A common theme amongst the many varying definitions of terrorism involves the use of violence and force to achieve or further the political aims and recognition of an organisation. ‘The central theme of every terrorism activity is the use of violence as a means of coercing individuals or the society’ (Yokota et. al. 2008). Terrorist activity can be defined to include a number of different criteria, including fear and aggression towards non-combatants, resulting in the widespread inability to come to a universal characterization (Hoffman 2006).
This creates the need to explore the motivations of potential terrorists and the environment or situation that they are in that might have forced them to utilise such methods in order to establish whether terrorism is primarily a socio-political means to an end, an ideology or a military strategy. It is difficult to produce a working definition of terrorism that can be applied to all situations because any act of acute violence can potentially be considered an act of terror (Hoffman 1992).The situations that these activities occur within may give a considerable insight into the reasons for certain implementation of extreme methods and whether they should be classed as acts of terrorism and by whom, even in the event of desperation. All acts of violence, including those made by legitimate political entities may be in the spirit of a terrorist act, but their intention, form and effects are often very different (Wardlaw 1982).Religious beliefs, ethnic divides, cultural differences and disputes over territory can all be reasons for grievances (Krueger 2007), resulting in the use of terrorism as a socio-political tactic. In fact it is possible to go so far as to say that any dispute has the potential to radicalise and involve the use of terror if one side is desperate and willing. The environment in which these troubles brew must be considered because while actions taken on face value can be considered radical and unlawful; when presented in context, certain undesirable endeavours can potentially be justified or at least understood (Saikal 2003).Not all methods may be considered acts of terrorism, but presumably a terrorist would be willing to enable any method to achieve the political goals in their cause; it may be a sordid tactic but it is still a political one.
So there are different kinds of terrorists and therefore varying tactics available to each depending on who they are, what they are fighting for and where they are pursuing it. The struggle will entail an envisaged overall political social aim or direction that the group will be striving for – but specific acts of terror and other more religiously guided exploits may have ulterior motives.’When violent acts are not undertaken for political advantage then they are something else, a product of a personality disorder or a strange religious cult or criminal activity’ (Freedman 2005). This highlights the implication that terrorism is inextricably connected to political motives. Indeed, if it is not it could potentially be contrived as a simple matter of crime. Therefore it is important to consider the motives in relation to the opportunities available when it comes to defining an act as that of terrorist persuasion.
Even governments can be accused of committing acts of terrorism and there are many examples in history, the most obvious being the nuclear strikes on Japan and the bombing of Dresden in Germany in 1945 (Coady 2008), which fit many criteria or definitions of an act of terrorism. ‘Simply put, states, like terrorists, would seem contingently motivated to accept the proportionality principle on broadly strategic grounds’ (McPherson 2007). Meaning that it is possible to conceive an event is characterised by who is perceived to be the legitimate force and who is defining the event.This can refer to things like collateral damage or the usage of extreme measures, such as the deployment of nuclear capabilities. However, one can argue that the intention of something that may involve collateral damage is not primarily to harm non-combatants. This shows that intention is potentially a large factor in deciding whether an act can be defined as one of terror (Yokota et al. 2008).
This is due to the intended implication of spreading fear, anger, publicity, reaction, intimidation, panic, demoralisation and misjudged retaliation as a political or social tactic.A government is hardly likely to commit an act with these aims in mind, or at least not to the same extent. It can be perceived that a government may want to imply a number of those potential terrorist aims such as fear or intimidation, but they would only be in a conflict scenario and aimed against enemy combatants (Coady 2008). This shows that the target does matter and this is an important factor to consider because defining acts of terrorism and who has carried them out will give a significant insight into their actions and motives.Certain acts can be comparable to terrorist tendencies, but it is really only a terrorist matter when the intended target is primarily made up of non-combatants and the intention (Coady and O’Keefe 2003) is to harm them by using violent means, especially in a non-combat situation, such as an attack in a city on a society. This implies that governments will rarely intend to cause acts of terror because they have many other tactics and strategies in politics available to them, whereas non-governmental groups may not.However, this should not allow one to assume that terrorism is a state into which only others can lapse (Coady 2008), because if you take the value pluralist approach to considering terrorism there is no one definitive belief system or moral code that is universal (Smith 2009).
So, it is possible to draw from this the conclusion that the label of terrorism could potentially be attached to certain political policies of a government that is involved in some kind of conflict.However, because there was no intention and for the most part steps are often taken to not let this happen, it is not possible to condemn any government involved in conflict with the label of terrorism based upon unavoidable or unexpected results. Terrorism can potentially be carried out by anyone and the success will entail the access to dangerous paraphernalia and the resources to attempt atrocity (Corlett 2003), especially if no diplomatic roots can be taken by choice or otherwise.
This shows us that a terrorist may be someone who is willing to use any means possible that are available, the most violent being used as a last resort. Although the tactics used will be different, especially in the face of a dominating enemy, the aim is to advance your struggle by any means possible. This is in contrast to our normal view on the conduct of politics, especially in our society, but this can be seen as a result of extreme circumstances that would require any repugnant behaviour in a socio-political system.