Security Information: Crucial Components Of Terrorism

Terrorist act according to at least four crucial elements. Learn what defines terror. Tips for defending against attack.

Although it has not been possible yet to create a universally acceptable definition of terrorism, it is both possible and necessary to specify certain features common to the phenomenon. This in turn makes it feasible to create an operational definition of this term. Acts with all of these attributes could then be identified as terrorist acts with some consistency. Without falling into the political quagmire of attempting to label individuals or groups as "terrorist," certain types of actions could be identified as terrorism, regardless of who commits them, for however noble a cause.

Let us consider a loose definition of contemporary terrorism. It must necessarily be loose, because its elements tend to form a wide variety of compounds that today fall within the rubric of terrorism. For the purposes of this investigation, terrorism will be defined as a syntheses of war and theatre, a dramatization of the most proscribed kind of violence- that which is perpetrated on innocent victims played before an audience in the hope of creating a mood of fear for political purposes.

This description of terrorism has a number of crucial components. Terrorism, by this definition, involves an action of violence, an audience, the creation of a mood of fear, innocent victims, and political motives or goals. Each of these elements deserves some clarification for us to formulate a clear set of parameters for this frequently misunderstood and misused term.



First, it is important to note that terrorism is fundamentally a violent act. Sit-ins, picket lines, walkouts, and other similar forms of protest, no matter how disruptive, are not terrorist acts. Violence- the threat of violence in which the capacity and the willingness to commit violence are displayed- is endemic to terrorists. The violence doesn't necessarily have to be fully perpetrated- that is, the bomb need not be detonated or all of the passengers aboard an airliner killed- for it to be considered a terrorist act. But the capacity and the willingness to commit a violent act must be present.

The creation of this mood of intense anxiety seems to be specifically linked to the nature of the victim of terrorist acts. Terrorism is distinguished from guerilla warfare by deliberate attacks on innocent persons and the separation of its victims from the ultimate goal. This is the "playing to an audience" aspect of a terrorist act. Terrorism can also be distinguished from legal acts of warfare and ordinary crimes of murder. The difference between a terrorist act and a similar crime or war activity is that terrorist acts are perpetrated deliberately on innocent third parties in an effort to coerce the opposing party of persons into some desired political course of action. Victims are thus chosen not primarily because of their personal guilt (in terms of membership in an opposing military or governmental group) but because their deaths or injuries will so shock the opposition that concession can be forced to prevent a recurrence of the incident or will focus attention of a particular political cause. Terrorist acts, in other words, are constructed to "make war" deliberately on innocent persons.

Terrorism, then, is an act of violence, perpetrated on an innocent person to evoke fear in an audience. One further component, however, is necessary to this definition otherwise, such a definition could be reasonably applied to actions taken by professional sportsmen on the playing field!

The addition of a "political purpose" to the concept of terrorism continues to create enormous legal problems. Terrorist acts are committed because the terrorist group usually wants a change to occur in certain governments.

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