Terrorism and the Cessation of Violence: What we gain when we define terrorism as a tactic

By Eva Herschinger

Terrorism has many facets and many names. ISIS, Al Qaeda or Boko Haram; and, if you are not a child of the 1990s, names such as IRA, ETA and Red Army Faction will most likely tell you something as well. Irrespective of whether terrorism is considered part of a broader conflict (a view you are more likely to find among observers of social movements) or as a self-contained phenomenon (more likely to find among scholars of terrorism studies), it is easy to get very confused in light of the great variety of answers about what terrorism actually is. From terrorism as abhorrent, indiscriminate violence by non-state actors to terrorism as oppressive acts of states, definitions abound. And in light of decades of searching for a global definition of terrorism and countless academic treatments of the matter, a certain fatigue with the issue can be observed today.

But we shouldn’t give in to this fatigue. Neither scholars nor practitioners can choose to ignore the definitional deadlock because the existence of very divergent views on what constitutes terrorism can ‘be expected to have profound impact on international efforts to combat terrorism’. Different definitions of terrorism lend themselves to justify different national measures on a case-by-case basis; and the absence of a global definition is the elephant in the room when talking about global anti-terrorism measures.

One of the central problems of the current literature on terrorism resides in the underlying idea that it is possible to agree on an objectively determinable, single meaning of terrorism. While some concede that terrorism is an essentially contested concept, many other current approaches take the concept of terrorism for granted. Terrorism is presupposed to be a particular form of political violence, usually by non-state actors. However, some scholars have outlined that terrorism can be better thought of as a tactic that is employed by various actors, irrespective of whether these are states or sub-state actors. This idea is not new, it goes back to the years before the 2nd World War. Yet, it did not gain a real foothold in terrorism studies. Thinking of terrorism as a tactic does not aim to circumscribe a specific content to terrorism, i.e. define it as a particular form of political violence used by a particular group of actors. Instead, it means considering terrorism as a practice employed in the context of a broader conflict to foster specific political ends. The particular content and manifestation of such a practice – i.e. what it is and what it is about – is contingent and depends on the context at hand. So considering terrorism a tactic should not be misunderstood as re-essentializing terrorism.

The advantages of this perspective are manifold. For researchers, it allows for fully acknowledging and scientifically exploring the contingent, socially constructed character of terrorism: Terrorism not as an end in itself, but as a tactic employed in the context of a broader conflict. A tactic that is meant to escalate conflicts most often when moments of stagnation or frustration are reached.

Second, it would allow for disentangling violence from the causes of conflict. After all, no grievance, no ideology and no religion is “terroristic” per se. Avoiding the short-circuiting of specific causes and the resort to terrorist violence by trying to establish generalizable causal links would offer the theoretical benefit of conceiving causes and violence as historically situated phenomena. We would analyse more coherently when, why and by whom the tactic terrorism is employed in specific conflicts. This would pave the way for a deeper understanding of why some conflicts turn violent but others not – and this is, according to Jack A. Goldstone, the question we face in studying contentious politics today.

Third, terrorism as a tactic would thwart attempts to instrumentalize the notion of terrorism and to use the language of demonization. In particular, the latter opens up questionable room for political manoeuvre: after all, semi democratic and authoritarian governments are using the Global War on Terror for their own purposes.

Lastly, conceiving of terrorism as a tactic would open up alternatives for how to deal with terrorism in a non-violent way, potentially leading to the cessation of violence. With terrorism’s current exceptional status as the enemy of the civilized world, the struggle is cast in universal terms, it is ‘us vs. them’, ‘good vs. evil’. This ‘either/or’ logic limits the options of those wishing to fight terrorism considerably, as alternative ideas on how to counter terrorism have to comply with this misguided, absolute pattern of either inclusion or exclusion. After all, as many instances in history have shown, one does not make deals with the enemy.

