What Is Terrorism?

Terrorism is the deliberate use of violence, or threat of its use, against innocent people, with the aim of intimidating them, or other people, into a course of action they otherwise would not take.

- Igor Primoratz, What Is Terrorism?

Podcast of the Day

Benedict Wilkinson challenges how we think about terrorism and uses stories of two very different terrorists to make the case for a different approach.

Benedict is a senior research fellow at the Policy Institute at King's College, London, and researches the strategies of different terrorist groups. He argues that terrorists' embrace of violence always comes from a position of weakness, and that it frequently fails to achieve their own political objectives.

As a result, he argues that the way in which we confront terrorists needs serious reconsideration.

Listen to the Four Thought episode Stories of Terrorism

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Short Article of the Day

To overcome the kind of relativism captured by the cliché “one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”, we need to define terrorism independently of who is employing it. Here is the definition that does the job. Terrorism is violence against some innocent people aiming at intimidation and coercion of some other people.

This definition says nothing about the identity of terrorists. They can be insurgents or criminals. But they can also be members of the military or of some state security agency.

Public debate tends to assume that terrorism is the preserve of non-state agents. But we should resist this assumption. If state agents do what terrorists do – if they use violence against the innocent with the aim of intimidation and coercion – why should they escape moral censure?

Acts of states are no more exempt from moral scrutiny than acts of non-state and anti-state groups. Let us call a spade a spade. States are sometimes guilty of terrorism...

Continue reading Igor Primoratz' article: When talking about terrorism, let's not forget the other kind

Further Reading

Before the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, the subject of terrorism did not loom large in philosophical discussion. Philosophical literature in English amounted to a few monographs and a single collection of papers devoted solely, or largely, to questions to do with terrorism. Articles on the subject in philosophy journals were few and far between; neither of the two major philosophy encyclopedias had an entry. The attacks of September 11 and their aftermath put terrorism on the philosophical agenda: it is now the topic of numerous books, journal articles, special journal issues, and conferences.

While social sciences study the causes, main varieties, and consequences of terrorism and history traces and attempts to explain the way terrorism has evolved over time, philosophy focuses on two fundamental—and related—questions. The first is conceptual: What is terrorism? The second is moral: Can terrorism ever be morally justified?

Philosophers have offered a range of positions on both questions...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Terrorism by Igor Primoratz

Related Topics

 PowerRevolution | Violence | War

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