Defining terrorism

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Dr. Boaz Ganor – The Definition of Terrorism: A Fundamental Counter-Terrorism Measure
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Boaz Ganor’s closing remarks at the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism at my alma mater, IDC, Herzliya. Share the link to his video widely. Read his letter.

Major points

  • It is impossible to fight terrorism if there is not a  shared, widely accepted definition of terrorism.
  • Countering terrorism in the battlefield is not enough.
  • Terrorism is the deliberate use of violence aimed at civilians or civilian targets aimed to achieve political goals.
  • The threat to use violence is not the felony called terrorism.
  • Not innocent civilians just civilians. Innocence is a subjective term but civilian is defined in international conventions.
  • The definition should be one that even those who identify with the terrorists can share.
  • Attacks against the military are hostile acts, maybe an act of war, but not terrorism.
  • Any one who attacks an Israeli soldier is his (and my) enemy and I have all the right to fight back but this is morally totally different from butchering kids in a schoolyard.
  • Both sides consider themselves freedom fighters.
  • There is a right to use violence but not terrorism. What is important is the methods allowed to achieve freedom.
  • Attacks against soldiers are a local, internal problem. Deliberate attacks against civilians should be an international state.
  • Terrorist organisations are rational actors. They need to know that attacks against civilians will have a huge international price.
  • Persuading terrorists to accept the definition is a worthy goal.

Five Minutes for Israel on terrorism

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter? I beg to differ. The difference is not the actor but the target.

I have been arguing for years the difference between a terrorist and legitimate political actor using violence is not clear line but a continuum. The difference is between the legal acts of a soldier and the illegal act of a terrorist, not the difference between saint and sinner.

Goals are irrelevant but there are levels of grey.

Terrorism-scale From soldier to terrorist.

The scale I use considers a conventional uniformed soldier in a conventional war between states as the base. So long as his actions are aimed at other soldiers he is the example for all fighters to aim at.

His opposite is the terrorist. I use the Bali Bombings of 2002  because it is the clearest example of pure terrorism I can think of.  An audio-cassette purportedly carrying a recorded voice message from Osama Bin Laden stated that the Bali bombings were in direct retaliation for support of the United States’ war on terror and Australia’s role in the liberation of East Timor. How far away from conventional soldier-caused violence can we be. Two hundred and two civilians, mainly Australians but also Indonesians and twenty-one other nationalities were killed in a neutral country with nothing to do with the conflict.

When a terrorist sits on the toilet is he/she still a terrorist? I guess Prof. Ganor would say when he has deliberately killed civilians and I would say that’s a very strong indicator.


Graph illustration from German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) Nachlass Max Baur (Bild 170) Potsdam.- Zinnsoldaten König Friedr. Wilhelm III. – 1.Garde-Regiment zu Fuß; 1813-1815
Five-in-a-star design adapted from Betzalel Avnon, Wiki Commons

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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