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Defining Terrorism

Terrorism is one of the hardest terms to define because everyone has their own different, personal perspectives of what terrorism entails. Many people have the explanation that they “know it when they see it” but in this day and age, it really is essential to define the term in order to prevent discriminatory profiling.

Terrorism noun: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Most definitions of terrorism include intentional acts against people that are meant to induce fear. The goals of terrorists can be centered around all sorts of political, religious and economic agendas. Terrorism is used by groups or persons to gain political power, to further religious views, or to advance personal ideals.

One way terrorists meet their goals is by convincing a government or group of people to agree to demands in an effort to avoid future attacks. Terrorists may also carry out actions aimed at convincing others to join their cause, or may draw attention to a neglected cause in an effort to gain sympathetic support.

Since the attacks on the World Trade Center, many Americans have come to think of the attacks as the definition of terrorism, but it is much more than that.

Terrorism is the act of violence against a population in order to coerce or intimidate that population or to influence a government. In fact, terrorists don’t even have to be from a different country or commit acts against an entire country. Domestic terrorism is characterized by acts of terrorism against a population from someone within that population.

The United States has active domestic terrorist groups that have been identified and are monitored by the government. These groups include the Ku Klux Klan, The Southern California Minutemen and gangs such as MS-13, Bloods and Crips. These groups use violence, coercion and intimidation to influence other groups to behave a certain way. Another example of violence considered to be domestic terrorism is the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing because of the political motives the bomber held.

Though it may seem to be an emerging topic, defining and addressing terrorism is not a new challenge. The League of Nations Convention in 1937 created a definition of terrorism and attempted to enact methods for prevention and punishment. As decades pass, and with new acts of terrorism committed in accordance with ever changing global technology, it is hard to create a working definition that fully encompasses terrorism.

Recent terrorists activities across the world, committed by groups like Boko Haram and ISIL, prove just how difficult it is to define and predict terrorism, especially with the target population changing with each terrorist group and conflict. In fact, acts of terrorism occur daily and we can’t possibly learn of them all.

Not all of these terrorists are working together, working towards the same goals or working against the same population. Conflict is a constant theme in society, but how the conflict is resolved depends on if acts of violence occur. In fact, these conflicts and acts of terrorism may last weeks, months, years and even decades and can take over an entire government.

Perhaps the most well-known example of a group of people using coercion and intimidation in an attempt to influence a group of people to behave in a set way would be Hitler’s rise and Nazi Germany. Hitler used force, violence and intimidation to promulgate his views on others, convincing some to join his forces, and eventually took control of entire countries and regions in Europe. This is also an example of both long term and domestic terrorism as Hitler was from Germany and his terroristic reign lasted years.

Defining terrorism would help enforce preventative practices and laws, ensuring safety of threatened populations. While preventative measures can be taken in some instances to prevent terrorism, these measures are often preventative only after terrorism has occurred once, such as security enhancement at airports.

In order for the world to indeed become a safer place, we will need to have well educated and innovative thinkers working on terrorism taskforces, creating safety systems and continually revising prevention and protection measures against terrorism.

If counter terrorism is a field that interests you, take some time to learn more about the programs that are out there. Perhaps you could prevent the next mass shooting, terrorist attack or rise of violence in our world. Contact the schools offering degrees in counter terrorism to learn more today.