Critically assess the claim that Terrorism - Sample Essay


This raises the question of whether it can still be called terrorism, especially if, like mentioned earlier, there are no other existing political tactics and options available. Meaning that it could potentially be considered as a socio-political tactic, but not defined as an act of terrorism. It is possible to argue that it is not fair to label French ri?? sistance fighters as terrorists, even though their government had officially surrendered to the Nazis (Richardson 2006).

The same can be said of the Taliban defending their country against coalition forces in Afghanistan. Certain tactics both organisations employed could be considered acts of terrorism, although the desperate situation that they found themselves in required the use of any means necessary (Corsi 1981). This shows us that it is possible to find circumstances where extreme measures can be justified to a certain extent, meaning that terrorism can be seen as a form of legitimate military strategy.

The scenario in which the act is committed must be considered alongside the target and intention (Marks 2006; Coady and O’Keefe 2002) because in relation to the examples of the Taliban and French Resistance there is evidence to suggest non-terrorist activity but rather a form of legitimate defence, in the form of a socio-political tactic, even though certain activities can be perceived as terrorism when taken out of context. The theme that terrorism is predominately a socio-political tactic is compelling.

However, there are of course times that can be highlighted where acts of terror can take the forms of genocide or domination for reasons that are not so politically orientated. However, the fact remains; on the whole if it is not a matter of politics and social change then it should simply falls into the class of a criminal act. More recently the media, along with the recent Bush administration (Smith 2008) has stretched the meaning of the term terrorism to imply any act of extreme violence and this has helped to blur the boundaries of what actual terrorist activity may involve.

With this established, it is possible to return to the question of whether it is still possible to label certain violent socio-political methods as terrorist when the plight may be justified through domination, occupation or unavailability of opportunities for a democratic solution. It will ultimately depend on the moral standing of who is considering such a possibility (Henkin 2006). This is because differing belief systems held by varying individuals may allow them to see this possibility as a justified means to an end or just as equally condemn any act of violence regardless of the situation that they are committed as wrong.

However, the fact remains, it can still be defined as a tactic whether it is morally wrong or not. It seems terrorism can be used as an offensive tactic or a defensive strategy. ‘The war on terror’ focused by the Western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan shows clearly the difficulties an occupying force has against guerrilla style warfare and random acts of sabotage (Carty 2009). These tactics are used not for social or political gain. Instead the aim is to oust the invader and claim back control of their homeland by exhausting an otherwise unbeatable enemy.

By taking a value pluralist outlook (Corsi 1981) on such a situation it is possible to understand that one might not view any exterior force or influence in a favourable light. This could justify their use of terrorist methods within their own country as the only option against such a mighty, unwanted and unlawful presence. On the other hand an offensive use of terror, dealt out on a targeted communities’ doorstep, is different in the sense that it provokes a reaction through severe violence, to create fear and intimidate a society, for reasons such as an alleged clash of civilisations (Huntington 1993).

This is a more morally dubious and generally politically motivated approach, which implies surprise attacks aimed to provoke are more in the spirit of terrorism. This could be due to the fact that it is enthused by an ideology or belief system that incenses the need to act against an opposing belief system, something which could be considered a more social rather than political aim. It shows that there is motivation to bring terror to the doorstep of the intended victims by implementing fear, intimidation and disruption upon the social infrastructure of the opponent.

This could be to satisfy an overall objective – aimed at affecting morale and public opinion, which in turn has the potential to change the stance of the targeted government (Araj 2008). This is clearly a socio-political tactic that has a defined purpose and it is certainly one that cannot be justified very easily. The motive may be to wipe the power and influence of the intended enemy off the face of the earth, which is a distinctly long-term social and ultimately politically motivated goal.

However, short term goals that involve terrorism seem to be where groups may act for specific outcomes that do not necessarily depend on furthering the socio-political aims of the organisation. For example it could be for reasons such as publicity or attempts force the release of prisoners. This use of terror for publicity is also like a twisted form of advertising; both recruiting new extremists and spreading their cause to the attention of the world via the mass media (Hoffman 1992). This could be seen as a practical aim, rather than a socio-political tactic.

By contrast, the US and other western forces have been meddling in other countries affairs for years; this could be seen as ‘a war of terror’ to other civilisations and just because these governments justified their actions with ‘evidence’ and political weight does not mean it is legitimate. It is hard to see this as a tactic to meet social or political ends – except to satisfy the need for revenge or retaliation. These points show how terrorism can take many forms and even the same acts can be considered as terrorist activity due to a situation being judged by different belief systems.

