint military operations against designated enemies, nothing stays inside borders anymore. Repressive, brutal, sometimes genocidal governments are propped up from outside . Large populations are oppressed, hurt, killed, displaced, starved and impoverished - with no recourse and no hope of rescue. Add the previously displaced and evicted colonial subject peoples that now reside in the nations whose imperial adventures enslaved their not-so-distant ancestors.
How can any conflict be contained behind any lines?
Add the influence of global communication and global finance and global corporate activity....

I doubt you can make any old definition fit the new reality.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby BadgerJelly on June 27th, 2017, 12:38 pm 

Me being allowed to post things online could be considered a form of "terrorism"? ;)

Seriously, I guess it is political/personal harassment oft followed by threats of, and examples of, violence (it doesn't need to be "physical".)

That is a general view of terrorism in its broadest meaning.

On the scale I am assuming you mean in regard to current events ... it is pretty much the same for me accept that the targets are on large groups of people and/or political ideologies. From my perspective it is acts that actively wish to inhibit my freedom by spreading fear of reprisals of me living a free life.

Even more simply put, it is large scale bullying. It is force used against innocent by-standers to get the attention of the folks they cannot hit directly. If for example your sibling is harassing me and I can never get to them, you show no care about the situation, nor maybe fully aware of it, I will (and must) attack you to bring the issue to your attention so I can get to the heart of the problem that refuses to desist.

This makes the whole situation more complicated for the source of the harassment my not be intentionally harassing me, but the problem is I have to force hostile action in some cases to draw attention to the extent of the problem if I am constantly told to stop complaining.

Whatever we define "terrorism" as we can be sure it exists in the mind of the terrorist as a justified consequence of forced actions imposed upon them.

"Terror" stems from lesser "terrors". Eventually the line of communication is broken and we have fully fledged "terrorism" in our midst with everyone pointing the figure and someone else.

I know you may not be fond of Chomsky, but he does say some pretty interesting things about how this term is used in todays climate. I recently watched a youtube video made by an Austriam woman who lived through Nazi occupation. Her view of Obamacare was to equate it with the National Socialism of the Nazi's. In this respect I guess "terrorism" represents nothing more than the breakdown of rational thought in favour of rigid ideologies.

And then we all die anyway :)
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Braininvat on June 27th, 2017, 1:04 pm 

Guess I always saw the term, in its more legit use, as differentiating between purposes of specific acts of violence. The specific purpose of terrorism, then, would not be taking the next hill, or scoring a strategic victory against a massed army, but simply to induce terror in the general population and thereby undermine civil order and confidence in leaders. The perpetrator of the terrorism knows that it is terrorism, in that sense, but construes the action as patriotic to what he/she sees as the true legitimate sovereign state that should prevail.

Both Badger and Serpent fleshed the concept out pretty well.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Lomax on June 27th, 2017, 4:41 pm 

Thanks for three thoughtful posts, although I'm not satisfied yet.

Serpent - do you mean to argue that the word "terrorism" has had two different meanings in two different ages, or that it is one thing but the nature of it has changed? If the former, which of these meanings ought we to go with, and are the two activities morally equivalent? If the latter, what are the essential characteristics that bring both under the same umbrella, and what distinguishes it from other activities with some or all of those characteristics? In short: are we any closer to a definition (let alone two)?

The examples you give also seem to be of those who (as you say) operated against military forces, not against civilians. Al Qaeda operates to influence military forces, but it does so by operating, often, specifically against civilians. I think this is one criterion of the terrorist. So that might answer the question with which you opened (I cannot tell whether this was your intention).

Badgerjelly - does "political/personal harassment oft followed by threats of, and examples of, violence" allow us to avoid labelling the justice system a terrorist organisation? Does it exclude any or all wars? In other words, as Hitchens asked in the article I quoted: what distinguishes terrorism from other forms of political violence?

You might be on to something with your (I think only partially and situationally correct) explanation of what motivates terrorism. Could we say, for a start, that it is violence targeted against civilians in order to influence militaries? (Something at which BiV also gets.) At least that rules out the prison system and non-total war. Does it rule out the operations of Enola Gay? I suspect not.

As for Chomsky, I hope that my criticisms of him show that I am, if nothing else, his careful and constant reader.

Braininvat - this is a good shot, and does rule out both the prison system and the immolation of Nagasaki. But at the same time perhaps it is too specific: if bin Laden was not interested in George W. Bush's popularity ratings, would that mean that the destruction of the World Trade Center was not an act of terrorism? I have heard it suggested that some terrorist acts were timed so as to get the same right-leaning leaders elected again. This would seem to be the opposite of what you suggested. Does it lose its claim to the label?
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Serpent on June 27th, 2017, 8:10 pm 

Lomax » June 27th, 2017, 3:41 pm wrote:Serpent - do you mean to argue that the word "terrorism" has had two different meanings in two different ages, or that it is one thing but the nature of it has changed?

