Who Has the Right to Be Violent?
One of the main controversies about defining terrorism is how governments and other circles of power have modified its definition accommodating it to a description of their adversaries and to justify state actions.
As explained in “Inside Terrorism” (Hoffman, 2006) terrorism is a western term that was developed by the Jacobins in 18th century France; namely by Maximilien Robespierre, in a period in French history known as the “Reign of Terror”.
Since the 18th century, the definition of terrorism changed multiple times. However, it seems alarming that, despite its differences, Robespierre’s idea of terrorism; a method to detain chaos (Ibid) could be closely linked to modern day terrorism than to other examples in the old continent.
Hoffman (2006) explains how FBI defines terrorism as: “The unlawful use of force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments of societies, often to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives”. Such definition could justify the FBI’s if it were to commit the mere actions it condemns.
The difference between FBI’s definition of terrorism and FBI’s actions is explained in the key word “Unlawful”. Hence, any violent action that the FBI could commit is legitimized by its power to force citizens to adhere to federal laws.
As the FBI (and many other organizations) have defined it, terrorism refers to the use of violence to induce fear and –perhaps– submission. On the other hand, French people say that “Strikes start in the Universities”.
A link between all of terrorist groups might be that they gathered rather (mostly) educated individuals. For instance, the 19th century Anarchist and Communist actions were motivated by philosophical postulates and even the Taliban; which mass media portrays as nearly cavemen; though they were (initially) madrassas students; the word ‘taliban’ means ‘students’ in Arabic.
Incidentally, the scandal of defining terrorism, here discussed and its susceptibility were proven when Ronald Reagan compared the Nicaraguan Rebels (“Contras”) to the United States founding fathers.
Hoffman, Bruce. “Defining Terrorism.” In Inside Terrorism. Rev. and Expanded ed. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006.
Clements, Frank. “Taliban.” In Conflict in Afghanistan a Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003.
“American Experience: The Iran-Contra Affair.” PBS. Web. 14 Sept. 2015. http://goo.gl/H8Jn0D