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> What is a terrorist?, Criminals vs Terrorists vs ?
Vermillion
post Mar 7 2006, 10:57 AM
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I was reading the news online today, and came across a story reporting something I had never heard before.

http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/060306/w030656.html

Apparently organised crime in Israel has shot up in the last few years, becoming incresingly violent and bloody. The report above speaks of two specific incidents in a recent mob-war, one where an anti-tank missile was fired at a gang bosses car, but more interestingly, two large explosives set off in public, one destroying a Tel Aviv appartment building, the other going off in the street. Neither killed their intended mob target, but both killed and wounded a number of civilians.

The larger question here is this, Israelis have been dealing with explosives, both conventional and suicide bombs, going off in their cities for some time now, and they have been universal in their condemnation of these attackers as terrorists, a quite reasonable statement.

So are these mobsters 'terrorists' as well? The issue seems to not be one of tactics but rather of scale.


And that leads to the wider question, is tactics what defines a terrorist? Would Al capone, who blew up cars and pubs in his gang wars, be considered a terrorist? Would William Wallace, thug-hero of 13th century Scotland be one for nailing a barn full of english soldiers shut and setting it on fire? What is the line between violent criminals and terrorists and freedom fighters, or is there one?

The Malvo shooting on the beltway in the US, some people were calling those two men terrorists, but weren't they really just murderers?


What IS a terrorist?
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Victoria Silverw...
post Mar 7 2006, 12:25 PM
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Of course, when it is your loved one whose body has been reduced to bloody chunks of dead meat, it doesn't matter what you call those responsible. But perhaps it makes a difference politically.

Let's look at the same scenario in different ways. A bomb explodes somewhere, killing people who are, by any possible definition, innocent of anything that might have led to their deaths.

Possibility one: The ones (or, more likely, the one) responsible had no motivation other than the desire to kill. This is best defined as a "mass murderer." Random shootings and the like fall into this category. (If it is done one victim at a time, it is best defined as the work of a "serial killer.") The murderer may be insane, or may be a sociopath.

Possibility two: The ones responsible had a practical goal in mine (killing a specific enemy, for example) and just didn't care who else got killed. This is best defined as a "cold-blooded criminal" if one person is responsible, or "gangsters" if many are responsible. The murderers are sane, but sociopathic.

Possibility three: The ones responsible were government officials with the goal of oppressing the populace. This is best defined as a "police state." The murderers may be simply greedy for power, or may have an ideology.

Possibility four: The ones responsible were rebels against the government. Depending on the exact circumstances, you may think of them as "freedom fighters" or "traitors." The distinction may depend on whether the innocent were targeted or were an "accident of war." The same would apply to civilian casualties during wartime; they may be "war crimes" or "tragic, unavoidable accidents."

Possibility five: The ones responsible are not in power, had a specific ideology, and deliberately targeted the innocent. This is the best definition I can come up with for "terrorist."
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TruthMarch
post Mar 7 2006, 02:55 PM
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This is very simple. If they do it, it's terrorism. If we do it, it's counter-terrorism. If Israel blows up a building killing 15 innocents, it's considered counter-terrorism. If Palestinians blow up a building killing 15 innocents, it's a terrorist act. Plus, it's all in the eyes of the beholder. Palestinians, I'm sure, would consider the murder of their people as a criminal act, as do the Israelis. So it's all relative. But wait a second. What is this really telling us? Because we know the US has and still does support criminal acts by particular state leaders, that would mean the US supports terrorism if it's in their best interest. Consider: in the 80's Hussein was an awesome guy whom the US loved and supported (with illegal weapons). In the 90's, he was a parasite who was so evil Americans soiled their underwear. Friend...foe...
Yes terrorism are criminal acts. Even if it's done by "good" countries.
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Mrs. Pigpen
post Mar 8 2006, 12:27 AM
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I'd say a terrorist is a person who deliberately and systemically murders, maims, and menaces the innocent to inspire fear. I'm not sure the difference between that and other types of crime is tactics or scale.

The difference, IMO, is rather intent. A rough analogy might be hate crime versus other crime. In the case of a hate crime, the intent is (or should be to be classified as such) to victimize an entire race or large group of people. The consequences of the action are therefore different because the victims aren't limited to the actual direct or inadvertant targets of the crime.