No, I suspect it's had seven different meanings in different ages. As the geopolitical stage shifts, so do the battlefields, arenas, antagonists, configurations, methods and weapons.

Terror is applied in many ways. Regimes in power can terrorize an entire population through the duly constituted agencies of the state. Invading armies can do it by night bombing and missile barrages or burning down villages. Military occupations can do it by randomly picking civilians off the street and whisking them off to secret compounds for torture, or leaving mines in playgrounds. Colonizers enslave, exterminate, hold public mass executions, gang-rapes.... Long-armed supranational organizations can do it through the mercenaries or local opposition forces and training grounds they equip and finance. Theocracies do it with witch-hunts and pogroms.
The relatively powerless nationalist or partisan or rebel forces do it by whatever means are presented by circumstance. Right now, instant global communication means global reach for recruitment, funding, organization, propaganda and intimidation. So that's what they use.
I don't think there's ever been an enforced code of honour regarding civilians or collateral damage. It sounds nice when the winning nation pronounces how they spared the civilians, but you know they didn't, really - they just got to write the news articles, textbooks and movie scripts.

"Terrorism" is what the targets of the threat call whatever threatens them.

If the former, which of these meanings ought we to go with,

Whichever side you're on; whichever you feel threatened by.

and are the two activities morally equivalent?

I don't see morality playing an appreciable part. Desperate people, determined people, fanatics, people with nothing to lose, do whatever they think or feel they need to. I suspect most of the ground-level participants are psychologically so damaged as to be beyond both reason and ethics.

The puppet-masters... who knows?
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Lomax on June 27th, 2017, 8:30 pm 

Serpent » June 28th, 2017, 1:10 am wrote:"Terrorism" is what the targets of the threat call whatever threatens them.

If the former, which of these meanings ought we to go with,

Whichever side you're on; whichever you feel threatened by.

You're in company. Ray S. Cline and Yonah Alexander in their Terrorism as State-Sponsored Covert Warfare write:

Ray S. Cline and Yonah Alexander wrote:There is no universal agreement about who is a terrorist because the political and strategic goals affect different states differently. There is no value-free definition.

It seems defeatist but it to leave it at that might be the best we can do. In other words, Hitchens's third definition (as quoted in my OP) might be the nearest the mark of the three.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby BadgerJelly on June 28th, 2017, 12:45 am 

Bombing civilians in WWII was an act of terror. I guess we are talking about hitting and killing people who are not physically part of the military.

I think you'd get further in distinguishing between freedom fighters and terrorists. What were the differences between Hamas and PLO? Were the IRA pursuing the only route they could?

I think it makes sense to define "terrorism" in terms of dialogue too. In war the aim is usually a matter of resources and land claims. In acts of terror the group does not have the means or power to invade a country so they employ different tactics to get political attention.

Guerilla Warfare is terrorism? If not why not?

The most common theme seems to be acting and killing civilians. This does happen in all out war too, but the main aim is to destroy the other army and government. For terrorists this does not have to be a goal that is in site, they merely do what they can to be heard and get attention.

What is strange is that we can say that terrorism has different levels. Look at Libya. Gaddafi was a good leader. He gave prosperity to the country and brought its people into the modern world giving them houses to live in, education and money to spend. Western powers caused as much disruption to his government as possible and finally had him assassinated. That was most certainly an act of political terrorism which led to the mess today.

I think it makes more sense to look at different levels of terrorism. At the smallest level we have the day-to-day bully. The threat of violence constantly hanging over your head is essentially what induces terror. It is when this grows to such a level as to make the victims stop using reason that terror achieves its goal. From there the terrorist can begin to negotiate terms, and/or step up operations.

What is most certainly obvious is the term is now used to by goverments cause said terror. Kind of ironic! Another term is used often too. People who wish to identify themselves as British are now generally referred to as Nazi's. Today the political climate seems to be one against nationalism (at least in the UK).

People openly call these people "monsters", "inhuman" and such things. Some sensible enough pity them knowing those that carry out the most mortal acts must be mentally unhinged.

More succinctly we call simply call "terrorism" an illegal act of war (the legality of war as a thing still puzzles me though!) If one person tries to fight a war they are crazy and dangerous, if several dozen try to fight a war they are terrorists, and if hundreds fight a war they an army and/or rebel group.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Lomax on June 28th, 2017, 11:48 am 

I can't quite bring myself to give the thumbs-up to a post that describes Gaddafi as a good leader, a moderniser and an enricher. He took office by force, and under his reign the nation's oil production plummeted (that peak year is his first year in power; all downhill from there), while he allowed half of his country to slip below the poverty line, divided Libyan society along religious and racial lines, violently repressed dissent by massacring prisoners and composing death squads, and crested this illustrious career by threatening genocide against the people of Libya, which led to the Arab League's disownership of him. I would urge against being fooled by the fact that he looked pathetic in the final footage; this is not representative of his reign.

