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So how do we define terrorism?

Nov 27. 2017
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Re: “A warped definition of terrorism”, Have Your Say, November 27.

Eric Bahrt offers some interesting and insightful points about terrorism. The relatively recent narrative regarding what is, or is not, modern “terrorism” emerged partly as a result of the utter tragedy of 9/11, and the world’s only hyper-power finding out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a major international terrorism incident. The ensuing, unwinnable so-called “war on terror” continues to shape the contours of the world today, with often devastating outcomes, as Mr Bahrt reminds us.

As Eric rightly informs, it’s a bit crass to start sticking labels on people before you know what the label actually means. As matters stand there are over 200 definitions of terrorism now in print, but a common thread is that a terrorist act is politically motivated, “altruistic” from the perpetrator’s point of view, is primarily conducted by sub-state actors (which is often disputed) and is designed to influence a target audience, hence the preoccupation with groups gaining as much of the “oxygen of publicity” as possible. There are many other variants, but the essence remains the same. We should also factor in what is often called “state-sponsored” terrorism.

A common modus operandi of modern terrorism is that these actors now prefer to take out “soft targets” (a codified euphemism for civilians) rather than hardened military or government installations, which are usually much more difficult to penetrate. The thinking behind this approach should be obvious.

If readers want to get some bona fide analysis of this topic, I would suggest reading Jason Burke’s “Al Qaeda: casting a shadow of terror”, or indeed check out anything on the subject by Walter Laqueur.

Dr Frank

Bangkok

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