3 Essential facts about terrorism you should know

statue with flags

In recent years the subjective feeling in Western countries of being under attack by terrorism has grown. For understandable reasons people are scared of the damaging power that is caused by terrorism.


The possibility of a shooting, bombing or anything else causing death and harsh damage, feels like an evil lottery in which everyone is unwantedly involved.


Consequently, the lucky winner of the lottery becomes the damaged victim of the evil play.

Terrorism -as a subjective evil lottery- is for most of us based on unknown mechanisms and interactions, like an unfair algorithm. Mean rules and instructions that cause a certain outcome. The unknown algorithm is like the key to all the damaging violence. In the daily life algorithms are impossible to understand. And so it feels for terrorism: violence that is impossible to understand, as people presume.  

As a result, people experience terrorism as a harsh form of destructiveness that could happen at any moment anywhere and is impossible to understand anything about.  


Beating the algorithm


Let me tell you this, indeed terrorism is something you cannot totally understand, like an algorithm. But knowing more about the concept of terrorism shows the harsh violence in perspective and makes the feeling of being part of an evil lottery a lot less.


Unfortunately defining terrorism is not easy at all, as there’s no agreement among experts about a common definition.


Today terrorism is part of a wide array of theoretical frames, niches and approaches. All give different accents to aspects of what the concept is. The non-agreement makes kind of sense. Terrorism is a field of investigation for many forms of science like human rights, politics, sociology and psychology.

And to make things even more complicated, there are many different forms of terrorism and the concept is changing over time.

Luckily there’s a communal core in the array of descriptions. In understanding terrorism there are 3 essential facts you need to know:[/vc_column_text]


Terrorism is a systematic approach of deliberate violence


Systematic and deliberate are the keywords. Terrorism is not a random act of violence or something that coincidently happened. The destructiveness doesn’t happen ‘at the moment’.

In fact, what is happening is quite the opposite. The violence of terrorism is part of a plan.


Every attack is part of a plan. A plan that has been thought through carefully by an organisation or group, making the violence deliberated.


Harsh violence is the tool in this plan; the tactic to achieve goals. The plan will be systematically put into practice. The destructiveness shows a pattern, there’s a systematic approach. Like a personal firm but now translated into violence.


An example:

The communistic and revolutionary guerrilla group FARC tried to transform Colombia into a Marxists state. The capitalistic system presented by the Colombian government was their main enemy. The society, supporting the system, was the second.

In a way to achieve a Marxist state, the FARC systematically bombed and kidnapped governmental targets and civilians.

In their approach, they deliberately choose political targets, with Ingrid Betancourt as the most famous one. They deliberately bombed political events and civilians.

What was experienced for the outside world as random kidnapping of politicians and random bombings everywhere in Colombia was, in reality, a deliberate tactic. The bombings and kidnappings showed a systematic approach, making terrorism used by the FARC thoughtfully. All the violence was part of a bigger plan.

Another one:

The main political goal of Al Qaeda was the rise of a caliphate in Muslim countries. The bloody acts of destructiveness they caused were directed at the destruction of Western influences in Islamic countries. They deliberately planned bombings and suicidal attacks on Western targets inside and outside Islamic countries. Without doubt the most memorial attack commited by Al Qaeda was 9/11, causing among others the collapse of the Twin Towers and the crash into the Pentagon.

Al-Qaeda planned the suicidal attacks carefully, by training people and planning every detail of 9/11. Because of this, they were able to crash different planes that day, causing a huge shock all over the world.

During the years after 9/11, the plan repeated itself. Again, trained people and planned bombings in public transport of major European cities. The system was clear: suicide attacks on public places at random moments. Al-Qaeda deliberately planned the events.


In understanding terrorism, the systematic approach of deliberate violence is crucial. In distinguishing terrorism of other forms of violence, the use of violence with a repeating plan in a specific manner is the difference.


The political goal is destabilisation


Media reports for good reasons the number of killings that happened after the Madrid bombings in 2005 or the Bataclan shootings in 2010.

It was news and it should be mentioned. But reading the media reports, you would easily get the illusion that terrorist’s main goal is to kill as many people as possible. The more people are killed the more ‘successful’ an act of terrorism should be.

There’s a mind trap in this thought.


Terrorism’s main goal is not the number of deaths but destabilisation.


The destabilisation is directed to those who are approached as the enemy. In fact, the harsh violence is a political tactic to achieve destabilisation.

That means, it is a political tactic to reach political goals. Killing people is part of that. The more people die, the more impact the act will have in society.


In the example of the FARC, the main targets were political. By kidnapping Ingrid Betancourt as the leading president’s candidate, the FARC didn’t kill anyone but tried to destabilise the politics of Colombia at that time.

The same thing happened while bombing political targets. By attacking the political system of Colombia with a systematic, deliberate form of violence, establishing a Marxistic system as the FARC wanted, was only possible with destabilisation of society and the government.


Al-Qaeda became ‘famous’ with the massive killing of civilians of 9/11. The organisation didn’t want any form of Western involvement in Islamic countries so they could develop an Islamic state. Although the massive killing of civilians was part of the ‘success’ for Al-Qaeda, the main goal was hurting the USA in the heart by choosing meaningful targets. In the attempt to destabilize the USA they used terrorism to achieve their goal. A destabilized Western country would mean less involvement in Islamic countries and subsequently more influence of Al-Qaeda. They showed their power to chose symbolic, important targets in the society like the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.


Terrorists might look like killer machines aimed at destroying as many people as possible. In reality, The harsh deliberate violence is a political tactic with the goal of destabilisation.


Terrorism is subjective and context dependent


The photo on top shows the statute of Nelson Mandela in Ramallah, Palestine. Nelson Mandela is seen today by many as the brave man who stood up against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. He’s a cornerstone of history. A man who suffered for the freedom for his people. A hero and inspiration for many.


Nelson Mandela is a famous example of the subjective and context dependent part of terrorism.


In his starting days, Mandela used systematically violence to free black people in South Africa. While he was for black people a freedom fighter, the South-African government at that time saw him as a terrorist. Mandela tried to destabilize the regime of Apartheid. An attempt that cost him many years in prison.


The history of Nelson Mandela shows that the meaning of terrorism changes over time.


The same behaviour in the same circumstances can have a highly different interpretation. Showing that interpretation is subjective and context-depended. To put it in different words: every form of terrorism has his own characteristics and can be judged in multiple ways. In defining what is terrorism, this is a hard one to beat.


Bonus: one more fact that is highly essential to know: terrorism is not caused by any religion, ethnic group or nationality. To understand this, read the second point: it’s a political tactic aimed a destabilisation and read the article: the most excited thing I learned from statistics, click here. 

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