"We cannot effectively combat terrorism without a clear definition of what it is." Discuss.
If we are to critically analyse this statement, we must first look at what ‘terrorism’ is, what a ‘clear definition’ of terrorism should include and whether one is available to us, and what ‘effectively combatting’ terrorism is considered to be. So, what definitions of terrorism are available to us today? Etymologically, the word ‘Terrorism’ is derived from the Latin root “terreo”, meaning “to frighten or alarm, or to deter by terror.”1 Terreo is itself derived from the proto-Indo-European root “-tre”, which translates as “to shake” or “the act of shaking”. The Oxford Dictionary sets out its own definition of ‘Terrorism’, which states: “1. A system of terror. 2. A Policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorising or being terrorised”2. Would this fulfil our requirement of a ‘clear’ definition? In order to say for sure, we must also look at the definition of a clear definition. Re-consulting the Oxford Dictionary, we can see that ‘clear’ is defined as something “easy to perceive, understand or interpret”3, would the definition of terrorism posed about be considered “easy to perceive…”? Of course, so by all trains of logic and reason we have our ‘clear definition’ in order to attempt to combat terrorism, do we not? But this definition is just one of many, made from a wide range of perspective, opinions and biases and is not suitable to fill our purpose. A ‘clear’ definition is merely an unambiguous one, but is not synonymously a ‘correct’, ‘just’ or ‘accurate’ definition, nor is it one that can properly address the intricate religious, political and personal details that must be acknowledged whenever discussing terrorism. “Remember that terrorism is a complicated, diverse and multi-determined phenomenon that resists simple definition and undermines all efforts at objectivity.”4 A recent setback for the international definition of terrorism came from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi King Abdullah has introduced a series of laws that clamp down on any form of “political dissent and protests that could “harm public order””.5 This includes legislation that declares all atheists as terrorists, with “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based” classed as terrorist activity.6 These new laws came just a month after the Saudi interior ministry released a large list of groups now classed as terrorist organisations, including the Muslim Brotherhood.7 This type of nonchalant classifying of ‘terrorists’ as all those who oppose one’s political or religious ideologies results in the almost limitless scale of individuals that could be classified as ‘terrorists’ from one viewpoint or another.
So, without a “clear definition”, or rather, an abundance of them; how can we even begin to “effectively combat terrorism”? The simple answer is, we can’t. We can combat the effects of terrorism on our own nation, we can shut down terrorist operations worldwide and perhaps even take all known terrorists into custody, but has this really ‘combatted terrorism’? No, this has stifled the negative impacts that we as, ‘the victims’ have perceived. Terrorism is a concept, a theology and an ideology, and the physical steps that prevent terrorist ‘attacks’ are just some of many more needed to combat the very mentality and conditions that have moulded the concept of the ‘terrorist’ into how we view it today. Surely, although admittedly from a more liberal point of view, the only real ‘effective way to combat terrorism’ is to fundamentally change the political, economic and social state of affairs that we see in societies today that produce or result in ‘terrorist activities’, to render the existence of terrorism inane and to ultimately address the anger and conflict which had primarily caused the...
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