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Terrorism can be defined as ‘the threat or use of seemingly random violence against innocents for political ends by a nonstate actor’ (Cronin). Discuss using examples to illustrate your argument. Essay

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Terrorism as the Use of Violence against Innocents for Political Reasons by Non-State Actors: A Brief Discussion

Introduction

The definition of terrorism as the threat of use of seemingly random violence against innocents for political ends by non-state actors can be analysed in terms of three different dimensions that arise from it. These dimensions form the basis upon which this essay’s discussion is advanced. These dimensions can be said to correspond to several issues related to terrorism: the perpetrators, the actions themselves, the motivation driving the perpetrators and the consequences of their actions. The first dimension is the use of violence by terrorist groups to advance their agenda. In this essay, this is analysed with reference to different opinions of scholars in the field. The second dimension regards the relationship between terrorism and politics. Since in the definition it is opined that terrorism is actually driven by political reasons, this argument is evaluated further in the essay. The last dimension regards the motivation for use of violence against innocent persons by terrorists in the course of their actions. This dimension is elaborated in terms of the difference between state and non-state terrorism. Throughout the essay, the argument that terrorism actually entails the use of seemingly random violence against innocents for political ends by non-state actors is supported. This is achieved through reference to examples as well as existing academic opinions on the matter.

Terrorism and Violence

Random use of violence against innocent civilians has been one of the most common defining characteristics of terrorism. The complex nature of the use of violence against innocent civilians in the course of terrorism can be seen in terms of different perspectives. Terrorist acts are usually motivated by the desire to revenge for a perceived wrongdoing. According to Hadis, the use of violence against innocent people by terrorist organisations is conceived out of an existing myth of having been wronged and therefore being justified in using violence against other people as a way of getting even.1 It is further observed that although the myth may be based on accurate historical facts, its representation of the plight of the in-group that the terrorist organisation claims to represent is skewed in such a manner that members of the terrorist group view themselves as victims of past aggressions.2 As such, their activities are based on the belief that use of violence is the only viable means of paying for past wrongdoing.

Further, the inclusion of random violence against civilians as part of the overall strategy of terrorist organisations is based on the need to erode the level of stability witnessed within a particular society.3 What this means is that by using violence over innocent people at random, terrorist organisations seek to inflict general fear among the people within a society. The existence of fear is manifested through lack of confidence in the integrity and ability of institutional frameworks to fulfil their obligations to the people, thus resulting into overall social instability. Therefore, it can be seen that terrorists, by using random violence against civilians, seek to create fear among members of the general public, achieve publicity for their cause and hope that the resulting fear will give rise to an overall degeneration of stability within a given society.4

Although it has been pointed out that terrorists seek to instil fear among the society by use of violence, a question remains on how they justify their random use of violence against innocents in a society. In a bid to justify the use of violence against innocent civilians, terrorists resort to the argument that is based on the doctrine of necessity which holds that certain types of behaviour, even if wrong in that they violate established laws, may be necessary as a way of averting a more harmful evil.5

When seen within the context of Cronin’s argument, it can be seen that although terrorist organisations may be aware of the illegality and general harmful nature of their actions against innocent civilians, they seek to perpetrate such actions anyway as a way of not only abetting the greater evil that is being advanced against their people but also achieving their overall objectives. Therefore, as stated before, dependence on the distorted myth about the need to redeem a particular group of individuals provides the motivation for random acts of violence against innocents. These acts are justified as the only way of achieving overall good of the society in the form of liberation of the people perceived to be under siege.

Terrorism and Politics

There is a complex relationship between politics and terrorist activities. According to Couto, terrorism is defined as ‘a form of political violence by, for and against the state – and politics and violence’.6

Using the theoretical formulations of Weber on political activities in the society, it is observed that terrorism deliberately uses violence as a tactical and strategic means to achieve unrealistic political ends.7 Therefore, when interpreted in light of terrorist activities, it can be seen that terrorism deliberately uses violence against innocents as a way of achieving a public and political purpose.8 This has been seen in many terrorist attacks in the world. For instance, the events of the September 11 2001 attack on the United States did not serve to satisfy personal purposes for the perpetrators but rather served as a way of making known a public political statement. Further, it can be seen that terrorism entails several important aspects such as premeditation of the activities, being driven by a political motivation, use of non-combatants and being carried out by sub-national secretive groups.9 As such, although the perpetrators are known for their random use of violence against innocent civilians, their main agenda of doing so is to achieve political objectives. In this sense, it can be seen that violence, as used in terrorism, is a mere tool of obtaining political power: the real objectives of terrorism.

