The curious element of motive in definitions of terrorism: Essential ingredient - or criminalising thought?

Controversy has erupted in many jurisdictions about the inclusion of a motive element in the criminal law definition of terrorism, in particular whether reference to a political, religious or ideological purpose or cause unjustifiably interferes in freedom of expression and freedom of religion, or invites racial or religious discrimination. This article argues that a compelling reason for including a motive element in an international or domestic definition of terrorist offences is that it helps to differentiate terrorism from other kinds of serious violence which may also generate fear (such as common assault, armed robbery, rape, or murder), while also according with commonplace public understanding of what constitutes terrorism. As such, the criminal law should recognise this distinction in defining terrorism, so as to more accurately express what is considered by the international and national communities to be distinctively wrongful about terrorism. Inevitably, this view reflects judgments of policy, politics and ethics, which may not be shared by all; but it is the critical impulse underlying arguments for including motive in definitions of terrorism.
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