Criminology and Terrorism

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J. Paul BatraProfessor Barnes
Research Paper Final due 4/19/10 April 1, 2010



Terrorism is defined loosely based on the Latin word Terre, which means to frighten. To be considered an act of terrorism, which is a political crime, an act must carry with it the intent to disrupt and the change the government and should not be merely a common-law crime committed for greed or egotism. The discipline of economics has many concepts that are relevant to an understanding of terrorism -- supply and demand -- costs and benefits, etc.  Fully-developed economic or econometric models of terrorism are quite rare, however, and often involve such things as "psychic" costs and benefits (Nyatepe-Coo 2004). More down-to-earth economic theories can be found in the literature on deterrence.  Rational choice theory, in particular, has found a place in criminology, and holds that people will engage in crime after weighing the costs and benefits of their actions to arrive at a rational choice about motivation after perceiving that the chances of gain outweigh any possible punishment or loss. 

The second theory that can explain the motivation behind terrorism is the relative deprivation hypothesis which is the idea that as a person goes about choosing their values and interests, they compare what they have and don't have, as well as what they want or don't want, with real or imaginary others.  The person then usually perceives a discrepancy between what is possible for them and what is possible for others, and reacts to it with anger or an inflamed sense of injustice.  We should be advised that debates exist within criminology regarding relative deprivation and terrorism, on the one hand, with the anomie or strain tradition which finds causal influence in such objectivist factors as Gross Domestic Product, and on the other hand, with the left realist tradition which finds causal influence in subjective experiences of deprivation or discomfort

Crime Characteristics of Terrorism:

Terrorism is not new, and even though it has been used since the beginning of recorded history it can be relatively hard to define. Terrorism has been described variously as both a tactic and strategy; a crime and a holy duty; a justified reaction to oppression and an inexcusable abomination. Obviously, a lot depends on whose point of view is being represented. Terrorism has often been an effective tactic for the weaker side in a conflict. As an asymmetric form of conflict, it confers coercive power with many of the advantages of military force at a fraction of the cost. Due to the secretive nature and small size of terrorist organizations, they often offer opponents no clear organization to defend against or to deter.

The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Within this definition, there are three key elements—violence, fear, and intimidation—and each element produce terror in its victims. The FBI uses this: "Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." The U.S. Department of State defines "terrorism" to be "premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. (International Terrorism and Security Research). Technological terrorism is defined as actions directed against infrastructure elements critically important for national security or committed with the use of especially hazardous technologies, technical means, and materials. In...
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