Also, the relationship between terrorism and politics, as it emerges from the definition of terrorism developed by Cronin, can be witnessed in the form of the different motivations that drive terrorist activities. Primarily, terrorism seeks to attain political and economic power for particular groups of persons in the society. 10 As such, the perpetrators use violence as a way of destabilising the society through fear, thereby decreasing the level of confidence that people have in their states. This objective has been seen clearly in the past situation in Turkey in which terrorist groups that have operated in the country in the recent past were organised and managed by foreign countries. 11 By targeting important aspects of the Turkish society, the terrorist groups sought to gain political and economic interests from the instability created in the country. This therefore means that terrorism, as practised today, is socio-political in nature.12

The second issue about the relationship between terrorism and politics regards changes that the relationship has undergone over the course of time. According to Blomberg and Hess, changes in this relationship have been caused by three main factors: spread of revolutionary ideas, increasing pace of modernisation and overall social facilitation of terrorist activities.13 These factors have operated to change the face of terrorist activities as practised across the world. As a result, current terrorist activities are motivated by the need to gain political power, or, when seen within a global context, as part of a violent strategic global response to the rising influence of globalisation and a few powerful states.14 Therefore, although terrorism, as practised today, is usually based on religious extremism, this reference to religion is merely used as a source of motivation to inspire and legitimise the political nature of the motivations of the terrorist organisations in question. Therefore, as a way of furthering political motives, terrorism uses violence and largely depends on religious fundamentalism to do so.15

Although this is a widely held belief, there is growing opinion that differs from this position. This opinion on the main motivation of terrorism in the modern world is based on the premise that terrorist activities have changed from being solely socio-political in nature to something that lacks a clear purpose other than destruction of life and property.16 It is further observed that the current type of terrorism has changed from the initial type of the 1970s in three important ways: a shift from purely political goals to those driven by religious extremism; increasing use of highly destructive methods and a shift from strict hierarchical order to relatively disintegrated outfits.17 Although this is the case, one thing that remains clear is that all the terrorist activities being witnessed in the current times do bear social and political motivations, regardless of the extent to which they rely on religious fundamentalism. This has been seen in the activities of groups such as the Hamas, Tamil Tigers and many others.18

Terrorism and Non-State Actors

The last dimension about terrorism that emerges from the definition is the role of non-state actors. There are several things that should be clarified with regard to the role of non-state actors in terrorism. The first one is the issue of the difference between state terrorism and terrorism perpetrated by non-state actors. Valls acknowledges that both governments and independent groups can perpetrate terrorist activities, largely seen as use of violence against an innocent civilian population.19 This therefore gives rise to two major forms of terrorism: state terrorism and non-state terrorism. For both types of terrorism the distinction lies in how the violence is actually committed. For instance, state terrorism differs from war in that it usually involves a government directing violence against its own citizens and, as a result, symbolises an absence of power. Similarly, when non-state actors resort to terrorist activities against innocents, the motivation is usually a political one.20 Further, much as states need justification to engage in acts of terrorism, non-state actors require the same level of justification in carrying out their activities. Therefore, terrorism, as perpetrated by non-state actors, requires that the groups attain justification for their use of violence against innocents to achieve political ends. This is found by developing a belief that they have fundamental problems with the state that cannot be resolved by conventional means.21 Moreover, terrorist groups aspire to achieve legitimacy as representatives of a particular group of people in the society whose political interests they are fighting for by use of violence.22

Conclusion

From the discussion, it can be seen that the definition of terrorism as use of random violence against innocents for political reasons by non-state actors is an accurate one. This is because of several reasons. First, from the definition, it can be seen that terrorism has a close relationship with political activities. From the examples provided and the opinions of different scholars on the matter, it can be seen that terrorism is based on achieving different socio-political objectives. Although it has undergone several changes over the course of time, terrorism, as practised today, still retains the political objective that is based on religious fundamentalism. Secondly, it has been seen that the use of violence against innocents has remained a central tenet of terrorist activities. This is because violence is used as a tool to instil fear in the population and lead to overall instability. Further, the use of violence is justified as the only way of redeeming members of the group that the terrorists claim to represent. Lastly, it has been seen that much as non-state actors have been known to carry out terrorist activities, states across the world have been known to unleash violence against innocents. In the same vein, non-state terrorism, just like state terrorism, requires a degree of justification.

Reference List

Arena M. P., and Arrigo B. A., The Terrorist Identity: Explaining the Terrorist Threat, New York, New York University Press, 2006.

Asthana N. C., and Nirmal A., Urban Terrorism: Myths and Realities, Jaipur, Pointer Publishers, 2009.

Blomberg S. B., and G. D., Hess, ‘From (No) Butter to Guns? Understanding the Economic Role in Transnational Terrorism’, in Terrorism, Economic Development and Political Openness, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 84-118.

Cohan, A. J., ‘Necessity, Political Violence and Terrorism’, Stetson Law Review, vol. 35, 2006, pp. 903-981.Cordesman A. H., Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U.S. Homeland, New York, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2002.