This post has been edited by Mrs. Pigpen: Mar 8 2006, 12:38 AM
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VDemosthenes
post Mar 8 2006, 12:43 AM
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QUOTE(Vermillion @ Mar 7 2006, 05:57 AM)
What IS a terrorist?
*



Any person or group of persons with intentions to cause fear and/or inspire a political change with the aid of violence and death. A terrorist is any person who can and will take deliberate action against a group of people, innocent or not, because they have a goal beyond the present. Be it for the "right" reasons or not, terrorist comes in all forms and my definition can be applied to almost any government on the planet.

In cases of internet-terrorism... yeah, well. That's a whole different issue entirely.



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Fma
post Mar 8 2006, 06:43 PM
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QUOTE(Vermillion @ Mar 7 2006, 12:57 PM)
What IS a terrorist?
*


Hmm, this is a very hard concept to define.

I like to define terrorism as the act of killing civilians for your "ideology". But this definition is very seriously flawed, simply because it is too broad to mean anything useful.

If you plant a bomb somewhere and kill civilians deliberately as an act of war, then I believe that you are a terrorist.

But it is very had to draw the line, especially when we are talking about "intention". If you gloat about having killed civilians, like some do, then the question is simple and there is no dilemma. But, when you are clever and try to disguise your motive with some "holy" idea ("Jihad", "Democaracy and Freedom", "Judenfrei" ...) than things get complicated.

Palestineans and the Chechens have their land occupied by foreigners(Israel and Russia). To get their their "freedom" some groups among them use methods that harm civilians. Are they terrorists?

The United States of America (along with UK) bombed and killed civilians during World War 2, especially in Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Buti they were fighting the brutal and barbaric Nazi regime. Does that make them terrorists?

The Soviet Union killed civilians in the Prague Spring, does that make them terrorists?

Terroism is the hardest concept to define and I believe that it will continue to be so.

This post has been edited by Fma: Mar 8 2006, 06:46 PM
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loreng59
post Mar 8 2006, 07:25 PM
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QUOTE(Fma @ Mar 8 2006, 01:43 PM)
QUOTE(Vermillion @ Mar 7 2006, 12:57 PM)
What IS a terrorist?
*


Hmm, this is a very hard concept to define.

I like to define terrorism as the act of killing civilians for your "ideology". But this definition is very seriously flawed, simply because it is too broad to mean anything useful.

If you plant a bomb somewhere and kill civilians deliberately as an act of war, then I believe that you are a terrorist.

But it is very had to draw the line, especially when we are talking about "intention". If you gloat about having killed civilians, like some do, then the question is simple and there is no dilemma. But, when you are clever and try to disguise your motive with some "holy" idea ("Jihad", "Democaracy and Freedom", "Judenfrei" ...) than things get complicated.

Palestineans and the Chechens have their land occupied by foreigners(Israel and Russia). To get their their "freedom" some groups among them use methods that harm civilians. Are they terrorists?

The United States of America (along with UK) bombed and killed civilians during World War 2, especially in Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Buti they were fighting the brutal and barbaric Nazi regime. Does that make them terrorists?

The Soviet Union killed civilians in the Prague Spring, does that make them terrorists?

Terroism is the hardest concept to define and I believe that it will continue to be so.
*


Actually it is very easy to define. It is the targeting of people because of who they are. Targeting of civilians is always a terrorist act, but even if they are not civilians if they are targeted for being one group or another then that too is terrorism. Calling it Jihad, Freedom or some other term does not change that fact.

Targeting people for their actions is an act of war and not terrorism.

Palestinians and Chechens both target people because they belong to a group. They are Israelis or Russians, and that makes them terrorists period. They are not targeting people that might have, are, or will harm them, but because of what group they are attempting to influence.

The Allies in World War II did bomb cities. Was it terrorism, absolutely not. Why, because they were aiming at the factories that were producing weapons, transportation hubs, etc. The technology did not come near what we are capable of today. None were bombed just because they were Japanese or German.