That aside, your post was thoughtful and perceptive. A lot of what you say anticipates what Hitchens goes on to say in his article. For example you say:

BadgerJelly » June 28th, 2017, 5:45 am wrote:I think it makes more sense to look at different levels of terrorism.

While Hitchens recounts:

Christopher Hitchens wrote:In March of 1976, I sat in Baghdad opposite Abu Nidal while he railed against imperialism, Zionism and so forth. I sat up only when he issued a threat against somebody I knew. Said Hammami, who headed the PLO office at the time, had been writing articles for The Times calling for a territorial compromise over Palestine. Abu Nidal told me that if I saw Hammami I should warn him that he had attracted displeasure. I thus had the unusual experience, a short while later, of delivering (or at any rate passing on) a death threat. Hammami had heard this kind of talk before, of course. I don't think our conversation seemed as memorable to him at the time as it still is to me; but he was murdered in his Mayfair office not long afterward.

Most people recognized that we had lost a very brave and thoughtful man, but by the standards that prevail today, nothing much had happened. One "terrorist" had perhaps killed or commission the killing of another "terrorist". The PLO is regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States government, and that has the effect of making distinction and discrimination impossible. Is it possible that this is the intention of the term?

Stupidity here makes an easy bedfellow, as always, with racialism and with the offensive habit of referring to "the Arabs". All Arab states and all Arab parties and communities recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians. Define the PLO as "terrorist" and what have you done? You've flattened the picture of the Middle East, for one thing. All Arabs are, ex hypothesi terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.


Your willingness to call the nuclear holocaust of two Japanese cities "terrorism" has the advantage of consistency, and deprives the state of any propagandistic monopoly on the word. And I think your distinction between groups with other means of recourse and those without is a good one. It may leave us with some disagreement about which groups are terrorist, but it also leaves us with a means to debate or investigate who's right, and that's what rescues it from tautology.

So I'll take a stab at the criteria for terrorism. Would we say that in order for somebody to be a terrorist they must:

1. Be deliberately and primarily targeting civilians, either with violence or with threats thereof
2. Be doing so in order to influence the military decisions of another party or state
3. Be eschewing other means of effectively asserting themselves

Would you change (2) to:
2a. Be doing so for attention

Or perhaps some conjunction or inclusive disjunction of the two?

Does this list of definitional criteria look complete, and is it consistent with a sufficient portion of the word's usage?
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Lomax on June 28th, 2017, 12:14 pm 

Finally, given that the word seems to have no agreed definition, often to the oblivion of those who use it, that it operates propagandistically, and that it blurs moral distinctions, should we, as Hitchens concludes (in 1986), simply throw it out? Is it better to refrain from using this word at all?

Christopher Hitchens wrote:Not long ago, Ted Koppel devoted a rare half-hour to [Syria]. What was the question asked and debated? How did the experts and administration spokesmen approach the land of Aleppo and Damascus? Why, by asking "Is Syria terrorist?" This is the sort of question which insults the audience as much as the presumed victim or target. Yet it's the level of question to which this ridiculous word has reduced us.

Christopher Hitchens wrote:A word which originated with the most benighted opponents of the French Revolution; a word featured constantly in the antipartisan communiqués of the Third Reich; a word which is a commonplace in the handouts of the Red Army in Afghanistan and the South African army in Namibia; a word which was in everyday use during the decline of the British, French, Portuguese, and Belgian empires. Should we not be wary of a term with which rulers fool themselves and by which history is abolished and language debased? Don't we fool and console ourselves enough as it is?
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Serpent on June 28th, 2017, 12:46 pm 

Lomax » June 28th, 2017, 10:48 am wrote:Your willingness to call the nuclear holocaust of two Japanese cities "terrorism" has the advantage of consistency, and deprives the state of any propagandistic monopoly on the word.

And is also true to the intent of terror as we understand it: There was no military advantage to be gained, nor better terms to negotiate, nor any other advantage against Japan, which was in no condition to retaliate. This was a threat to the Russians and their communist fellow-travelers, not to mess with American interests. The Japanese civilian population was just an inexpensive sacrifice (though there may also have been an element of revenge involved.)

And I think your distinction between groups with other means of recourse and those without is a good one.

I believe it's an essential distinction.

So I'll take a stab at the criteria for terrorism. Would we say that in order for somebody to be a terrorist they must:

1. Be deliberately and primarily targeting civilians, either with violence or with threats thereof
2. Be doing so in order to influence the military decisions of another party or state
3. Be eschewing other means of effectively asserting themselves

I would add economic and political decisions to 2. In fact, I think it's most often the political decision that it's intended to influence. The great advantages of using terror tactics over military ones are to sway the target people to put pressure on their government, and (especially in the case of the US) to goad the government into overreaction and repressive measures against its own people, thus stifling its own effectiveness. It doesn't hurt if the target nation expends a huge portion of its national budget on superfluous security procedures and agencies.

