War, Thy Name Is Terror… Or Is It?

Last year I posted on a seminar in which the students grappled with the application of the term ‘genocide‘.

That is, when is a massacre a genocide, and when is it solely a massacre?

Today and next week my students are tackling the definition of ‘terrorism‘ within a moral framework.

Naturally, one could follow the urbane definition (an act that inspires terror), but then one must add acts of cultural terrorism, resistance, legitimate motivations and the dichotomy between secular and religious terrorism.

Today’s group drew a plethora of conclusions with no unanimous agreement: for some it could only be terrorism if committed under an ideological banner; for others, blood had to be spilt; for others yet, the term ‘terrorism’ is redundant and without point.

Another stressed the role of nations and uniforms (that is, if you have a nation then it is war; if not, it is terror.)

Ultimately, it is about context: if the objectives are in person A’s interest, then it is freedom-fighting/resistance/just war.

If it is not in person A’s interest, it is sheer terrorism.

Then there is the issue of state terror: in the cases of Iran, Tunisia and one might even stretch it to Egypt, the repression and enactment of violence against the people (be it on a slow, individual-by-individual basis or en masse) could be deemed terrorism.

The moral ambiguity invariably leaves chills: surely the loss of life is unjustified in any circumstance, be it terror or just war?

One could muse upon it infinitely.

2 comments on “War, Thy Name Is Terror… Or Is It?

  1. Sakiina
    February 7, 2011

    Did they look at the evolution of the definition of terrorism? That it started with the Terror of the French Revolution – i.e. – viewed as a virtue by Robespierre? I think looking at the evolution of the word provides a lot of insight into it’s meaning.

    I do think terrorism at it’s core is a form of political violence that is designed to have political effects beyond the actually violence achieved by the act itself. Also, looking at the terrorist attack cycle is another way to discern this– media exploitation, for example, is a factor of terrorism.

  2. Craig
    February 9, 2011

    I guess my question is what the purpose of this exercise is where the meaning of concepts are up for debate and interpretation? Maybe you should host a debate on the meaning of the word “obfuscation”?

    I’ll help by providing the wiki definition as a starting point:

    Obfuscation is the concealment of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, intentionally ambiguous, and more difficult to interpret.

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This entry was posted on February 7, 2011 by in Conflict Zones, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Politics, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , .
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