Terrorism is a tactic in which either state or non-state actors attack or threaten to attack non-combatants with the immediate goal of spreading large amounts of fear within a particular group or population, often in conjunction with a long-term political goal.

It is important to remember that terrorism is only a tactic, not an ideology. Ideologies, unlike tactics, provide their adherents with a particular understanding of the world, orientation in society, and a political program to follow. Furthermore, the use terrorism is not exclusive to any particular ideology. Filipino communists, Indonesian nationalists, and American social conservatives, to name a few, have all committed acts of terrorism. Likewise, the use of terrorism is not exclusive to any particular religion. Barnett and Reynolds point out historical examples of Jewish Zealots and Muslim Assassins using terrorism (2009, p. 25), and in-class presentations have discussed terrorists from three major world religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Another crucial aspect to understanding terrorism is understanding its immediate goal: to spread fear. As Susan Moeller writes, “The psychological impact of a terrorist act is intended to be greater than the physical damage caused. The goal of terrorism is to send a message, not defeat the enemy” (2009, p. 18). The act of sending a message necessitates the existence of a group or population to receive that message. In other words, terrorism requires an audience (Moeller, 2009, p. 19). Given that, the success or failure of an act of terrorism often depends on the size of the audience it reaches, which depends on the amount of media exposure it receives.
Works Cited

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

Moeller, Susan. (2009). Packaging Terrorism: Co-opting the News for Politics and Profit.  Communication in the Public Interest.. West Sussex: Wiley.