As for Prague Spring, that is another matter. Some would be considered terrorist acts, since many of the Soviet troops made little to no attempt to determine who was and who was not a combatant. In other cases some of the troops did attempt to engage combatants and civilians were killed. That is not terrorism if the civilians were not the targets.

It is only when somebody decides that one group or another is not equal that deciding what is terrorism becomes difficult. The UN would vote on a term tomorrow if they made an exemption for Arabs killing Israelis. Until the world figures out that one man's terrorist is everybody's terrorist it never will advance.
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Vermillion
post Mar 8 2006, 07:41 PM
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QUOTE(loreng59 @ Mar 8 2006, 07:25 PM)
The Allies in World War II did bomb cities. Was it terrorism, absolutely not. Why, because they were aiming at the factories that were producing weapons, transportation hubs, etc.


This is factually incorrect. The 'City Buster' raids had no military objective, they were not going after transportation hubs or barracks, they were trying to destroy the primary german cities. 'De housing the population' was Bomber Harris' euphemism... The germans in those cities were targeted because they were Germans in those cities.

Does that make it terrorism? Well, not in my mind no. But your justification and facts on the matter are in error.


QUOTE
It is only when somebody decides that one group or another is not equal that deciding what is terrorism becomes difficult. The UN would vote on a term tomorrow if they made an exemption for Arabs killing Israelis. Until the world figures out that one man's terrorist is everybody's terrorist it never will advance.


So the criminals who planets bombs on a crowded city street, or blew up an appartment building were NOT terrorists because they were just after one man, and didnt care who else died in the process?

The argument of motive only seems a bit weak there.
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loreng59
post Mar 8 2006, 08:05 PM
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QUOTE(Vermillion @ Mar 8 2006, 02:41 PM)
QUOTE(loreng59 @ Mar 8 2006, 07:25 PM)
The Allies in World War II did bomb cities. Was it terrorism, absolutely not. Why, because they were aiming at the factories that were producing weapons, transportation hubs, etc.


This is factually incorrect. The 'City Buster' raids had no military objective, they were not going after transportation hubs or barracks, they were trying to destroy the primary german cities. 'De housing the population' was Bomber Harris' euphemism... The germans in those cities were targeted because they were Germans in those cities.

Does that make it terrorism? Well, not in my mind no. But your justification and facts on the matter are in error.


QUOTE
It is only when somebody decides that one group or another is not equal that deciding what is terrorism becomes difficult. The UN would vote on a term tomorrow if they made an exemption for Arabs killing Israelis. Until the world figures out that one man's terrorist is everybody's terrorist it never will advance.


So the criminals who planets bombs on a crowded city street, or blew up an appartment building were NOT terrorists because they were just after one man, and didnt care who else died in the process?

The argument of motive only seems a bit weak there.
*


First off the bombing of the cities was factually correct. Desden was the largest transportation hub in Germany. Hiroshima was the army headquarters for all of Southern Japan, Nagasaki was the largest shipyard, etc. etc. The list is endless, none of the cities bombed were non-military targets. The reason for the bombings were attacks on legitimate military targets. Others can put whatever spin they want, doesn't change the facts. If you care to challenge that, please name one of the targets that wasn't a military target.

As for the bombing of an apartment building to get one man, well the US did bomb an entire city block to try and get Saddam. The Geneva Convention states just the opposite of what you claim.

Article 28
The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.

So in short the Geneva Convention not only states that is it a legitimate military operation, but any civilians killed or injured are the fault of the combatant hiding in the building.
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Ultimatejoe
post Mar 8 2006, 08:16 PM
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The Geneva Conventions do not define a terrorist one way or the other... I'm not clear what relevance they have to this discussion. Just wanted to interject that.
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TruthMarch
post Mar 8 2006, 08:32 PM
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VDemosthenes:
QUOTE
Any person or group of persons with intentions to cause fear and/or inspire a political change with the aid of violence and death

