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The Concept of Terrorism

There has been a significant shift in the meaning and categorization of the term “terrorism” after September 11, 2001. The fact that it is tough to differentiate between targets, goals, and techniques makes it impossible to provide a definition of terrorism that is all-encompassing (Medina, 2019). This is the source of the difficulties in doing so. This does not consider how these categories overlap, which is why it is so difficult to describe.

Even with Osama bin Laden no longer alive, terrorism throughout the globe persists. Terrorists were not deterred by his killing; rather, acts of violence will keep happening in many parts of the globe. Terrorism should be defined in terms of its targets, its deeds, the panic it instills, and its motivation. Terrorists often have religious or political motivations, and innocent bystanders are their primary targets (Di Filippo, 2020). I do not believe there will ever be a universally accepted definition of terrorism since it occurs in various nations and is perpetrated by terrorist organizations.

Therefore, to comprehend the difficulty of defining terrorism in terms of the prerequisites to its motivation, it is vital to have a solid understanding of the definitions already in use. The majority of definitions used today may be divided into two groups. Some people provide a “political” definition of how one ought to understand terrorism, and others take a “psychological” approach to the topic. The term appears to veer off into uncharted territory somewhere between these two groups, making its interpretation more difficult.

Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the FBI, and the Department of Defense all share broadly comparable definitions of terrorism. Nevertheless, the categorization for it varies depending on whatever agency you ask. For instance, the Department of State does not consider the psychological aspect of acts of terrorism (Medina, 2019). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) classifies an assault on the property as an act of “terrorism.” Additionally, the requirement that individuals be non-combatants does not qualify.

In addition, the definition provided by Homeland Security is the one that creates the most significant confusion. In contrast to the “property” clause used by the FBI, the definition used by homeland security includes “critical resources” as an additional component. They believe that terrorists would be justified in attacking this location. Nevertheless, what exactly does it mean to say “critical resources”? According to the Department of Homeland Security, this might be anything from a water treatment facility to an oil pipeline. The definition provided by the DHS is the one that causes the most significant confusion among the three (Di Filippo, 2020). Reading it over and over while attempting to make sense of the language is already a pretty challenging task in and of itself. The Department of Defense provides the most comprehensive description of the four departments. The Department of Defense includes in its definition of “terrorism” the pursuit of objectives that are ideologically, politically, or religiously motivated.

Finally, with these four definitions from four different agencies comes the question, “Why has it been so difficult to define terrorism?” The answer lies within our society’s ideology and what we perceive to be the definition of a particular word. These are just what we, as Americans believe constitutes terrorism. Other countries and groups may have different representations and aspects of classifying terrorism. Hopefully, one day, we will have a universal classification for what constitutes “terrorism.


Di Filippo, M. (2020). The definition (s) of terrorism in international law. In Research handbook on international law and terrorism. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Medina, V. (2019). Terrorism as a toxic term: why definition matters. Government Europa Quarterly, (30).


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