Defining Terrorism in a Modern World

Two Shia figures in Kuwait and Bahrain are stripped of their citizenships as Shia crackdowns spike in the region. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/09/2010921131347921736.html

Defining Terrorism in a Modern World
Elizabeth Hall
Prior to the events unfolding on September 11, 2001, the average American citizen hardly gave the subject of terrorism much thought.  Maybe when something was happening around the globe that was a destructive act, but not really affecting us, or even affecting us, but not on our own soil did they think about anything related to the subject.  In fact, terrorism is a pejorative word due to the negative connotations it brings to everyone, just from different global standpoints (White, 2006).
  We can clarify the meaning if we look at it from a local and global view, because what constitutes terrorism in the United States could be construed as a necessary political action in a global view and then consider why it is important to have the variation in the first place.
What is Terrorism?
According to Hoffman (1998), the Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism in general terms: 
“Terrorism: A system of terror.  1. Government by intimidation as directed and carried          
       out by the party in power in France during the revolution of 1789-94; the system of `Terror'.  2. Gen.  A policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorizing or condition of being terrorized.”
While this is a good general definition, it does not take into account that terrorism is in fact not a concrete subject, but rather a social construct, which varies with each individual or group considering the meaning.

Why Does the Definition Vary?
The definition of terrorism varies because as a social construct, which acts are deemed to be considered terrorist acts varies by the group or individual considering the act.   This is because any definition confined to a social construction meaning, evolves, and changes with every time the social reality of a group or individual changes.  Therefore, the concept can be changed by social construct, but also application of political power to fit whatever culture, country, or group applying it.  For example, the United States views the events that happened on September 11, 2001 as a terrorist act, while at the same time cultures in the Middle East may view it as a necessary act to produce social change, so it is easy to see why the variation occurs.  (White, 2006)
The Importance of the Variation
The importance of the variation comes down to this; the pejorative nature of the term is necessary due to the variations of the groups using the term.  In example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation views Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, however the Organization of the Islamic Conference views them as legitimate, and as a revolutionary force necessary for positive change in the region.  Each country, individual, or group can only view terrorism based on what background they have derived from.  That is where the problem lies, although every faction seems to agree that terrorism is the use of violence to force one’s ideals and beliefs on another.  Another point to consider is that while many of the global citizens around the world have grown up with violence, strife, and conflict as a way of life, most Americans younger than 60 do not have any idea of what it means to live in these conditions. (White, 2006)
We can clarify the meaning of terrorism only if we look at it from a local and global view.  This is because, what is considered an act of terrorism in the United States will probably be perceived as a necessary political action in some other global view.  Nations, groups, and individuals use terror to illicit fear into others with different beliefs, and each group views each act of terrorism from their own perspective either condoning or condemning it.  The last point is that although, each act of terrorism is viewed differently by each group, all groups agree that terrorism involves the use of violence to cause fear or terror intended to further the terrorists specific cause. (Primoratz, 2010)

Hoffman, B. (1998).  Inside Terrorism.  Ch.1 Retrieved From: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/h/hoffman-terrorism.html
Primoratz, Igor, (2010).  Terrorism: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  (Winter 2010 Edition).  Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved From http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2010/entries/terrorism/>.
White, J.R. (2006).  Terrorism and Homeland Security (6th ed.).  Mason, OH.  Cengage Learning

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