Terrorism as an act of violence has been practiced by different individuals and groups to attain religious or political goals. During the French Revolution that occurred in 1789-1799, the Jacobins imposed a reign of terror throughout the country. The terms terrorism and terrorist are rooted in this incident. During the period, France was in chaos; hence, terrorism has been widely used to portray every act of violence. The terrorist strategy is not as current as of the term itself. In the first century, the Sicarii Zealots formed a popular uprising in Palestine to murder the Jews in public who supported the oppressive Roman Rule. They adopted the strategy of “pure terror” to spread panic and fear to air their grievances. Their contemporary counterparts, called the National Military Organization of Israel, carried out terrorist attacks against the British military government of Palestine in 1942-1948. In the 11th century, a religious sect called the Assassins practiced secret murder on prominent political leaders. In doing this, they were focused on avenging directly to their opponents. The Thuggee carried out terror attacks between the 7th and the mid-19th century on unsuspecting travelers by robbing and even murdering them. Their victims were used for sacrificial purposes.
These historic malpractices have shaped the meaning of terrorism in the modern world as an act of killing guiltless people.
The meaning of terrorism has changed over time from the period it was first conceived during the French Revolution. The system or regime de la terreur of 1793-1794 was used as a means of restoring order in the anarchy that befalls France. The reign of terror period was organized, deliberate and systematic, unlike terrorism that is carried out currently. Its goal was the creation of a new and better society that fosters democratic principles.
“Terrorism” changed meaning by the 1930s to depict revolutionary movements and violence aimed at opposing oppressive regimes. During the late 1940s and 1950s, the revolutionary connotations of terrorism were regained. The term was used to signify the violent revolts by the indigenous groups to oppose the continued foreign rule. Most countries credit their independence to this period of freedom fighting. The revolutionary meaning of terrorism was still adhered to during the 1960s and 1970s.
As a result of a vast worldwide scheme in the 1980s, it came to be viewed as a calculated way of destabilizing the Western world. By the mid1980s, the concept of state-sponsored terrorism came up. It refers to terrorist acts whereby governments use their state resources to fund terrorist activities. Weaker states confronted more powerful states by carrying out terrorist activities without the risk of vengeance.
The meaning and usage of ‘’terrorism” took a drastic turn in the early 1990s due to the emergence of two new words: ‘narco-terrorism’ and ‘gray area phenomenon.’
Terrorist organizations now choose names to suit their malpractices that totally avoid the word ‘terrorism.’
Currently, terrorism is still a difficult term to give a proper definition. The most compelling reason is that perhaps it is due to the change in the meaning of the term frequently over the past two hundred years. The increase in media coverage of terrorist incidents by journalists has eroded its meaning. It is described as a work of ‘commandos,’ ‘extremists,’ e.t.c. This has further confounded its definition. The word ‘terrorism’ has been used in the negative sense; hence this has complicated efforts to come up with an objective definition.
A working definition of terrorism is complex since a precise definition allows terrorists to be defined, thus justifying their actions. Burgess continues to emphasize that lack of a uniform definition of terrorism across the various concerned agencies in any country can render it meaningless. A broad definition of the term across the agencies also jeopardizes counter-terrorism efforts. The view that terrorism is always political is not universally accepted since not all violence is politically motivated.
I would define terrorism as the unauthorized use of power against innocent persons with an intention to cause harm or fear to them in order to advance personal interests.
Terrorism is distinguishable from other forms of crime. A terrorist has a character of self-denial. They can never acknowledge the name ‘a terrorist,’ and they are prepared to defend him or herself against any such inference. In carrying out their activities, a terrorist is driven by political motives, unlike other criminals. Terrorism is an act of violence that spreads terror among the affected people. Terrorism is designed to have long-term psychological repercussions on the victim or the target. It is always carried out by well-organized groups that follow strict rules to affect their actions. The groups are usually of the non-state entity.