Would you change (2) to:
2a. Be doing so for attention

No. While publicity is an important component of a terrorist action, I don't think "attention" is sufficient - but intimidation through propaganda may be added.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby BadgerJelly on June 28th, 2017, 1:09 pm 

Lomax -

I admit I was being a bit provoking there!

Seriously though, I do think he did some good along the way. It looks pretty clear now that it would have been better if he'd not been toppled by foreign countries. He actually managed to increase funds from exporting oil before sanctions and instigating other states to rise prices and get more bang for their buck.

Plenty of travesties and mistakes, I am not completely blind. Just sometimes inclined not to jump to too many conclusions given the political bodies involved and not being privy to all the facts.

Bizarrely he seems to have tried to push for more women's rights at one point and then later tried to shove them away with Islamic ideals? At least he was against the extremists.

Finally, given that the word seems to have no agreed definition, often to the oblivion of those who use it, that it operates propagandistically, and that it blurs moral distinctions, should we, as Hitchens concludes (in 1986), simply throw it out? Is it better to refrain from using this word at all?


Ideally that would be nice. Realistically it's not going to happen. The next best thing we can do is make the ambiguity of this term a prominent theme of any discussions we see it raised in. I am glad you've brought it to the front of my mind.

Equally worrying is the opposite overuse of "Islamophobia". Not liking some of the ideals and ideological interpretations of a book cannot be considered "phobic". The problem is this term is being thrown around in much the same way as "terrorist" is to the point where if you say something negative about Islam or Islamic states certain people start screaming nonsense (refer to the other Hitchens on this point.)

Not all Muslims are extremists and a great swathe of interpretations from the Quran are also against my, and I assume, others general moral make-up.

The sorry situation appears to be simple lack of consideration and thought on these matters. Maybe a reasonable attitude just comes with age, expereince and/or self-education?

Anyway, as always we'll all be dead one day so don't sweat too much over it ;)
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Lomax on June 28th, 2017, 2:37 pm 

BadgerJelly » June 28th, 2017, 6:09 pm wrote:Lomax -

I admit I was being a bit provoking there!

Seriously though, I do think he did some good along the way. It looks pretty clear now that it would have been better if he'd not been toppled by foreign countries. He actually managed to increase funds from exporting oil before sanctions and instigating other states to rise prices and get more bang for their buck.

The GDP per capita of Libya fell by half between 1985. By 2005 it had fallen by four fifths of its 1980 figure. To my knowledge there were no international sanctions on Libya until 2011, shortly after Gaddafi threatened genocide (or democide) against Libyan protestors. Making enemies of the international community is not generally considered a mark of good leadership. I know what everybody would say about Trump or May if they squandered 80% of their nations' wealth and threatened their people with mass slaughter, for the sake of their own holding on to power. I'll put it bluntly: we shouldn't want less for Africans than we want for ourselves.

BadgerJelly » June 28th, 2017, 6:09 pm wrote:Ideally that would be nice. Realistically it's not going to happen. The next best thing we can do is make the ambiguity of this term a prominent theme of any discussions we see it raised in. I am glad you've brought it to the front of my mind.

I think we can do our bit on both fronts. Refuse to use it, and press others for coherent definitions when they do.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Lomax on June 28th, 2017, 2:42 pm 

Serpent » June 28th, 2017, 5:46 pm wrote:
So I'll take a stab at the criteria for terrorism. Would we say that in order for somebody to be a terrorist they must:

1. Be deliberately and primarily targeting civilians, either with violence or with threats thereof
2. Be doing so in order to influence the military decisions of another party or state
3. Be eschewing other means of effectively asserting themselves

I would add economic and political decisions to 2. In fact, I think it's most often the political decision that it's intended to influence.

Very well, but then how do we separate it from the justice system? At least some people are deterred, by fear of imprisonment, from theft or fraud. Do I take "party or" out of (2)? And where does that leave the antagonism between Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO?
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Sivad on June 28th, 2017, 3:39 pm 

Lomax » June 28th, 2017, 9:14 am wrote:Finally, given that the word seems to have no agreed definition, often to the oblivion of those who use it, that it operates propagandistically, and that it blurs moral distinctions, should we, as Hitchens concludes (in 1986), simply throw it out? Is it better to refrain from using this word at all?


I think even in its most pejorative sense the term does apply to certain acts, but in reality it can hardly be used by any faction in that way without a great deal of hypocrisy. So when used as propaganda it can be both an accurate characterization and dishonest moral posturing at the same time.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Serpent on June 28th, 2017, 4:19 pm 

Lomax » June 28th, 2017, 1:42 pm wrote:[S -- I would add economic and political decisions to 2. In fact, I think it's most often the political decision that it's intended to influence. ]
Very well, but then how do we separate it from the justice system?

