Reflections on Terrorism
by Farah Jamal

 A. Introduction. 
 B. What is Terrorism and Who is a Terrorist? 
 C. Shaping the Terrorist and Their Actions 
 D. Globalization and Terrorism 
 E. Conclusion 
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A. Introduction.

Reflections on Terrorism, is an informal analysis of various components of modern (post Cold War) terrorism including, defining terrorism, shaping the terrorist and globalization and terrorism. The topics discussed in this report are centered, yet not limited to terrorist experiences in the West. The components of the report are written as literature reviews, analyzing various authors' perspectives both opinionated and factual. In addition, I have added my own critical theoretical perspectives in the analysis to open debate and challenge assumptions.

The "terrorism" subject is extremely broad in range and the amount of literature on the topic is therefore vast, especially since the recent terrorist attacks in the United States (2001) and London, England (2005). Therefore, due tootime andsizeconstrinats, this paper is limited to certain subjects and authors

Terrorism is not a phenomenon of the twenty-first century. It has existed as long as conventional war (arguably). Defining the word terrorism is the most integral part of approaching the subject since the definition then creates moral grounds of acceptance or condemption. Comprehending who tends to become terrorists and how they are motivated deepens on our understanding of the problems in our societies and politics, as well as helps us eliminate dangerous assumptions about groups of people.

What is Terrorism and Who is a Terrorist?

To analyze the concept of terrorism in detail, we must first seek to answer the preliminary questions of what is terrorism (as a definition) and who is the terrorist according to this definition. Defining a word or concept brings upon meaning and thus judgment. Therefore, I have researched and generally illustrated three views of terrorism from accredited authors Igor Primoratz, Micheal Walzer and Andrew Valls.

Primortaz's work on the subject of terrorism primarily focuses on its definition. His analysis revolves around the connection of "terror" in terrorism. Primoratz understands acts of terrorism to be indiscriminate in that the terrorist does not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent and does not respect the immunity of the innocent. Based on this argument, terrorism attacks the innocent to threaten the guilty to achieve political objectives. Therefore, there are two potential targets for terrorists, the direct target and the indirect target. (1) The direct target are those people upon whom the violent act is directly inflicted, they are politically secondary and are most importantly they are innocent civilians. Primortaz recognizes the direct target as the primary structure and pre condition of the terrorist act. In contrast, (2) the indirect target are those people that the terrorist is trying to coerce. These people are politically primary and may or may not be innocent. In the words of Primortatz, terrorism is the,

Deliberate use of violence or threat of its use against innocent people with the aim of intimidating them or other people into a course of action they would otherwise not take (Primoratz, 159).

If terrorism then must be an indiscriminate act with direct targets then political assassination would not be considered terrorism because the violence is aggressed at the indirect target. This is highly controversial since political assassination still fulfills the criteria of terrorism since it is "terrorizing" a nation's people (in the form of fear) as well as being politically motivated.

Primoratz's definition of terrorism is morally neutral since he left the question of whether it was morally okay out of the analysis. We can understand that terrorism is bad because it is indiscriminate, however can it be morally permissible on some grounds?

Walzer's definition of terrorism closely resembles that of Primoratz; however, its focus is on analyzing the morality of the subject. Walzer also recognized terrorism as being indiscriminate and because of this, he treats it as a moral grounds for condemption. In other words, the indiscriminate characteristic makes it wrong on any grounds. Walzer believes that political assassination is different from terrorism (Primortaz would probably agree). Political assassination addresses the root of the cause which is motivating the assassin and therefore is the "better way" in comparison to the direct target used by terrorists. It can be argued however, that how is one to truly identify the "root" of a problem? Is killing a high or low level official the source? Osama bin Laden, in an interview with Hamid Mir, editor of the Urdu newspaper Ausaf, is quoted as follows:
The American people should remember that they pay taxes to their government, they elect their president, their government manufactures arms and gives them to Israel and Israel uses them to massacre Palestinians. The American Congress endorses all government measures and this proves that the entire America is responsible for the atrocities perpetrated against Muslims. The entire America because they elect Congress (Forester-Victims of Terror, 8).

