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Before proceeding, write your own definition of “terrorism.” Then you can compare it with other definitions from ordinary people from over 40 countries around the world who responded to the Group on International Perspectives on Governmental Aggression and Peace (GIPGAP) survey.
This study revealed that “terrorism,” like “war,” is defined in many different ways, but those definitions fall into several major thematic categories.
Some definitions focus on perceived causes or motivations for terrorism:
- “People who fight for idealism ”
- “Last resort in getting global response: e.g. Palestine, N. Ireland”
- “An expression of senseless rage against innocent people to get a point across”
Another group of definitions focus on the methods or processes of terrorism:
- “it is a kind of weapon used by anti-social elements”
- “violently attack someone or something outside the bounds of normal warfare”
Some definitions focus on the outcomes of terrorism:
- “When innocent people die because of someone else’s beliefs, either political or religious”
- “Activities linked to physical, economic and psychological damage ”
- “It is what destroys peace.”
A final prominent theme involves value judgments concerning the nature of terrorism:
- “ Unacceptable way of reaching your goal, kind of illness”
- “An insidious irrational cowardly style of murder”
What do you think of these definitions? Does your definition fall into one of these thematic categories? Would you change your definition in any way now that you have seen these definitions?
In our earlier post on definitions of war, we ended with several questions about gender differences in types of definitions. The answers to these questions varied by geographical and cultural context.
For example, women from English-speaking countries (the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia) were more likely than men from those countries to make moral judgments concerning war, whereas men from those countries focused more on criteria for calling a conflict a war. Women from Latin America were significantly more likely than Latin American men to refer to concrete outcomes of war in their definitions.
Are any of these differences surprising to you?
Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology