Terrorism in the Eye of the Beholder. The Imperative Quest for a Universally Agreed Definition of Terrorism

Jodie Satterley

Abstract


Reaching an agreed definition of terrorism has proved problematic, with over 100 different working definitions counted. Consensus stumbles particularly on issues of legitimacy, assessing reasons behind the violence and whether a state can commit acts of terrorism - or whether they are to be excluded as they have the monopoly on legitimate violence. Greater empirical research and independence in terrorism scholarship is required to formulate an agreed definition.

States should not be exempt from terrorism as part of a broader movement excluding any consideration of the motives or causes cited as the reason for the attack. The definition should focus on the nature of the act, not the philosophy behind it. For even if the cause or grievance is understandable, and can be reasonably argued with a defence of necessity, that does not mean the violence undertaken should cease to be illegal and inhumane. The ends must be separated from the means.

Clarity of definition is crucial for counter-terrorism efforts and the protection of civil liberties. Over-zealous recourse to draconian legislation peddled to prevent terrorism has qualified the rights of citizens, not only reducing their ability to hold their government to account, but also imposing laws that have the potential to work as a tool for terrorist recruitment rather than counter-terrorism. 


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