By Robert Brym
Definitions of terrorism vary, depending on whose ox gets gored. For example, U.S. Code, Title 22, Ch. 38, Para. 2656f(d) defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents” (Cornell University Law School, 2012). By this definition, the exercise of indiscriminate state violence against noncombatant targets for military and political purposes is not terrorism, but a violent act of resistance against occupation or ethnic, religious or national oppression may be. Sharply put, your ox is a terrorist when he gores mine, but my ox gores yours with legitimacy.
In contrast to terms that refer to specific forms of violence that can be defined independently of their legitimacy in the eyes of one party or another engaged in conflict – terms such as suicide bombing or state-directed assassination – terrorism is a term that always takes sides. Accordingly, a case can be made for expunging “terrorism” from the sociological lexicon in favor of value-neutral terms that describe specific forms of violence. Continue reading