What about those American's who did not vote in favor of their elected government? Foreign policy is complex and influenced by a variety of sources and the public is often not aware of policy being implemented by governments after elections. Walzer fails to answer this question in his analysis.

Walzer furthers his analysis by presenting the idea of the Political Code. This code is similar to that of the "Just War Theory." (The Just War Theory is a politically recognized theory which outlines the conditions that would be suitable to enter conventional war and the just conduct to act in war.) The Political Code plainly suggests that innocent people should not be targeted. Terrorism therefore is a deliberate violation of this code.

However the political code is specified, terrorism is the deliberate violation of its norms. For ordinary citizens are killed and no defense is offered. They are killed simply to deliver a message of fear to others (Walzer, 203).

In opposition to Walzer's arguments it can be argued that when you don't have any other option but to engage in indiscriminate approach than it can be justified. For example, the Kurds in Iraq were victims of an oppressive regime with no defensive or offensive tools and no communication to deliver their messages appropriately: so perhaps it is just for them to terrorize on such grounds.

Valls on terrorism and Just War Theory

Valls argues that there is often a double standard applied in morally evaluating terrorism. Conventional war is usually viewed as being morally justifiable in appropriate circumstances (usually when abiding by Just War Theory) while terrorism is usually viewed as being immoral no matter what the circumstance. Valls argues that if conventional war can meet the requirements of just war theory then so can terrorist violence. In arguing for this, Valls automatically rejects Primortaz's and Walzer's definition of terrorism since he rejects that there needs to be innocent people. Therefore, Valls working definition of terrorism is, "political violence committed by non-state actors."

Provided we can justify conventional war by state actors, we can also justify terrorism by the same standards. This idea is understood through the Just War Theory. Though the Just War Theory is a complex set of "rules," this section of the report will only address those "rules" that are relevant to Valls' arguments.

The first segment of Just War Theory is Jus ad Bellum (justified cause). This segment enforces the need to have a just cause when going into war. It poses the question: Are the reasons for violence satisfactory and defensive? This segment also enforces the need to have legitimate authority: is the proper person deciding to go to war based on their authority or influence over a group? The second segment of Just War Theory is Jus in Bello (just conduct). This segment enforces the need for there to be discrimination during war, one must distinguish between combatants versus civilians. Valls takes these rules of Just War Theory and applies them to justifying Terrorism.

Valls points out that the rights of a state to wage a defensive war are derivative of the rights of people within the state. Therefore the rights of a state to go to war are based on their role as acting as protector of the people in the state. According to Valls then, non-state actors have the same right to engage in violence as protector of themselves since the states rights are derivate of the people. What is primary is the right of a group to "self-determination" and it thus justifies aggression of that group. Given this, the right to self-determination is potentially a just cause for violence by non-state groups. In other words, if a state has this right, then the non-state has the right, based on their mutual right to self-determination.

My Digression:
In a democracy, people vote to elect a representative who acts on behalf of the people. Though this representative does not always receive majority vote (over 50%) nor do they truly represent the entire people of a population (minority vote's seats in parliament not truly proportionate), there is a general acceptance of their power (since there is no revolt). This representative ensures that people do not act for themselves and therefore exempt their rights of self-determination when it comes to violence. In a dictatorship or government whereby there are no elections with choice, the people do not feel that anyone is acting on "their behalf" (the general acceptance is often coerced or they do not have the political ability to engage in direct participatory political methods such as petition etc.). They then feel they have the right and need for self-determination on all grounds including violence. Perhaps, this is one explanation of many for why "terrorists" are often from or originate from oppressive regimes.

Under Jus ad Bellum (just conduct) of the Just War Theory, Valls outlines the need for there to be legitimate authority. However, Valls objects to the common view that only states can be legitimate authorities in prosecuting war. If states can be legitimate authorities, according to Valls, so can a terrorist group. What matters for legitimacy is whether or not the organization, either state of terrorist, is recognized by a group of people as representing their rights and interests.