There's the overwhelmingly logical argument after 911, wherein the Bush Admin. essentially told the Taliban: "Hand over Bin Laden or you'll be bombed". Once the bombing started, the focus switched from "hand over Bin Laden" to "have a regime change (The ever-evil Taliban whom received millions in American money from the American government) or you'll be bombed". Both instances are, according to the US army field manuals and such, are terrorist acts. The second being the more blatant and dramatic use of terror. Like it or not, any country or anyone who demands something from another country, and uses the threat of death and carnage and destruction to get that something, is a terrorist. What's that? 911? Fine. But it's still an act of terror. You don't want them (victims of 911) to die in vain? Fine. But it's still an act of terror.
Please remember that this is all based on the US' own definition of the word. Don't blame me for simply pointing that out.
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Vermillion
post Mar 8 2006, 08:35 PM
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QUOTE(loreng59 @ Mar 8 2006, 08:05 PM)
First off the bombing of the cities was factually correct. Desden was the largest transportation hub in Germany. Hiroshima was the army headquarters for all of Southern Japan, Nagasaki was the largest shipyard, etc. etc. The list is endless, none of the cities bombed were non-military targets. The reason for the bombings were attacks on legitimate military targets. Others can put whatever spin they want, doesn't change the facts. If you care to challenge that, please name one of the targets that wasn't a military target.


I hate to pull rank here, but before we get into this you should know You are dealing with a Professor of the second world war. I say this not because it shoudl lend my points any aditional value, but becaise you should know this is not a topic I take lightly.

Yes, there was a rail hub in Dresden. It was not the largest, or even close, but it was large. There are large railway hubs in every city. So?

Dresden was not a target chosen becaue of its military value. Neither was Cologne, Hamburg, Nuremburg, Mannheim, Kamen, Dortmund-Ems, Chemnitz, Dessau, Hemmingstedt, Harburg, Kassel, Essen, Wuppertal and Barmen, Herne, Gelsenkirchen, Datteln, Hattingen, Lützkendorf, Zweibrücken, Hagen, Misburg, and so on. All ofthese and many others were cities hit with 300+ aircraft 'City-Buster' raids.

While there may have been targets in each of these cities with some military value, (how could there not have been in a major city) the intent was NEVER to target them for these military targets.

The plan came about in 1942, the brainchild of British Professor Frederick Lindemann: very close to Winston Churchill, who gave him a seat in the Cabinet. Lindemann presented a seminal paper to the Cabinet advocating the "aerial bombing of German cities by carpet bombing" in a strategic bombing campaign. His paper put forward the theory of attacking major industrial centrers in order to deliberately destroy as many homes and houses as possible. Working class homes were to be targeted because they had a higher density and fire storms were more likely. This would displace the German workforce and reduce industrial output.

There was no attempt to hide this fact. This was not secret at all, in fact one of the first major raids, against Hanburg was called Operation Gamorrah: an obvious reference to their plans for the city.

Bomber Harris loved this plan and it was his driving goal through the rest of the ar. The 1000+ raids, to destroy and entire city, started as soon as he could gather together the necessary aircraft, which was in late 1942.

As further proof, if you need it, Pilots in these raids were given geographic instructions on how to find cities, but were given no specific tragets apart from quarters of the city. There was no attempt to it certain structures or regions, simply to 'dehouse' as much of the population as posible.


Bomber Harris was quite proud of his accomplishemnts, and as I said made NO EFFORT to hide his goal, which is why your comments surprise me. In march 1945 he spoke about the effect he had on Germany in glowing terms:

"Attacks on large cities are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and so preserve the lives of allied soldiers." (Harris, march 1945)

He was furious about people who questioned his city-destruction tactics:

"War is a nasty, dirty, rotten business. It's all right for the Navy to blockade a city, to starve the inhabitants to death. But there is something wrong, not nice, about bombing that city." (Harris, January 1946)


The plan from 1942 on was to destroy every major German city from the air, not because of specific military targets contained therein, but for the purpose of sowing destruction and 'dehousing' the population. This is not a matter up for debate or question, there are literally hundreds of books out about Harris or the Aoir war in Europe, and nobody involved with it ever tried to hide or cover up their intentions... I can suggest about 30 or so for you to read off the top of my head if you like, you will find they are pretty unanimous on the topic...




QUOTE
As for the bombing of an apartment building to get one man, well the US did bomb an entire city block to try and get Saddam. The Geneva Convention states just the opposite of what you claim.