I think, by stipulating that the disagreement is between identifiable political entities - usually a small one trying to convince a big one to end an oppressive policy. That is, a subject nation vs. an empire; a state or region vs. a federation, or at the very least, a seceding faction or ethnic group that's been subsumed in a larger political identity (e.g. Kurds in Iraq; Bosnians in Yugoslavia; Yoruba in Nigeria; Dixie in US; Mohawks in Quebec). Could include blocs of displaced, refugee or immigrant people in a host country that's turned inhospitable (Israelites in Egypt; Hindus in England; Tunisians in France). In any case, the policy they want to influence is the specific one regarding their own nationals, homeland or co-religionists.

I don't see how it can include crime for gain, which is a well-defined category.
I don't think it can include open protest, or confrontation with police, even if that should turn to riot or outright revolt. Those categories are civilians against the armed agents of the state - more often vice versa - not attacks against other civilians or infrastructure to cause panic.

Maybe add that the terrorist action is deliberate and clandestine?

"party or" out of (2)?

I wasn't sure what the right word would be for an organized underclass.
And where does that leave the antagonism between Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO?
[/quote]
I have no idea. That's too complicated for me even to try to follow.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby BadgerJelly on June 29th, 2017, 4:54 am 

An act of terror has to simply be an act carried out with the intent of causing terror.

Terrorists must then be the ones carrying out the act of intended terror.

I think it is very easy to define.

The heart of the issue is the justification for said acts. When many people deem the act unjustified then they call it "terrorism".

It boils down to justification of action surely? We all know when it comes to justifying actions people will disagree. In situations where we all pretty much tend to degree we call this "terrorism".

Then we reach another problem along the way. Let us talk about terror on a personal level. Let us say a man kills two family members in a horrific way and the remaining family members kill him in an even more brutal fashion (use your imagines how far you wish to take the difference in the manner of the deaths)

We can say the first act was an act of terror for the family. The second act, although it may not be justified (this will depend on your imagination to what I said above!), we can in part understand the family being emotionally consumed and acting out something appalling, albeit on the guilty party.

There seems to be a lot to be said about reaction and disproportionately powerful acts. These need not be violent acts either. I man stalking a woman may cause severe distress and the mere fear of physical harm may be enough. If the woman then turned around an beat the crap out of the man we could hardly say it was a disproportionate reaction to the harm inflicted on her even though in the actual moment of the violent act it appears she may be acting like a mad person. If she killed him we would no doubt have to question her reaction as being overly violent, although we may forgive her a little given our understanding of the "terror" she has been subjected to.

Even on an individual basis the situation can be very complicated and it may be nearly impossible to determine what act is violent and what act is an act of terror. Violence may not induce terror, which is something we clearly define as a prolonged and enforced sense of fear.

On the international and political scale we enter a realm of even more complexity. I will refer back to Zizek here and his take on "violence". If you indirectly knowingly cause people to live in prolonged fear you have created terror. Now we have to ask about end goals too.

If we wish to get some money and we see we can make money by taking money from people that will inflict upon them prolonged distress and fear, then we have committed an act of terror. Maybe many of these people will die too. Because we are not directly involved (but completely aware of the consequences of our actions) does this make us a terrorist or not? I personally don't see how it wouldn't make us a terrorist, but I may be persuaded to say "supporter of terror" which is in no way a better position!

Does an act of "terror" need to be an act carried out for the sole purpose of causing "terror"? I don't think so.

What appears to be VERY clear (to me at least) is that the act is not one of "terror" if, and only if, the end goal is ethical and morally justified.

As an example causing terror and violence to 10 people for the sake of saving 1 million could be justified morally by some. I thnk it would be justified by all if the only other option was to let 5 billion people die.

Looking further we see the bigger problem because "people" is not a personal thing. Regardless we tend to value those we know over those we don't.

If we look at Hamas they want to destroy all Jewish people (immoral and therefore I class the general movement as one hoping to induce more and more terror and kill a group of people). For the PLO they want to remove the Jewish people from Israel, they are against Zionism not necessarily Jewish people (this is a more sympathetic position and I would not call it "terrorism")

note: I am well aware people would disagree with my naïve outline of both of these organisations. The point was to show how the AIM is important in regards to the classification of "terrorism" to me. Emotion makes the whole thing more cloudly, because in the hypothetical about the family their AIM is to kill their families murderer. Here I can understand their act because they are both angry and also would be considered to be acting in self preservation. If their lives were not under threat I could still forgive "revenge" as an act of revenge not one made to induce terror.

When ethical values clash we get not merely terrorism, but all out war.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Serpent on June 29th, 2017, 10:16 am 

Maybe you can separate terror - the state of living in fear - from terrorism: the strategy formally adopted by an organized group to achieve specified goals.

That way, you've automatically detached the abusive parent or obsessive stalker. Those are intimate crimes: isolated actions with personal subjects, objectives and outcomes.