Also under Jus ad Bellum is the concept of discrimination. Valls argues that terrorist do often discriminate (opposing Primoratz and Walzer's theories). Political assassination therefore is a type of terrorist action in which the terrorist discriminates to find the indirect target.

Valls argues that the problem with Walzer is that his definition of terrorism already claims it as being immoral. The need for indiscrimination in terrorism, makes the rest of his arguments self-fulfilling and morally condemning.

The issue of terrorism thus becomes largely definitional. Valls denies that the targeting of innocents is an essential feature of terrorism and in doing so he says it is possible to discriminate.

I find that Valls working definition, "terrorism is violence by non-state actors," is narrow and does not comply with his own arguments. The problem is that Valls acknowledges earlier that there is such thing as "state terrorism." Where does state terrorism fall into the "non-state actors" portion of his definition?

I then pose the question, what makes "state terrorism" a type of terrorism? I believe the answer to this is firstly, when states or state military target innocent people when engaging in any type of violence or conduct. Secondly, through the concept of intimidation. If we agree that terrorism is about spreading "terror" then the spreading of fear and victimizing becomes a form of terrorism. This could be said to be displayed in the United States media post Sept 11th and during the onset of the Iraqi war.


Primoratz, Igor, "What is Terrorism?" from Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 7, No.2, Pp. 129-138, Copyright Society for Applied Anthropology, 1990.

Valls, Andrew, "Can Terrorism Be Justified?" from Ethics in International Affairs, Pp.65-79, Copyright Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.

Walzer, Micheal, "Terrorism" from Just and Unjust Wars, Pp.197-206, Copyright Basic Books, 1992.

M. Forester, Peter (PhD). The Psychology of Terror - The Mind of the Terrorist. Blue Oceans Psychology. http://www.blue-oceans.com/psychology/terror_psych.html Date Last Visited: August 17, 2005.

C. Shaping the Terrorist and Their Actions

While researching the "profile of a terrorist" I found information ranging on both ends of the spectrum from terrorists who are educated, uneducated, poor and rich. There is therefore no profile for a terrorist. Terrorist groups tend to use the vulnerability of the un-educated to convince participation and the skills of the educated to implement operations. However, what is common among terrorists is that most are male (15% female), aging between 16 and 28 (Merari, 1990).

Organized to Amateur
The recent London bombings were said to be an "amateur act" conducted by very young men who were born and raised in Europe. Assuming (though it is not proven) that these young men are members of a larger organization al-Qaeda, I pose the question: Why use "amateurs"? Many presume that after September 11th national security has tightened and therefore experienced al-Qaeda members find it increasingly difficult to cross borders. Young people already living within a target's borders and who are often looking for purpose are then recruited for the "job" (Forester, 4).

Reasons and Causes by Kaplan
Kaplan in his writings The Psychodynamics of Terrorism distinguishes from the reasons and causes of terrorism stating that the reasons are largely social and which help rationalize violence. On the other hand the causes of terrorism "must be sought in the psychopathology of the assassin (Kaplan, 36)". In other words, Kaplan is saying that terrorists have a need to use absolute ends. This need comes from past experiences of violence rooted in an oppressive or aggressive society. Terrorists often come from places that have internal struggles such as civil war and political corruption. When young people grow up in such societies, violence becomes the normal reaction to unfavorable situations.

Silke and Socialization
Pushing a person with a cause to pursue it with violence can be a matter of using a catalyst which touches them so deeply that they feel what they are doing is equally or less horrific than the catalyst which motivated them. I found Silke exhibiting the same belief in his example of violence in Israel-Palestine.

Normally this is an act of extreme physical violence committed by the police or security forces or other rival group against the individual, family, friends or simply anyone they can identify with. The fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy by Israeli soldiers in September 2000 at Netzarim acted as such a catalyst event for Palestinians. Captured on television, the shooting of the boy as he cowered with his father behind a water barrel contributed to a dramatic resurgence in terrorist violence in the region (Forester, 5).

Outlets for Terrorists (comments by Farah Jamal)
Strapping a couple of bombs in a governmental head office is cheaper than finding a media group to exhibit a message or encourage a government to change policy by organizing public display events. Not only is it cheaper but its message is bigger. Media groups jump at the chance of covering the killing of thousands of blue collar workers. "It is the warfare of the poor and disaffected (Forester, 6)".