Article 28
The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.

So in short the Geneva Convention not only states that is it a legitimate military operation, but any civilians killed or injured are the fault of the combatant hiding in the building.


Hold up a second. We are talking about a criminal setting off a bomb in a crowded street in order to get at a rival mob boss, uncaring of how many people die in the process, and you are justifying that with the GENEVA CONVENTION? So its the fault of those people for walking in the street? Are you serious?

This post has been edited by Vermillion: Mar 8 2006, 08:37 PM
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moif
post Mar 8 2006, 09:01 PM
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QUOTE
What IS a terrorist?


Well first off I'd like to say this is a fairly pointless question since the word has a clearly defined meaning:

QUOTE(OED)
Terrorist: A person who uses or favours violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or community.
Anything any one cares to add or subtract from that must remain a highly personal and utterly subjective point of view.

A terrorist is any person who fits the definition of the word terrorist.

Interestingly, the definition of a Freedom Fighter is:
QUOTE(OED)
Freedom Fighter. A person who takes part in resistance to an established political system.
Thus, there is actually no difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter and using the word 'freedom' doesn't change that.

To those who would argue that certain governments or the members of certain governments are also terrorists I would point out that governments exist and act within legal parameters and since 'murder' is by definition, an 'illegal killing' any killing thus sanctioned, by a government, using legal means, for example, a decleration of war, is not murder.

This doesn't mean to say that it is right or wrong. Such terms are again, subjective to the individual, it only means that governments are not terrorists... even if they act like terrorists.
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VDemosthenes
post Mar 8 2006, 09:06 PM
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QUOTE(TruthMarch @ Mar 8 2006, 03:32 PM)
VDemosthenes:
QUOTE
Any person or group of persons with intentions to cause fear and/or inspire a political change with the aid of violence and death

There's the overwhelmingly logical argument after 911, wherein the Bush Admin. essentially told the Taliban: "Hand over Bin Laden or you'll be bombed". Once the bombing started, the focus switched from "hand over Bin Laden" to "have a regime change (The ever-evil Taliban whom received millions in American money from the American government) or you'll be bombed". Both instances are, according to the US army field manuals and such, are terrorist acts. The second being the more blatant and dramatic use of terror. Like it or not, any country or anyone who demands something from another country, and uses the threat of death and carnage and destruction to get that something, is a terrorist. What's that? 911? Fine. But it's still an act of terror. You don't want them (victims of 911) to die in vain? Fine. But it's still an act of terror.
Please remember that this is all based on the US' own definition of the word. Don't blame me for simply pointing that out.
*



I did not then nor will I now ever condone America's actions being non-terrorist. I do not remember posting "well, here's what I think. But it doesn't apply to America." I know what you are saying and understand that. What I fail to understand is how it applies to my statements when I said nothing about how my personal idea of terrorism does not apply to the government. Unless I am mistaken and do not understand my own words, you are free to tell me if I do not, I know of America's actions and intentions and that is why I did not defend them in my post.





This post has been edited by VDemosthenes: Mar 8 2006, 09:07 PM
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Julian
post Mar 10 2006, 07:45 PM
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What IS a terrorist?

I have to agree with moif here; a terrorist is someone who uses violence in preference to politics in the achievement of what might be seen as a political end.

In this regard "terrorist" not only describes what the obvious "baddies" do, it describes what William Wallace did, what Nelson Mandela did (before he was imprisoned on Robben Island), and, to some extent, all revolutions and rebellions.

Since terrorism rests on the use of terror among the target population, rather than only their military, as a weapon, it essentially applies to all armed conflict except the traditional pitched battle between two armies taking place on an uninhabited plain. In turn, this means that completely non-terrorist warfare has all but ceased since the invention of long-range (further than one can see) or time delayed weapons (where the killing effect does not take place as a direct consequence of deployment, but of the proximity of some other factor outside the direct control of the operator i.e. you don't know whether an enemy soldier or a civilian will be the victim).

Probably not even then, since even though passers-by were rarely involved in the pitched battles of antiquity, rape, pillage and murder by one or both armies on the way to the battlefield has gone on pretty much forever.