Then, you can separate out organized and/or deliberate criminal activity, such as kidnapping, extortion, protection racket and "demanding money with menaces": the victims in these cases are chosen deliberately for their ability to pay and the aim is financial gain.

I've already stipulated the aim as political, the action as premeditated and clandestine; I can add that the victims are unselected - random representatives of 'the enemy'.

That still leaves in some grey area the rivalries of organized crime syndicates and street gangs, and turf wars - assuming it's not all about the money and the subjects of persecution are chosen according to a protocol and not randomly. I suppose internecine conflict among underground, resistance, insurgent and guerilla outfits would fit in there somehow.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby mitchellmckain on July 6th, 2017, 1:23 am 

Lomax » June 27th, 2017, 9:35 am wrote:I thought I already had the answer to this: terrorism is the use of violence, deliberately and primarily targeted at civilians, for the purpose of scaring people in order to further one's own political aims. But on reflection this won't do: it is simply a description of the justice system. Perhaps we could insert the word "innocent" against "civilians", but this won't cut the mustard either. The justice system defines legal innocence for itself, which gives it the advantage of being able to define "terrorism" to its own ends. In other words, "terrorism" becomes nothing but a propaganda term.

Nonsense! The Justice system is no such thing. The purpose of the justice system is to protect citizens in general FROM the violation of agreed rights including from acts of violence against them. It is the one purpose for which the use of violence is totally justified and it is why we give government enforcement employees licence to use force. This is not to say that the participation of particular people are not for political ends but when we recognize that what they do works only for political ends and not for the protection of people then citizens are able to take various action against them.

Lomax » June 27th, 2017, 9:35 am wrote:We might try something like Google's comparatively good definition:

Google wrote:the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

This too is inadequate. It has the twin faults of being tautologous and false. Tautologous because it again allows the state to define the word for itself, which degrades it to a propaganda term. False because slavery is a violent breach of international law, yet nobody calls it terrorism. If the UN finally gets its act together and deems the death penalty illegal, I have doubts that anybody will label it terrorism.

Regardless of whether the definition is adequate (it is not) the example of slavery is irrelevant. Slavery is NOT the use of violence against civilians for political aims. My objection to this definition is that "violence and intimidation is far too general to be definitive of terrorism. I would drop the intimidation and add the adjective deadly in front of violence for both this definition and the previous one. The purpose may be intimidation but intimidation by itself is not an act of terrorism.

Lomax » June 27th, 2017, 9:35 am wrote:If it seems excessively pedantic to demand that the definition not be tautologous (after all, some people try to argue that definitions are tautologies by their very nature), I point out that it is a morally loaded word and one which state actors and others use to codify and justify their foreign policies. In other words it is used to make the listener hate whatever the speaker wants them to hate. We need a better criterion than "because somebody says so", or else we might find ourselves left with Hitchens's third definition. My point here is not to exculpate or ameliorate al Qaeda or the IRA, but to make sure we don't ameliorate the hypocrisy of many politicians and the vacuity of many journalists. So: has anybody got a working definition of the word "terrorism"? Cheers.

Your argument for tautology is weak, but I would certainly agree that we do not want a definition that politicians can plaster on whatever they want.

My definition?

Terrorism is the use of deadly violence against civilians for the express purpose of evoking fear for a political purpose, i.e. to put pressure on governing bodies to capitulate to demands. This is entirely adequate for most people who are not motivated by a political agenda to try and twist something else to fit it, for people recognize quite clearly what this is referring to.

So for example, can the acts of Israel against Palestinians in the Middle East conflict be called terrorism? Quite possibly. You just have to make the case for this being carried out specifically for such a purpose. I very much doubt that it is applicable to the majority of such actions but it is possible that they have slipped over the line on some occasions. The same, of course, goes for actions by the US or other governments. Certainly the fact that they are carried out by the military organization of governments does not exclude the possibility that they are acts of terrorism. But neither are they automatically acts of terrorism just because civilians have died. The particular case has to be examined in minute detail (the devil is in the details, as usual).
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Lomax on July 6th, 2017, 1:50 pm 

mitchellmckain » July 6th, 2017, 6:23 am wrote:Nonsense! The Justice system is no such thing. The purpose of the justice system is to protect citizens in general FROM the violation of agreed rights including from acts of violence against them. It is the one purpose for which the use of violence is totally justified and it is why we give government enforcement employees licence to use force.

None of which demonstrates why it is not covered by the definition offered. It's not a question of whether you agree with the justice system or not: it's a question of inadequacy of language. The IRA can claim that they are looking for a reunified - and formerly more peaceful - Ireland, in reaction to the oppressions of the British Empire and the fanaticism of Ian Paisley. None of this necessarily means they are not terrorists; many people consider them so. So the challenge is to find a definition of terrorism which will not imply that the justice system is terrorism (since nobody, or almost nobody, calls it so). My own former definition - "violence, deliberately and primarily targeted at civilians, for the purpose of scaring people in order to further one's own political aims" - and your similar one are inadequate for this reason.