However some terrorists are un-educated and some have University and College degrees. It is apparent that many people who have political objectives and wish to create change lack the resources to conduct it appropriately. They lack the money, the media attention, the freedom of speech and the legitimacy. These people, often in despair and desperation seek an outlet. The problem is that the outlets available for these people are organized terrorist groups where they find easy access, acceptance and the resources to reach their objectives. Democratic regimes give people the right to speak their mind, give them the power to question government authority and give them the institutional capacity to turn for help. The lack of these qualities in a nation could possibly be the reason why people turn to harmful "outlets". Nevertheless, a democracy might not be suitable for many nations, and this is understandable based on traditions and religion. The Western notion of governance is not the only good way of governance. However, it can not be denied that citizens need to have some influence on their government or dictator and the institutional and human capacity needs to be instilled (in some shape or form) to allow them to do so. These political qualities ensure that citizens feel that their voices are meaningful and influential and it keeps them from turning to alternatives such as terrorism.

Peter M. Forester, the UK Home Office and Terrorism
According to Forester, the Home Office in the United Kingdom (similar to the US Department of Justice) has consciously been issuing visas to terrorists and their supporters over the past decade. These groups were attracted to the UK because of its world class financial centres which were easily accessible to run their operations through. The Home Office allowed these groups entrance because of the assumption that they were not being threatened, not to mention the extra inflow of money in their banks.

Media and Terrorism
Stilke sees media groups as the outlet for organizational terrorists and suggests that without this, many terrorists would re-direct their efforts. He argues that the media's lack of understanding on the subject of terrorism and terrorists are simply "hard-line strategies" to cope with them. Since many people seek their educational and news information from the media, the public tends to adopt misleading views on the subject. People commit terror because it allows them to capture free media attention. Publicity of these crimes are said to be the "oxygen of terrorism" (Forester, 5).


Kaplan, A. (1981). The psychodynamics of terrorism. In Y. Alexander & J. Gleason (Eds.), Behavioral and quantitative perspectives on terrorism. New York: Pergamon.

Merari, A. (1990). The readiness to kill and die: Suicidal terrorism in the Middle East. In W. Reich (Ed.), Origins of terrorism: Psychologies, ideologies, theologies and states of mind. Cambridge University Press.

Silke, A. (2001). Terrorism. The Psychologist, 14, 580 - 581. Simonsen, C. and J. Spindlove (2000) Terrorism Today: The Past, The Players, The Future. NJ: Prentice Hall

M. Forester, Peter (PhD). The Psychology of Terror - The Mind of the Terrorist. Blue Oceans Psychology. http://www.blue-oceans.com/psychology/terror_psych.html Date Last Visited: August 17, 2005.

D. Globalization and Terrorism.

Globalization refers to the increasing interconnectedness between people, countries and organizations around the world. Technological innovation in communication allows people from all over the world to connect with each other transferring culture, religion, political processes and money internationally through various networks. Therefore, social, political, economic and cultural life is influenced and available to everyone who has access to the structures that allows transition, such as the Internet or government banks. The purpose of this paper is to provide a small glimpse of how this notion of globalization has made room for new actors, including terrorists, to gain influence in the international realm.

International relations have been shaped, influenced and perceived through the lenses of many theories and philosophers over the years. No single theory has been applied exclusively in the international system, but more often combinations of various theories are visible and applicable. Realism is said to be the oldest theory of international relations (Goldstein, 73). Realism describes the world as a state of conflict. It understands international relations in terms of power and is commonly associated with a political military world, as its concept of power is based on state military strength. A country or state is perceived as the primary, unitary actor that acts in its own self-interest in order to maximize power. Countries are able act in any way they see fit without any moral regard, because realism believes that the world is in a state of anarchy whereby there is no overarching global government to influence state behavior. This does not mean that there is no sense of order in the global system. Contrarily, Realists believe that there exists a natural forming balance of power where every nation is naturally "checked" by the other, ensuring that no one nation gets too powerful. Realists use mechanisms such as compensation to achieve the conditions of stability (Goldstein, 76). Compensation refers to a situation when two nations bargain interests or goods for a mutual benefit in order to secure their power. Other mechanisms include strengthening ones military to oppose rivaling nations, and creating alliances whereby smaller nations can come together to oppose larger nations (Goldstein, 76).

