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Legal Dictionary

terrorism

Definition of terrorism

Etymology

The word first appears in English in 1795 in reference to the Jacobins of France, who ruled during the �Reign of Terror.�

Noun

terrorism (uncountable)

  1. The deliberate commission of an act of violence to create an emotional response through the suffering of the victims in the furtherance of a political or social agenda.
  2. Violence against civilians to achieve military or political objectives.
  3. A psychological strategy of war for gaining political or religious ends by deliberately creating a climate of fear among the population of a state.

Further reading

Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. At present, there is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack), and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).

Some definitions also include acts of unlawful violence and war. The history of terrorist organizations suggests that they do not select terrorism for its political effectiveness. Individual terrorists tend to be motivated more by a desire for social solidarity with other members of their organization than by political platforms or strategic objectives, which are often murky and undefined.

The word "terrorism" is politically and emotionally charged, and this greatly compounds the difficulty of providing a precise definition. Studies have found over 100 definitions of �terrorism�. The concept of terrorism may itself be controversial as it is often used by state authorities to delegitimize political or other opponents, and potentially legitimize the state's own use of armed force against opponents (such use of force may itself be described as "terror" by opponents of the state). A less politically and emotionally charged, and more easily definable, term is violent non-state actor (though the semantic scope of this term includes not only "terrorists," while excluding some individuals or groups who have previously been described as "terrorists").

Terrorism has been practiced by a broad array of political organizations for furthering their objectives. It has been practiced by both right-wing and left-wing political parties, nationalistic groups, religious groups, revolutionaries, and ruling governments. One form is the use of violence against noncombatants for the purpose of gaining publicity for a group, cause, or individual.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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