As for slavery, Serpent suggested that "political" should be expanded to "political and economic", and I had been taking the two under the same umbrella. Either way what you say is ahistorical - one of the reasons Jefferson did not push for emancipation was that he was concerned about a black revolt, as we later saw in Haiti. We know Lincoln outlawed slavery to help preserve the union. There are lots of ways in which political, as well as merely economic, aims are taken into consideration by the enforcers and opponents of slavery.

And no, the tautology point is not weak. The UN adumbrates four conditions by which a state may be deemed "failed" and therefore to have sacrificed its sovereignty. These are aggression (especially invasion or annexation) against neighbouring states; violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; violation of the genocide convention; and support and harbour of international terrorists. If this is going to be an issue for international law then we at least need to understand the words we are using. If "terrorist" means whatever the speaker wants it to mean then the law is an ass. That's why the word must have a testable and non-redundant definition. A devilishly detailed definition is fine.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby mitchellmckain on July 6th, 2017, 8:00 pm 

Lomax » July 6th, 2017, 12:50 pm wrote:
mitchellmckain » July 6th, 2017, 6:23 am wrote:Nonsense! The Justice system is no such thing. The purpose of the justice system is to protect citizens in general FROM the violation of agreed rights including from acts of violence against them. It is the one purpose for which the use of violence is totally justified and it is why we give government enforcement employees licence to use force.

None of which demonstrates why it is not covered by the definition offered.

Incorrect. Because terrorism was NOT defined as the use of force but the use of violence for a specific purpose. It only falls under the definition when you equivocate force with violence and completely ignore (for the purpose of empty rhetoric alone) the part about the purpose for which it is used.

To illustrate with another example. Bank robbers use force to get the money in a bank. Sure they create fear in order to manipulate people but that was not how terrorism was defined either. Bank robbers are not terrorists. They may be equally contemptible but they are still not terrorists because they don't fit the definition. You keep leaving out key features of the definition to suit the purpose of empty rhetoric.

Furthermore, the use of deterrence is not the same thing as the use of fear itself. The fact is that the justice system does not create (or seek to create) fear for the most part but quite the opposite. It creates (seeks to create) a feeling of safety and to do that it uses deterrence. BIG DIFFERENCE!

Lomax » July 6th, 2017, 12:50 pm wrote:The IRA can claim that they are looking for a reunified - and formerly more peaceful - Ireland, in reaction to the oppressions of the British Empire and the fanaticism of Ian Paisley. None of this necessarily means they are not terrorists; many people consider them so.

That is because it is irrelevant and whether many people consider them to be terrorists is also irrelevant. Terrorists commit acts of terrorism. If IRA participates and supports the use of deadly force against civilians for creating fear to put pressure on a government to capitulate to demands then yes they are terrorists. If they do not actually use deadly force but only threaten this then that isn't terrorism either but extortion.

I have agreed that the two definitions you looked at could be improved but I think you exaggerate their flaws. And you do not make your case with examples which do not fit these definitions any more than they fit ours.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby BadgerJelly on July 29th, 2017, 8:18 am 

I actually think some truth is coming out now if you are willing to look closely enough from all sides.

It seems that the US, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the UK, Turkey, and no doubt a good number more, are "supporting terrorists" in some capacity or another.

That is what terrorism means. It is most certainly propaganda and one people are, I hope, taking less and less seriously. Soon they'll have to replace it with a more impactful term to keep public opinion onside.

We already know that dehumanizing people with terms like "monster" or "animal" are not going to hold up to close scrutiny. I guess we should prepare ourselves for terms like "anarchist" being reintroduced into the media to pre-empt the obvious need for anarchism. The English speaking world has already been made to view the term with negativity so it won't be too hard to add a little hateful flavor to it and creat a new term, maybe even combining it with some base form of "terror"/"hate".

We know today that the term "national socialist" has been sullied historically by the events of WWII.

I don't fear the Russians taking over Europe. I fear the US taking over Europe. I had a feeling at the time of the financial crisis that it was purposely instigated by the US and the UK. I think we may well see something quite horrid come out of this mess.

Or maybe I am worrying about nothing :)
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Braininvat on August 25th, 2017, 1:17 pm 

https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-adviser-roger-stone-warns-091246640.html

Would this qualify as a terrorist threat? Consider Stone's statement, stripped down to its essential elements:

1. If you help to impeach Trump, then your life will be in danger.

2. If Trump is impeached and convicted, then his supporters, heavily armed, will rise up and there will be blood running down the streets. They will instigate a civil war.

