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Terrorism = non-financial impersonal mayhem upon civilians

Reader comment on item: [Beslan Atrocity:] They're Terrorists - Not Activists

Submitted by Jason Jungreis (United States), Sep 8, 2004 at 13:11

I believe the definition of terrorism is relatively easily derived. It is either bodily attack or intentional mayhem, caused not for the motive of gaining money, against someone not immediately known to the assailant (example: not a crime of passion against a suitor) who is a civilian. A civilian is anyone other than a person in uniform on the field of battle during a generally recognized conflict. I believe this excludes all serious offensive behavior conducted for purposes other than to directly cause terror within a specific group.

Some may argue that this definition precludes so-called nationalist attacks. Per se, they'd be right. But notice that the definition does not preclude attacks upon soldiers in battlefields: as an example, attacks upon American soldiers in Iraq are "legitimate" if in a battlefield. The purpose of the attack is not an issue: it does not matter whether attacks upon American soldiers in Iraq in a battlefield are conducted by Sunni insurgents, Sadr's brigades, or al Queda operatives. The circumstances dictate legitimate targetting v. terrorism, not the cause.

Some may argue that this definition does not address the means of the attack. Again, they'd be right. I believe the technique used (mortars and sniping v. hand-to-hand combat) is not an issue (given certain Geneva Convention weaponry limitations). However, bear in mind that the right to self-defense is available to soldiers in all circumstances. As an example. Israeli soldiers in Gaza are legetimate targets, but have the right to defend themselves regardless that their attackers are hiding among civilians. The Geneva Convention makes clear that it is the attacker hiding among civilians who is responsible for civilian injuries brought about through the enemies' self-defense.

Lastly, some may argue that "mayhem" is too broad a word and does not provide sufficient clarity. Unfortunately, they would indeed be right. Destroying infrastructure such as a bridge, even without loss of life, would be terrorism if not done during a recognized conflict. If "mayhem" is used too broadly, then some may believe that graffiti of that bridge is also mayhem and thus terrorism. I can only disagree based upon my sense of the word "mayhem," but this may become a case-by-case issue.
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