This view of international politics provides us with an essential framework to better understand the motives behind some national foreign policies and the condition of world politics. Nonetheless, many of the assumptions held by Realists are speculative and no longer seem applicable to the current state of international affairs in light of the increasingly influential phenomena of globalization, particularly that of the state as being the primary, unitary actor.

Realism holds the assumption that states are the primary actors in the international realm. They are specifically the ones who implement policy and action. This view has proven to be one of its severe shortcomings, as it has failed to consider how globalization has added complexities in international relations when identifying actors. This idea of the state as the main actor is too simplistic. State actions often do not reflect an individual set of preferences, but are in fact shaped by internal bargaining within bureaucracies and interest groups; each with a divergence of interests (Goldstein, 81). Globalization has given political power to corporations through their increasing profits due to the acceptance of multi-national enterprises, making them financially capable of influencing state behavior. It has also given political power to interest groups who can gain support and organize internationally easily through the Internet and economic markets.

The idea of the state being the main actor assumes that the domestic environment including all individuals and organizations within a state do not impact foreign relations. There are in fact many non-state actors that have influenced international affairs. Super empowered individuals, non-governmental organizations and ethnic and religious groups all are actors in the international realm who pursue and compromise various interests (Goldstein, 82).

Osama Bin Laden for example is not a government leader of any nation, yet has posed a threat to national security in countries in the West. Bin Laden as an extremist individual has created his own type of military and has constructed his own threat to international affairs, and has done so by member support and economic means. Osama and other terrorist groups have gained relative power in the international realm because our global environment has allowed them. They no longer need the legitimacy of a nation-state and its citizens to engage in wars. They have easy access to international weaponry markets. They can gather support and organize actions through the Internet and other technological communication. Arguably, these groups of people can not find other outlets to push their political interests, because they come from domestic environments that do not have the structures in place to allow them to. In these environments the state is often the primary, unitary actor.

Bin Laden and his supporters are known to oppose Western ways of progress. Contrary to popular belief they do not necessarily oppose progress in general, but the ways in which the West chooses to progress, such as colonization and particularly cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism refers to the notion of enforcing a particular culture around the world, making it the most dominant and often suppressive to other cultural voices. Western culture is imperialistic: the world's primary language is English; American and European multi-national corporations such as McDonalds and Starbucks appear in countries around the world. Coca-Cola is more readily available than drinking water in many developing nations, and has intentionally been set up as a supplement. The shape of global economics has been constructed by the West enforcing a "conform and be included or remain and be diminished" attitude. Cultural imperialism exists to the extent to which it does because the technological power of globalization rests largely in the hands of the West, allowing them to influence the rest of the world through their networks. Therefore, in an attempt to preserve the spirit of Western rule of law and freedom, the "war on terror" has emerged to bring down those terrorists who defy this spirit. In doing so, they are bringing down the spirit of other cultures and governments.

Many decisions made by governments on behalf of the state do not always reflect the interests of the nation including how they react to terrorist actions. Corporations and non-governmental organizations that have financially supported governments in the past often sway their decisions in foreign policy to be favorable for them. Moreover, in history and in coming generations it seems more likely for wars to be fought between religions and civilizations, where state actors do not necessarily take on the primary role but rather religious leaders and interest groups. This is already evident through the terrorist attacks in the West where the violence is largely based on ideological differences.

When states and governments are no longer singularly the primary actors in the international realm legitimacy is dropped and the doors open for anyone with the economic and human capacity to implement their own political objectives to step in. The problem is: How is a nation supposed to go to war with a person or group while respecting other nations' sovereignty? Perhaps there is no answer to this problem since Osama bin Laden has still not been caught. Or rather maybe the international system should take into account the effects of globalization and accept the influence of "super-empowered" individuals and groups and create institutional structures to "keep them in check." For example, something equivalent to the United Nations for these groups which allows them to stress their political objectives in a meaningful, diplomatic way.