Couto, R. A., ‘The Politics of Terrorism: Power, Legitimacy and Violence’, Integral Review, vol. 6, no. 1, March 2010, pp. 63-81.

Crenshaw, M. ‘Have Motivations for Terrorists Changed?’ in Tangled Roots: Social and Psychological Factors in the Genesis of Terrorism, New York, IOS Press, 2006.

Gupta, D. K., Understanding Terrorism and Political Violence: The Life Cycle of Birth, Growth, Transformation and Demise, London, Routledge, 2008.

Hadis, B. F., ‘On the Meaning of Terror’, Department of Sociology, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, 2007, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=7&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CF0QFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fchss.montclair.edu%2F~hadisb%2FTerror%2520Meaning.pdf&ei=Q5DDU8vGEsbI0wW1toDgDw&usg=AFQjCNHBFNl0aDwTX8yESMDT5FnH0jcLkg&sig2=uYa5XaCsZY8xiPqP8m2skQ&bvm=bv.70810081,d.bGE , (accessed 14 July 2014).

Schefller, S. ‘Is Terrorism Morally Distinctive?’ The Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1-17.

Schmid, A. P., The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, London, Taylor & Francis, 2011.

Schwenkenbecher, A., Terrorism: A Philosophical Enquiry, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Syed, M. H., Islamic Terrorism, Myth or Reality, Delhi, Satyawati Ngar, 2002.

Valls, A., ‘Can Terrorism be Justified?’, in Valls, A. (ed), Ethics in International Affairs: Theories and Cases, Lanham, Maryland, Rowman & Littlefied Publishers, Inc., 2000, pp. 65-81.

Whittaker, D. J. (ed.), The Terrorism Reader, New York, Routledge, 2012.

Yildiz, M., ‘Terrorism and Violence: Turkish Case’, Turkish Journal of Police Studies, vol. 3, no. 1-2, 2000, pp. 39-56.

1 B. F. Hadis, ‘On the Meaning of Terror’, Department of Sociology, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, 2007, p. 7, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=7&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CF0QFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fchss.montclair.edu%2F~hadisb%2FTerror%2520Meaning.pdf&ei=Q5DDU8vGEsbI0wW1toDgDw&usg=AFQjCNHBFNl0aDwTX8yESMDT5FnH0jcLkg&sig2=uYa5XaCsZY8xiPqP8m2skQ&bvm=bv.70810081,d.bGE , (accessed 14 July 2014).

2 Ibid., p. 7.

3 S. Schefller, ‘Is Terrorism Morally Distinctive?’, The Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 1, 2006, p. 6.

4 Ibid., p. 7

5 A. J. Cohan, ‘Necessity, Political Violence and Terrorism’, Stetson Law Review, vol. 35, 2006, p. 905.

6 R. A. Couto, ‘The Politics of Terrorism: Power, Legitimacy and Violence’, Integral Review, vol. 6, no. 1, March 2010, p. 64.

7 Ibid., p. 65

8 D. K. Gupta, Understanding Terrorism and Political Violence: The Life Cycle of Birth, Growth, Transformation and Demise, London, Routledge, 2008, p. 4.

9 A. P. Schmid, The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, London, Taylor & Francis, 2011, p. 45.

10 M. Yildiz, ‘Terrorism and Violence: Turkish Case’, Turkish Journal of Police Studies, vol. 3, no. 1-2, 2000, p. 43.

11 Ibid., p. 44.

12 A. Schwenkenbecher, Terrorism: A Philosophical Enquiry, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 40.

13 S. B., Blomberg and G. D., Hess, ‘From (No) Butter to Guns? Understanding the Economic Role in Transnational Terrorism’, in Terrorism, Economic Development and Political Openness, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 84.

14 Ibid., p. 87.

15 D. J. Whittaker (ed.), The Terrorism Reader, New York, Routledge, 2012, p. 4; M.H. Syed, Islamic Terrorism, Myth or Reality, Delhi, Satyawati Ngar, 2002, p. 139.

16 M. Crenshaw, ‘Have Motivations for Terrorists Changed?’ in Tangled Roots: Social and Psychological Factors in the Genesis of Terrorism, New York, IOS Press, 2006, p. 51.

17 Ibid., p. 52

18 M. P. Arena and B. A. Arrigo, The Terrorist Identity: Explaining the Terrorist Threat, New York, New York University Press, 2006, p. 5.

19 A. Valls, ‘Can Terrorism be Justified?’, in Valls, A. (ed), Ethics in International Affairs: Theories and Cases, Lanham, Maryland, Rowman & Littlefied Publishers, Inc., 2000,
pp. 67-68,

20 A. H. Cordesman, Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U.S. Homeland, New York, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2002, p. 25.

21 N. C. Asthana and A. Nirmal, Urban Terrorism: Myths and Realities, Jaipur, Pointer Publishers, 2009, p. 24.

22 Ibid., p. 567