Unformatted text preview: the same conclusions as to whether or not a
particular act is terrorism.
If one uses a legal or moral perspective on terrorism, laws and mores become
the focus, not the terrorist behavior itself. Taylor (1988) quoted the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1972 to emphasize that governments frequently have a
legal or moral perspective: Definition of Terrorism 13 The fact is, of course, that there is a vast amount of hypocrisy on the subject of political
terrorism. We all righteously condemn it—except where we ourselves or friends of ours are
engaging in it. Then we ignore it, or gloss over it, or attach to it tags like “liberation” or
“defence of the free world” or “national honour” to make it seem like something other than
what it is. (p. 3) When studying the construct of terrorism from a psychological perspective,
we need to use a reliable definition. It is for this reason that the behavioral perspective seems to be the best one for behavioral scientists and mental health professionals to use. This is the only one of the three that permits a reliable operational
definition of terrorism regardless of who measures it.
This is not to say that when studying terrorist behavior one should ignore the
influence of the perpetrators’ and the victims’ social and cultural values. Indeed,
the fact that some governments view terrorism as illegal and some groups see it
as immoral will be crucial parts of any good definition. The point is that not all
governments or all groups will consider a particular act illegal and/or immoral.
There are numerous examples of politically and ideologically motivated violence that do not carry the derogatory baggage terrorism does. Undoubtedly, the
characteristic of terrorism that distinguishes it from these other forms of political
violence (e.g., war, police actions) is that it is committed outside the rules of some
society. This illegal and/or immoral aspect of terrorism says something about the
mindset of those who are willing to violate those legal and moral rules, but it does
not necessarily make them any more or less valid in their motivation.
The above discussion leads us to a useful operational definition of terrorism.
Bear in mind that this definition is purely a heuristic tool used to establish reliable
parameters for the construct we refer to as “terrorism.” There will, however, be
some areas of gray where terrorist and nonterrorist acts according to this definition
will seem to be very similar, especially as they affect people psychologically. For
instance, consider the case of special forces used to initiate open hostilities against
an enemy country prior to the actual public declaration of the hostilities. Are these
people terrorists? Another example may be when torture is used against people by
clandestine elements of their own government. Should these government agents be
The September 11 Worl...
View Full Document
- Fall '13
- The Land, politically motivated violence