A Typology of Terrorism

In this paper, a two-fold strategy is carried out for gaining conceptual clarity in response to the question: What is terrorism? The first stage is to defend a broad working definition of terrorism that emphasizes the instrumental employment of terror or fear to obtain any number of possible ends. As proposed in this paper, Terrorism is an act or threat of violence to persons or property that elicits terror, fear, or anxiety regarding the security of human life or fundamental rights and that functions as an instrument to obtain further ends. This instrumentality relies upon either an explicit or implicit threat of separate acts of future violence. It is argued that such a functionalist approach to defining terrorism captures the core qualities that unite the broad family of both political and nonpolitical terrorist actions. At the same time, the proposed definition avoids the problems associated with other approaches that either focus upon the terrorist’s ‘unconventional’ tactics, or the ‘innocence’ of their targets, or their coercive intentions. The breadth of the proposed definition allows for the more nuanced typological analysis in the second stage. The typology is primarily an analysis of the modes of terrorism’s instrumentality. Thus, the broad phenomenon of terrorism is divided according to factors of targets, the degree of force employed, agency, and the geographic context of the action. It is only by drawing out the diverse types of terrorism that the projects of morally evaluating terrorism and formulating a just response to terrorism can take place in a concrete and meaningful way.
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