chapter  1
22 Pages

Defining Terrorism: Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?


The terror attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent efforts by the United States to build a broad-based antiterrorism coalition have thrown into sharp relief the question of what constitutes terrorism. Most researchers tend to believe that an objective and internationally accepted definition of terrorism can never be agreed on; after all, they say, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” (Laqueur, 1987, pp. 7, 302). The question of who is a terrorist, according to this school of thought, depends entirely on the subjective outlook of the definer; in any case, such a definition is unnecessary for the international fight against terrorism. In their view, it is sufficient to say that what looks like a terrorist, sounds like a terrorist, and behaves like a terrorist is a terrorist. This position, naturally, contributes nothing to the understanding of an already-difficult issue nor

Introduction 3 Defining Terrorism: The Present Situation 7 Terrorism or Revolutionary Violence? 9 Terrorism or National Liberation? 9 Targeting “the Innocent”? 11 Proposing a Definition of Terrorism 12 Guerrilla Warfare versus Terrorism 14 The Aims of Terrorism and of Guerrilla Warfare 16 Defining States’ Involvement in Terrorism 17 The Importance of Defining Terrorism 18 The Attitude of Terrorist Organizations: Toward the Definition 21 Summary 22 References 23

does the attempt to divide terrorism into categories such as “bad and worse terrorism,” “internal terrorism and international terrorism,” or “tolerable terrorism and intolerable terrorism.” All these categories reflect the subjective outlook of whoever is doing the categorizing-and purely subjective categories will not help us to determine who the real terrorists are.