Given that impeachment is a lawful process, based on the Constitution, and that our duly elected representatives have a right to remove a President from office for high crimes and misdemeanors, Stone's statement would appear to be making a threat against the Republic and the integrity of democracy. Should Stone be considered a terrorist? Should he be tried for sedition?

To what degree should we consider possible motivation? Is it reasonable to infer that Stone hopes to instill fear in people of violent consequences of impeachment, so as to alter their actions in a way favorable to Trump? Is his claim to simply be stating "facts" a reasonable one? Can one state facts about a hypothetical future set of events - that's the sticking point, for me. (Nixon had lots of gun-owning supporters - they did not rise up during the Watergate hearings)
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Serpent on August 25th, 2017, 3:45 pm 

Braininvat » August 25th, 2017, 12:17 pm wrote:https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-adviser-roger-stone-warns-091246640.html
Would this qualify as a terrorist threat? Consider Stone's statement, stripped down to its essential elements:

1. If you help to impeach Trump, then your life will be in danger.

2. If Trump is impeached and convicted, then his supporters, heavily armed, will rise up and there will be blood running down the streets. They will instigate a civil war.

No, I wouldn't.
For two main reasons: He never said - as far as I noticed - that he himself, of any specific political entity for which he is the spokesman, would instigate an armed uprising. He's speaking of unidentified third persons, and unspecified groups. We can guess the references, but he's not making a formal declaration on their behalf.
And, it's a prediction. He's not alone in having considered the possibility - this one I picked at random, so can't vouch for the source, though it seems a thoughtful and balanced article http://thinktankmonitor.org/week-of-august-18th-2017/
Overtly , all Stone is saying is that impeachment procedure could be the trigger.

(When I predicted, before the election, that it would inevitable bring about violent confrontations, no matter how the vote came down, I wasn't intending to terrorize anyone, merely stating an observation. Trump had so many violent followers and he was working them into such a frenzy, that I said: if he loses, they'll riot in resentment, and if he wins they'll feel empowered to act out their hostilities. At that time, I didn't know he would continue campaigning and holding rallies after he won. And I really don't like to say of whom this frighteningly reminds me.)

What Stone is covertly saying may be quite a lot more sinister, but it's well short of sedition --- unless and until he issues a call to arms; addresses a specific recognized group or presents a list of demands.

To what degree should we consider possible motivation? Is it reasonable to infer that Stone hopes to instill fear in people of violent consequences of impeachment, so as to alter their actions in a way favorable to Trump?

Logically, yes. Legally, no.

Is his claim to simply be stating "facts" a reasonable one?

Everybody thinks expressing their opinion is "simply stating facts."

Can one state facts about a hypothetical future set of events - that's the sticking point, for me. (Nixon had lots of gun-owning supporters - they did not rise up during the Watergate hearings)

Stone was one of the architects of the Nixon strategy that made heavy use of racial divides, inequalities, suspicion and resentments. In some minds (fwiw - I haven't followed this up in any detail), that was the proximate source of the extreme polarization we see now. Through the '50's and '60's and '70's, there was lots of turmoil and confrontation, out in the open, where people like M.L. King and Norman Lear could direct public discourse toward resolution, understanding and reconciliation. (Even I was optimistic, back then.)
America wasn't ready to resume the Civil War back then; it took a Reagan and two Bushes, lots of off-shoring, privatizing, gerrymandering and sleight-of-hand legislation, a few economic crises and a whole lot of militarizing, to shove the poor people farther and farther into armed camps that can't communicate with one another, let alone unite against their common enemy.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Braininvat on August 25th, 2017, 4:12 pm 

What he's covertly saying may be quite a lot more sinister, but well short of sedition --- unless and until he issues a call to arms; addresses a specific recognized group or issues demands.
To what degree should we consider possible motivation? Is it reasonable to infer that Stone hopes to instill fear in people of violent consequences of impeachment, so as to alter their actions in a way favorable to Trump?

Logically, yes. Legally, no.


Solid answer (as were your others in that post, serpent). It does seem to fall within the protected parameters of free speech, distasteful though it may be. (It did remind me a bit of a mob boss in a restaurant, shakiing down the owner: "Nice place ya got here! Be a shame if something happened to it. A damned shame!")

I guess any terror it creates in a susceptible listener is just part of the background noise of scary things that manipulative schite-heads are generating these days. The concern, as always, is to what degree some might see Stone's remarks as something to rally around. ("Hey, an armed insurrection if Trump is impeached! What a great idea! Why didn't I think of that?")

So I've taken the thread a bit off-track. And will split this off, if people feel it's necessary.
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Re: What Is Terrorism?

Postby Serpent on August 25th, 2017, 4:31 pm 

I don't think it's off-track. The role of governments-in-power and their ability to cause terror was discussed up-thread.
The treason/sedition issue is a new addition, and you'll probably have to include this guy in the trial after the impeachment hearings - and that will be another story... that I hope to live long enough to hear.
(PS Do you know the series Babylon 5?)
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