chapter  5
15 Pages

The challenges of conceptualizing terrorism: Leonard Weinberg, Ami Pedahzur and Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler


Few terms or concepts in contemporary political discourse have proved as hard to defi ne as terrorism. When the subject itself appeared, or reappeared, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, various professional commentators noted the diffi culties involved in articulating a defi nition which could gain wide agreement among those concerned with the subject. One writer, Walter Laqueur, simply threw up his hands, arguing that terrorism had appeared in so many different forms and under so many different circumstances that a comprehensive defi nition was impossible. An observer would simply know it when s/he saw it.1 Almost 30 years later, and after the publication of thousands of books and articles on the subject, another leading fi gure in the fi eld noted that “… the problem of defi ning terrorism has hindered analysis since the inception of studies in the early 1970s” and has shown few signs of abating as we enter the twenty-fi rst century.2 Why has the term been so hard to defi ne? Why has the concept evaded defi nitional efforts of so many for so long?