1. Defining Terrorism: The Present Situation
Academics, politicians, security experts and journalists, all use a variety of definitions of terrorism. Some definitions focus on the terrorist organizations’ mode of operation.. Others emphasize the motivations and characteristics of terrorism, the modus operandi of individual terrorists, etc.
In their book Political Terrorism, Schmidt and Youngman cited 109 different definitions of terrorism, which they obtained in a survey of leading academics in the field. From these definitions, the authors isolated the following recurring elements, in order of their statistical appearance in the definitions: Violence, force (appeared in 83.5% of the definitions); political (65%); fear, emphasis on terror (51%); threats (47%); psychological effects and anticipated reactions (41.5%); discrepancy between the targets and the victims (37.5%); intentional, planned, systematic, organized action (32%); methods of combat, strategy, tactics (30.5%).
Definitions of terrorism entail difficulties, both conceptual and syntactical. It is thus not surprising that alternative concepts with more positive connotations—guerrilla movements, underground movements, national liberation movements, commandos, etc.—are often used to describe and characterize the activities of terrorist organizations. Generally these concepts are used without undue attention to the implications, but at times the use of these definitions is tendentious, grounded in a particular political viewpoint. By resorting to such tendentious definitions of terrorism, terrorist organizations and their supporters seek to gloss over the realities of terrorism, thus establishing their activities on more positive and legitimate foundations. Naturally, terms not opposed to the basic values of liberal democracies, such as “revolutionary violence,” “national liberation,” etc., carry fewer negative connotations than the term, “terrorism.”
2.Terrorism or National Liberation?
A rather widespread attempt to make all definitions of terrorism meaningless is to lump together terrorist activities and the struggle to achieve national liberation. Thus, for instance, the recurrently stated Syrian official position is that Syria does not assist terrorist organizations; rather, it supports national liberation movements. President Hafez el-Assad, in a November 1986 speech to the participants in the 21st Convention of Workers Unions in Syria, said the following:
We have always opposed terrorism. But terrorism is one thing and a national struggle against occupation is another. We are against terrorism… Nevertheless, we support the struggle against occupation waged by national liberation movements.
The attempt to confound the concepts of “terrorism” and “national liberation” comes to the fore in various official pronouncements from the Arab world. For instance, the fifth Islamic summit meeting in Kuwait, at the beginning of 1987, stated in its resolutions that:
The conference reiterates its absolute faith in the need to distinguish the brutal and unlawful terrorist activities perpetrated by individuals, by groups, or by states, from the legitimate struggle of oppressed and subjugated nations against foreign occupation of any kind. This struggle is sanctioned by heavenly law, by human values, and by international conventions.[
The foreign and interior ministers of the Arab League reiterated this position at their April 1998 meeting in Cairo. In a document entitled “Arab Strategy in the Struggle against Terrorism,” they emphasized that belligerent activities aimed at “liberation and self determination” are not in the category of terrorism, whereas hostile activities against regimes or families of rulers will not be...