However, because the definition is so broad, and pretty much value-neutral, is often ceases to be useful. So we talk about guerillas or resistance fighters where we don't really care who's right & who's wrong; "freedom fighters" where we approve of the cause; and "terrorists" where we don't.

In the context of this particular question, though, I think it's important to think of terrorism as a subset of criminality with particular characteristics of its own. Terrorist organisation run protection rackets, take over unions, carry out thier own type of law enforcement (no criminals can operate on their "patch" without paying a percentage) just like the rest of organised crime.

The only thing about terrorism that makes it really distinct from the various European Mafias, yakuza, Triads, drug cartels, etc is that these organisations don't generally have a stated aim beyond making money for their members. Terrorist organisations usually have some sort of political objective that goes to a principle, rather than just the type of political objective of making life, and money-making, easier for their criminal operations.
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Dontreadonme
post Mar 12 2006, 03:36 PM
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This seems to be the question of the decade. Terrorism cannot be defined absolutely for everybody. The defintion is in the eye of the beholder. Those who are prone to blame America for all ills of the world, will cite acts by us as terrorist in nature.
Those who see people intentionally kill civilians in markets and hospitals will call them terrorists.
The term itself has become a politcial bludgeon. I can define for myself what terrorism isn't better than I can define what it is. Terrorism isn't an oppressed people rising up against brutality and engaging in armed conflict against those primary agents of oppression. Terrorism isn't normal military operations conducted in accordance with the Laws of Land Warfare and the Geneva and Hague Conventions. Terrorism isn't an innocent party engaging in the act of self defense.

Terrorism, as defined by me, is wanton violence against civilians purely for the sake of inciting chaos and fear. Terrorism, as we see commonly in Iraq and Israel isn't armed rebellion with collateral civilian casualties, it is primarily directed at civilians. Reprehensible, but those actions will continue to rally the faithful supporters. Anyone who supports actions such as those are no better than the people who pull the ring or push the button. And they deserve the same fate.
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post Mar 13 2006, 08:11 PM
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QUOTE(Vermillion)
What IS a terrorist?
*



I would define it simply as a tactic to instill fear and chaos that can be used by any militant group. The tactic has the express purpose in provoking a reaction. Used successfully the tactic provokes the enemy into engaging their forces in a way that is advantageous to the militant.
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post Mar 21 2006, 12:39 AM
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QUOTE(Dontreadonme)
Terrorism, as defined by me, is wanton violence against civilians purely for the sake of inciting chaos and fear. Terrorism, as we see commonly in Iraq and Israel isn't armed rebellion with collateral civilian casualties, it is primarily directed at civilians. Reprehensible, but those actions will continue to rally the faithful supporters. Anyone who supports actions such as those are no better than the people who pull the ring or push the button. And they deserve the same fate.

Good statement.

As I've stated before, in an earlier thread looking at the same question from a slightly different perspective, to me a terrorist is any member of a radical organization that primarily targets civilians. Political change, instilling fear, provoking reactions - these all may or may not be part of the terrorist planning process or mindset - it is the specific targeting of civilians that keeps them from being categorized as insurgents, guerillas or freedom fighters.

Unfortunately, this isn't black and white. There have been organizations that both murder civilians and attack purely military targets - the PKK and Sendero Luminoso come to mind immediately. There are also organizations that begin as clearly terrorist, yet eventually develop into a true insurgent organization. HezbAllah is a good example - beginning with standard terrorist kidnappings, bombings and assassinations targeting civilians, they developed into a truly professional guerilla organization capable of well-organized raids and ambushes on purely military IDF and SLA targets.

Now the organized crime problem in Israel is a different matter entirely. The presence of the Russian mafia has grown exponentially there over the past few years - with different factions engaging in turf battles over control of drugs and prostitution. The Russian mob differs from many other large organized crime elements in that they could (generally) care less about brutal public violence and collateral casualties. Most other organized crime entities have learned to settle their differences quietly (if no less violently), without getting outsiders involved, in order to minimize the attention of Law Enforcement being drawn to them. These guys aren't intentially targeting civilians - they just don't care who else dies when they hit their primary target.
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