Following September 11th, 2001, the word terrorism was thrown around rather liberally by media, but more recently this term has been tip-toed around, because terrorism is an increasingly difficult concept to define. Especially confusing is terrorism’s conceptual similarity to political violence. Terrorism often has both a political component and a violent component, but this does not necessarily classify all political violence as terrorism. A form of political violence is insurgency, wherein citizens aim to overthrow a government; terrorism is considered a form of insurgency. From this perspective, terrorism occurs from the bottom up, with citizens revolting politically against the state; however, terrorism can also occur from the top down, with states fighting politically against citizens. Top-down terrorism has occurred historically, but modern terrorist acts are primarily in the category of bottom-up insurgency (Barnett & Reynolds, 18).

This is what structurally defines terrorism, but what is the defining content of a terrorist act? Terrorist acts have been attempted to be defined many times, but some common elements have emerged from these attempts. Generally, terrorism involves violence or threat of violence to influence a government or intimidate the public, all in order to effect political or ideological change (Barnett & Reynolds, 15 & www.news.bbc.co.uk).

Counterterrorism can also vary in structure and content. A government, such as that of the United States, can work to prevent victimization of terrorism (www.fbi.gov), or a governmental agency, like the Mossad following the Munich Massacre (www.fas.org), can directly retaliate against a terrorist act with equal or more violence. The latter can especially contribute to an endless cycle of terror.

References

Barnett, B., & Reynolds, A. (2009). Terrorism and the Press: An Uneasy Relationship. New York, New York: Peter Lang.

Calahan, A. B. (1995). Countering terrorism: The Israeli response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and the development of independent covert action teams. Retrieved from: http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/calahan.htm.

Counterterrorism. Retrieved from: http://www.fbi.gov/terrorinfo/counterrorism/waronterrorhome.htm.

What is Terrorism? (2001). Retrieved from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1555265.stm.