The subject of revenge is interesting because terrorist attacks could happen in retaliation, making it difficult to see the political reasoning behind the violence. The 9/11 atrocities can be seen as a mixture of revenge, provocation and publicity. There aren’t any obvious direct political motives behind the actions of Al Qaeda in September 2001 because it is possible to conclude that they are not interested in accumulating political legitimacy, except to entice a reaction that would help create a clash of civilisations and kick-start their assault on Capitalism and the Western World.

This can be contrasted by the long-term goals of Al Qaeda that are more politically and especially socially motivated. However to further these long-term aims a short term solution in the form of a colossal attack on the enemy is indirectly politically orientated, as it will help to damage the US economy and bring the inevitable forceful retaliation will damage the opponents own political and social legitimacy. This highlights the less apparent economic tactics that go with the socio-political implications.

It is also important to remember that some people do not separate the political and religious spheres. Religious extremism is a fairly obscure aspect of terrorism because usually terrorist organisations will have specific aims and objectives that their use of violence will relate to. There seems to be no plausible or foreseeable end to the clash or conflict perpetrated by Al Qaeda and it is difficult to even point to a specific type of enemy because it is only a clash of civilisations in the sense that it is a few extremists hiding under the umbrella of a religion or way of life.

This implies that even if the aims are considered socio-political, they are so incompatible there are no socio-political arrangements that could be made to end it; except the defeat of one by the other. Another condition where terrorism may become an issue in relation to deep rooted clashes of civilisations is territorial disputes (Araj 2008). Israel and Palestine have been dealing with such problems for many years now and even though the dispute is highly politicised it can be seen as a predominately geographically centred dispute.

Therefore, this implies that it seems that terrorism can only really be defined as a socio-political tactic when there is a foreseeable end or objective and it is carried out by a group on a government or society (inevitably to put the pressure on the relevant government) where there is no accepted or official state of conflict until such an act occurs. Or, alternatively a ‘legitimate’ entity could terrorise it subjects or another separate society, requiring the mobilisation of groups such as revolutionaries to respond in kind.

This, again, is evidence to suggest that any other violent attack – without any political or socially specific aim in mind becomes a matter of criminal activity as opposed to terrorism. However, other times when acts of terror may not be politically or socially motivated are when they involve specific demands or actions, such as the release of prisoners, tactics involving economic pursuits in the form of disruption or acquiring funds and vengeance. These factors can be seen as short-term goals that can be achieved by the use of terrorism as a tactic, but not necessarily as a socio-political one.

This is because the attack and the resulting aftermath of the situation in these cases will not necessarily affect or aim to affect the social or political climate at the time for either side. Once the prisoners have been released, funds have been raised or vengeance has been dealt the objectives and ends have been fulfilled. This shows that there are examples to be found where specific acts of terrorism may be carried out for reasons mentioned or demands to extradite a group or force from certain geographically disputed areas.

These are not directly political motives but more specific grievances that have a direct aim and short-term result, apart from the exception of territorial disputes that have the potential to go on unremittingly. It is obvious that terrorism is indeed first and foremost a socio-political tool that will often be utilised by varying groups intending to redress their grievances especially those with long-term goals or matters involving territorial disputes.

However, it is crucial that the situation and intent surrounding these activities are considered because it is possible to deny the abhorrent label of terrorism over certain organisations depending on the moral justification and desperation of the situation or environment that they find themselves within. These factors have the potential to relieve the term of terrorism and involve the more suitable phrases of military tactics or social revolution.

Freedom fighters and revolutionaries may well hold the moral high ground and ultimately it depends on one’s own belief system to establish whether violence can be used in certain situations or not at all under any circumstances. State terrorism is a real phenomenon and just because there may be a politically legitimate act, ratified by the states parliament or approved by the people does not necessarily excuse the label of terror. Of course, just like the freedom fighter or revolutionaries the government concerned may well hold the moral high ground; it all depends on the situation.

The fact remains that intention is another key aspect to clarifying if an act is that of miscalculation or necessity because if something unintended happens it cannot be an act of terror, only incompetence or something similar. Organisations that have long-term terrorist intentions will be more socially and politically motivated. However, short-term acts of specific terrorism may have a more practical purpose such as the release of prisoners, economic aims, revenge or disputes over territory, even if they are usually motivated by socio-political ends.

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