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Definition of Terrorism

Reader comment on item: Terror & Denial [by Hadayat at LAX]

Submitted by Ross Zelman (United States), Jul 9, 2002 at 12:13

I appreciated today's column and all of your writings/testimony/appearances.

A topic for a near future column that would be timely would be to define terrorism. Bush has declared an American war on terrorism without ever adequately defining the word for his purposes. To my understanding, there is no legal definition under federal law that applies to state or federal investigations of crimes, threats, rules of evidence, insurance, etc. There is definitely no single definition that is accepted in the international community. While watching the news unfold on the 4th of July, I realized that my own personal definition is "a felony committed with the additional intent of influencing state decisions." This would mean that first and foremost, an act of terrorism must first constitute a felony under federal law, and then be an act of terrorism if the perpetrator had an additional intent to attempt to influence, change or alter the course of political debate within a nation-state for a more favorable position in the perpetrator's opinion. An assault, murder, kidnapping, or threat thereof would be considered a terrorist act if the criminal perpetrated the act in order to achieve a political outcome. Notice that I did not use any terminology referring to organized crime, multiple actors, conspiracies, international groups, etc. A single actor holding a grandmother hostage in order to influence changing a bus route to go down his block is a terrorist; he does not need to be a card carrying member of any religion, race, group, nation, etc. In addition to being a sole actor performing a terrorist act, one may also be a member of an illegal conspiratal group, but first and foremost one's actions and intentions to act define one as a terrorist, not his associations?

Am I so wrong with my understanding?

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