Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Definitions of Terrorism

"Terrorism" is a concept that that causes a lot of unnecessary unpleasantness amongst bloggers and journalists. Some commentators completely avoid the term; others think that the term ought to be applied to those who deliberately target or terrorize non-combatants. My own view is that terrorism ought to be defined in the following way:

socially-resonant, politically-motivated violence committed by non-state actors.

This definition does not beg questions in favor of other forms of political violence (war, for instance) and it permits questions to be asked about the jus in and jus ad terrorism. It seems to me that we have to consider seriously the possibility that terrorism is sometimes conducted for a good cause--e.g. the formation of the state of Israel, the ending of the apartheid regime in South Africa; we also have to allow that some methods of terrorism are beyond the moral pale (shooting children in the back a la the Chechens in Beslan) while other methods are morally permissible (blowing up buildings after calling-in a warning).

I may, however, be wrong about this.

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