Thinking of terrorism as a tactic would no longer accord terrorism the same exclusive, paramount position on the international agenda and would no longer have states appear weak and lenient when resorting to diplomacy and eventually negotiations rather than military violence to end terrorism. What looms large here are the possibilities of an ethical counter-terrorism policy that goes beyond an enemy-centred thinking and refers to adversaries instead. An enemy, you destroy. An adversary, you fight. This makes a huge difference. A shift in thinking away for enemies and towards adversaries would allow for counter-terrorism policies that do not look for extremes and, thereby, bring terrorism back to proportions.

These advantages might seem farfetched in times of ISIS or Boko Haram. But in light of the current use of the notion of terrorism it seems timely to ask for an alternative understanding of terrorism guiding political practice as much as research.

5 Comments

Filed under Civil Wars and Contentious Politics, Essay Dialogues, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Terrorism and the Cessation of Violence: What we gain when we define terrorism as a tactic

  1. Brooke W

    I do agree with you on most of these points. Terrorism does bring the context of a broader conflict. Good read, I’ll share some other posts about terrorism with you as well: Terrorism Essay

    Like

    • Sunday, Feb., 27/2022-Thanks Brooke; WE-CANADA/1993-2022 REALLY has a MAJOR PROBLEM OF URGENCY, and our Canadian Forces-JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL and its OMBUDSMAN…have to LEGALLY CORRECT IT!!! Yours Aye-Brian CANUCK Murza…Killick Vison, Present Day Military Analyst/Amateur, High Treason Q.E.II Analyst, W.W.II Naval Researcher-Published Author, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on battleoftheatlantic19391945 and commented:
    Saturday, November 27/2021@ 07:40-WELL, as WE have been VIEWING and RESEARCHING-CONCERNING the Canadian Civilian Satellite-Computer SPY RING/1993-2021; WHICH is NOT ONLY 5-10, 000 Canadian Civilian Satellite-Computer SPY RING RATS-TRAITORS-TURNCOATS-MENTAL CASES-of a FIRST OF ALL in 1993/GOSSIPING GOOFS OF Canada, to a HIGHER COWARDICE ORDER OF AIDING AND ABETTING THE ENEMY-COLLABORATING WITH THE ENEMY-AID and COMFORT of the ENEMY; WHICH WITH 28 YEARS OF THIS SPY RING…HIGH TREASON, ETC., IN REGARDS OF SPYING ON ALLIED MILITARY DEPLOYED PERSONNEL, HIGH TREASON UPON Q.E.II, and HIGH TREASON UPON YOUR NON-CARE Canadian Nation’s Security-CSIS, and THEN SOME!!! When OPERATING NON-LICENSED SATELLITES/No CLARIFICATION, INTO COMPUTERS, AND INVADING CLASSIFIED PEOPLES PRIVACY IN DMZ COMBAT-WAR/CONFLICT AREAS, and YOU HAVE THE TERRORISTS AUDIBLY CONCEIVING INFORMATION FROM THE CANADIAN RAT-SPY RING, WELL THEN YOU HAVE A MAJOR CRIMINAL TREASON, ETC., FORMAT…ASSISTING THE TERRORISTS 100 PERCENT, AND ANY ALLIED MILITARY PERSONNEL…0 PERCENT!!!

    Anyways, as THIS SIMILAR MATERIAL HAS BEEN POSTED 5-10 THOUSAND TIMES; ON SOCIAL MEDIAS…WE WILL ADVISE Y’ALL=TO CONDUCT THE RESEARCH is the REWARD FACTOR, and THEN SOME!!!

    RESEARCH: Brian Murza…and Killick Vison, Present Day Military Analyst, High Treason Q.E.II Analyst, W.W.II Naval Researcher-Published Author. Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada.

    “Canadian Forces-JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL…Canadian Forces-OMBUDSMAN: After 28/1993-2021 years of NO LEGAL CORRECTION; with Ex-Lieutenant-Colonel Gar OSTFI/Canadian Forces/Army-Reserves=DETECTIVE HAMILTON POLICE FORCE, WHOM SHOULD HAVE TOOK THIS TO COURT IN 1993…WELL, CF/JAG, BETTER DO IT THEMSELVES; AS IF NOT-IT WILL NOT GET DONE!!!

