The word terrorism has many definitions, but each definition depends upon who is doing the defining.

In Europe, states such as Belgium have adopted the definition of a terrorist act as “a specific offense that may seriously damage a country or international organization and is committed for the purpose of intimidating the population, forcing a third party to act or destabilizing or destroying the fundamental structures of a country/international organization” (Belgian Red Cross Handout).

However, the word terrorism simply refers to the “phenomenon” of a terrorist act, so terrorism cannot be punished by law.

The phenomenon of terrorism, according to Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Report, “places the focus on the effects of hostile action, the destruction of property, the loss of life, fear, chaos, and panic.” As history has shown, this definition is extremely accurate, because the fear, chaos, and panic associated with terrorism has caused nations to ferociously retaliate.

The United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs as retaliation from Japanese “terrorism” at Pearl Harbor, a weapon that caused mass casualties and still affects those cities today. The response to an act of terrorism can easily be labeled as terrorism itself.

This leads to the most important part of the definition of terrorism: The definition or perception of terrorism is more about framing, or “spin,” then any other single factor. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” While one side of the conflict frames the attack as terrorism, the other side of the conflict spins the act as heroic and necessary. In short, terrorism is in the eye of the weapon-holder.