Many people believe that terrorism and war is a part of our human nature and will continue through time. However, by adopting this description of human nature, we automatically allow for an irrational and unjust world. A moral political international community creates mutual benefits and gives rise to the "politics of recognition and equal dignity (Taylor, 49)". Globalization can either create the structure of such an international community or can be the force which destroys any prospect for it. I believe the answer rests in access. Equal access to technology and education to benefit from globalization and access to institutions that allow diverse people to push their political interests.

It must be stated that peace is too often defined in relation to words such as justice, cooperation and harmony. Peace canbe defined as what emerges when war is neglected. (Charleton, 14) The problem of security and therefore peace can only be approached by institutionalizing broader international arrangements (Hegel, 10). These agreements would entail lengthy debates and domestic reconstruction. Some people may argue that such debates and ideas of reconstruction could go on forever and it would be impossible to reach a common agreement. Gandhi also told his people that Independence would take a long time and that people would have to change their lifestyles; it basically worked. Thus if anything is worth trying, it is the pursuit of peace.


Charelton, Mark. International Relations in the Post-Cold War Era (Crosscurrents 3rd Edition). Nelson Press: Scarborough, Canada: 2002

Hegel and Kant. The Morality of Peace: The Grounds for Ethical Ideals. Journal article by Mark Shelton; The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 54, 2000.

S. Goldstein, Joshua. International Relations (6th Edition). Pearson Longman Press: New York, NY: 2005

Taylor, Charles. "Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition." With Commentary by Amy Gutmann (Editor), Steven C. Rockefeller, Michael Walzer, and Susan Wolf. Princeton University Press. 1993.

E. Conclusion.
The real problem with terrorism is that it works. Terrorist leaders gain influence, support and legitimacy by using acts of violence. Yesterday's terrorist becomes today's statesmen (Forester, 8). Their justification for violence is rooted in the political objective to strengthen the weak to oppose the powerful to ultimately seek some sense of equality and significance. The answer to this problem is not the "war on terror." War and terror are often one in the same if we agree that both result in "terrorizing" innocent people, either directly or indirectly. The answer rests where the problem is rooted. The increasing integration of our world with respect to economics, politics, cultures and the environment has much to do with the recent eruption of terrorists groups in the once "untouchable" West. The lack of institutional and political capacity for non-state actors to push their political objectives in a diplomatic manner may be the problem. Implementing specific international organizations to address this particular issue may be the solution.

The morality of terrorism is subjective, based on people's personal experiences and opinions. However, the way we define terrorism and the words we associate with it, shapes peoples' views. When asking an elementary school child, "who are terrorists?" I was not surprised to find the answer, "Muslim extremists" since the terrorist actions most media have focused on during this child's life were committed by people from the Islamic community. It is an oxymoron to say, "Islamic terrorism" since it is against Islam to engage in non-defensive war and to commit suicide.

Though physical damage has been done by terrorists in the West, the fear rests in the internal damage done in our bureaucracies:

The danger in the 'war on terrorism' lies not only in the actual damage the terrorists can do to us but what we can do to our own legal and political institutions by way of shock, anger, anticipation, opportunism or overreaction. (Binnie J-Terrorism and Human Rights, para.116)

Governments with diverse communities need to look carefully on how they deal with this decade's terrorism actions. The challenges for Western countries is in protecting their values of human rights and constitution and at the same time react to terrorism in a way which honours these values.

This report has been an informal analysis, only scratching the surface of some of the aspects of terrorism. In a changing world, we must find solutions to global problems which implement change. Every problem has a cause. Addressing the cause and finding solutions is a sustainable way of progress. Attempting to eliminate the problem with violence only fuels the engine for increasing terrorism.


Binnie J. Terrorism and Human Rights from Interrights Fiji Human Rights Commission. The International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights: UK, London, INTERRIGHTS 2004