There are many differing definitions of terrorism. What is terrorism? How do we define it? Why is one man’s terrorist another man’s freedom fighter? These are just a few of the questions that face the world on a daily basis. There are many challenges that face the international community when it comes to how to define terrorism and what it constitutes. This paper will explore the challenges facing scholars when it comes to labeling terror and discuss potential ways to properly define it.
Challenges in Defining Terrorism
Finding a proper, well-accepted definition of what constitutes terror is extremely difficult. There are many challenges that confront scholars, experts, and everyday people when it comes to defining terrorism and terrorists. Differing backgrounds and cultures of those defining terror in addition to differing histories are just one of the many challenges facing those that wish to define terror. Furthermore, labeling a group or an individual as a terrorist could be considered offensive, especially in today’s politically correct environment, potentially damaging those in the political arena. However, on the flip side, labeling someone as a terrorist can also serve a political purpose as in the case of being propaganda towards a war effort, or to help define an enemy. Nevertheless, the main problem with not being able to have a widely accepted definition of terrorism is that “It is impossible to formulate or enforce international agreements against terrorism” (Ganor, 300).
The problem with the definitions that are out there is that they are so numerous and vary so widely, it’s difficult to determine which is more accurate. Each state, nation and government has their own definition. According to John Horgan, the most acceptable definition of terrorism is “the use or threat of use of violence as a means of attempting to achieve some sort of effect within a political context” (1). However, as he mentions, it is when we go beyond this definition is when the problems arise.
Another issue is our own individual biases, perceptions, and stereotypes. In the United States, the majority of American citizens would associate a terrorist with someone from the Middle East. However, someone living in Afghanistan or Iraq could have their own idea of a terrorist as an American soldier. This goes to show that another man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and further proves that how we see ourselves and others is completely different than reality. These preconceived biases and stereotypes further challenge finding a accepted definition of terror.
Research into terrorism is another challenge in defining terrorism. According to James Rinehart, “those who write about terrorism, tend to possess a preconceived bias of a ‘problem-solution’ orientation in which he or she is simply attempting to justify a set of counterterrorist prescriptive” (4). This research is unreliable at best because as...