    Blog credit: Mobilizing Ideas

    Liked by 1 person

  3. TREASON T- CRIMINAL COWARD SATELLITE-COMPUTER PROFILE=SHOOTING YOUR FUC.ING MOUTHS OFF…HURSDAY, December 16/2021@21:26-WELL, MANY YEARS AGO, and SOME PEOPLE TODAY…may GOSSIP to a small EXTENT; THOUGH YOUR Canadian Civilian Satellite-Computer SPY RING MOTOR-MOUTHS=MOUTHPIECES-GOSSIPING GOOFS-BLABBER MOUTHS, HAVE EVEN YOUR HAMILTON POLICE FORCE-VANCOUVER POLICE FORCE-TORONTO POLICE FORCE-ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE-CANADA’S NATION’S SECURITY-CSIS, CALEDONIA ONTARIO PROVINCIAL POLICE, YOUR CANADA and WORLD WIDE VIEWERS-ASSOCIATES-SUPPORTERS…ARE ALL, and HAVE TOOK YOUR FORNICATIONS…INTO a WORSE THAN GOSSIPING GOOFS THEORY!!! WHO THE HELL SITS UP=21-22-23-24 HOURS A DAY=ON A ILLEGAL–CRIMAL RAT SPY RING COMPUTER….RAT-BOX…AND BABBLE LIKE A BULLSHITTERS OF THE HILLYARD-HAMILTON, CANADA CLAN? -NOT ONLY THE BULLSHITTERS OF BABBLING FOOLS HILLYARDS, THOUGH LOWDENS-PHALENS-VANDENBERGS-and 5-10 THOUSAND OTHER FAMILIES OF FORNICATIONS…KAMMERERS-MCNAUGHTONS-REES-MONTANI’S-EDWARDS=HALTON REGIONAL POLICE FORCE-and ETC., AS YOU IDIOTS=AND CIVILIAN SPIES…EVEN HAVE OUR NATION’S SECURITY-CSIS…GOSSIPING!!! GOSSIPING IDIOTS ALL OVER CANADA, AND THE WORLD; YELLOW CANADIAN RAT-SHITS…THE Albert and Mary HILLYARD FORMATS-YOU YELLOW CANADIAN RATS, and THEN SOME!!!CHATTERBOXES GALORE…AS MRS Gary HILLYARD’S BIG MOUTH=NEVER A CLOSED DOOR…

    This BULLSHIT HAS GONE TOO FAR…Canadian Forces-JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL, CF-OMBUDSMAN…ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!! L=IKE LOUIE..LOUIE LOUDMOUTH REESLOUDMOUTHS LUNACY, AND THEN SOME…Canada HAS NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS=YAP-YAP-YAP-YAPPIDY-YAP-YAP-YAP-YAPPIDY-YAP-YAP; DIDDLER DANNY BOY HILLYARD=GOSSIPS MORE THAN THE LOUDMOUTH LOUGAN PLAYS THE GOOD GUITAR, BY FAR!!! Mary…MARY HILLYARD; HER MOUTH IS OPEN MORE THAN HER LEGS=WHEN SHE WAS A FLOOSIE=LIKE LOUIE…LOUIE LOUDMOUTH REES/EDWARDS…We ALL may have had CONVERSATION WHEN YOUNGER=BUT THESE LOUDMOUTHS ARE MORONIC VALUES, and THEor!!!

    RSEARCH-The Canadian Military Published Authrereor-Present Day Military Analyst/Amature, High Treason-Q.E.II Analyst, W.W.II Naval Researcher-Published Author, Niagara Falls, Ontario, COWARDICE CANADA/1993-2021!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Terrorism and the Cessation of Violence: What we gain when we define terrorism as a tactic — Mobilizing Ideas – battleoftheatlantic19391945

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