Terrorism is the belief that the use of fear as a weapon is justified. Terror + ism = Terrorism. Attitudes towards terrorism can be defined in two ways and each definition is supported by someone based solely on their position to the reason for the terroristic idea to occur. One who believes that terrorism – the use of fear for gain – is a good thing sees the act of instilling fear in another group to be necessary to accomplish a goal. Those who hold the opposite opinion may also desire to accomplish the same goal, yet are not so taken by the by-all-means-necessary philosophy. They may disagree about the use of fear based on its ramifications, based on morals, or based on the rule of law. Likewise, those who do not desire this specific goal, will find themselves against the use of fear to accomplish it, out of sheer logic.
The seed of terrorism is the idea. Every terrorist has some sort of idea or ideology that they wish to procure. Let us take the actions of the Madrid subway bombers as an example. Their desire was to create discord and chaos, fear. Then we have Osama Bin Laden who used fear-based messages and a criminal organization as a means to procure fear not only in the United States but throughout the world in general. They are terrorists, ones who spread fear.
There is a question as to whether terrorists have to actually partake in physical activities, the maiming or murdering of innocent people (on September 11, 2001 for example). This is not necessarily the case. There are many different ways to go about terrorizing and physical threat is simply the bluntest of them. If you invade a sovereign nation you are a terrorist state, like Germany during World War I and World War II. However, if you soften the blow, envelope it with politicking and self-righteous candor, you could possibly pass off blatant terrorism as something in their best interest. This pseudo-political terrorism is called imperialism and it also goes by colonialism in a slightly varied form. It is simply the invasion of a territory and the usurpation of power from one group by another.
Now-a-days however, imperialism and colonialism are looked upon as a dark stain on world history by most of the first world. Imperialism and colonialism lead to exploitation no matter the intent. The war in Iraq is a good present day example of the backlash of imperialism. The President of the United States unilaterally decided that Iraq was enough of a threat to American national security that the situation warranted an invasion and occupying force. American troops conquered Iraq and set up a stagnant democratic government. However, the government is too weak to stand and if American forces pull out, it will fall into further chaos. While before there was a dictatorship and life was for the most part bearable, now with an inept democracy one might not have a life to bear. President Bush's act of pseudo-political terrorism caused more trouble than good in the region, destabilized the American economy, and created a breeding ground for contempt of American ideals.
So far terrorism has been described as an organizational or governmental action that occurs outside one's nation of origin. However, there are also forms of “home-grown” terrorism. Timothy McVeigh set off a bomb destroying a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killing 168 and wounding at least 800 including over a dozen small children. The “Shoe-Bomber”, Richard Reid, failed to set of “shoe-bomb” explosives on a flight from Paris to Miami just three months after September 11, 2001. Likewise, terrorism can be undertaken by a government on one's own people. This was done most famously by Nazi Germany during World War II, exterminating millions of its own people (Jews, gypsies, gays, disabled, etc.) in death camps set up solely for the purpose of ethnic (and “weakness”) cleansing. It was also done by Stalin in Soviet Russia. He exterminated at least 3 million of his own people but may also directly or indirectly killed another 27 million, records are unclear. The most accepted number seems to be between 6-8 million. Again, there have been countless massacres throughout world history: Pol Pot in Cambodia, Pizarro, Cortes and the Spanish Conquistadors and the Native Americans, United States, French and British and the Native Americans, the Ottomans and the Armenian Genocide, and countless others. It is clear that throughout history, nations have killed millions of their own people and justified it.
With some examples of terrorism now given, it is also important to understand the motive behind why a person or group decides to partake in terrorism. What is clear is that as a whole, the groups or people in question seemed to feel that they have been wronged in one way or another. Whether or not they have actually been wronged is a matter for fierce debate, but the argument remains that they believe that they have been wronged nonetheless. The Palestinians for example believe that the Israeli Jews that settled in the former Palestine territory after World War I have wronged them by destroying their culture and uprooting their people. Perhaps they have a point; someone once said that if the world had any justice at all then Israel would be in eastern Germany. Yet, there are counterarguments to this statement, primarily that the Jews had been there even before the Palestinians.
Israel and Palestine, in fact, have an interesting relationship. They are terrorists against each other. Traditionally, one group or person who was wronged terrorized another group. In this instance however, two groups have wronged each other and have commenced terrorizing each other. The same had been true for Northern Ireland and Ireland as well as the conflict between Pakistani Muslims and Indian Hindus. Each was wronged by the other and decided that they were wronged so badly that it was worth killing each other over. This seems to be the driving point, that one must be angry enough at another that the rules of morality no longer apply.
There is a second reason for terrorism however that has nothing to do with being wronged and that was the example offered by Hitler: ethnic cleansing. These instances are not based on particular wrongs, but rather general wrongs, that the Jews were responsible for a plague or a famine, or some other stereotype. Racism is a powerful tool for terrorism. This shines true in many African nations, the conflicts in the Congo and Darfur to name two. Ethnic cleansing is also the goal of organizations like the Ku Klux Klan that believes that America should only be for white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants and that all others are below them and below the reward of democracy. In truth, there does not have to be a specific wrong, a general wrong, a societal bias, is all that is needed to foment the ideals of terrorism and thereby the actors and actions of terrorism in kind.
Now finally, the question remains: Is terrorism justified? Yes and no. If you have been wronged then yes terrorism is a viable option, provided that you have been wronged enough. However, if you have not been wronged enough, or taught to think that you have been wronged enough, you will probably not see terrorism as a viable option. You may be against it or simply ambivalent to it. The only other view of terrorism is that of an outsider or of the group or person being terrorized. In these cases, the answer is always: No. Terrorism is never an option from their points of view either because they are affected directly by it or because they see it as barbaric and do not understand the blatant wrong committed on this group of people as they see it with their own eyes.
Most people are outsiders to terrorism or have had terrorism in some way affect their lives, their families, or their country, religion, or ethnicity and therefore are likely to hold the belief that terrorism is wrong. Regardless of whether a nation is democratic majority will rule. If a majority of people say terrorism is wrong then it is wrong. It is morally, ethically, and ideologically wrong. It is wrong to take an innocent life to make up for a personal loss. It is wrong to instill fear in another for any reason even if they seem to have justifiably deserved it. In terrorizing one merely continues the cycle of wronging and the cycle of pain and suffering. Nothing good comes out of this.
That ideology is essentially the unofficial official world doctrine on terrorism. A majority believes that it is wrong. It is wrong. The habit of violent solutions must be broken before you can rid the world of violence. For the habit to be broken, the cycle of wronging must also be broken. There have been many examples of terrorism throughout history and each has its own wrongs attached to them. Sometimes too there are wrongs attached to the solutions. In the end, the solution must be to treat terrorism like organized crime, because that is what it is. You must break the cycle of wrongs and bring these people to fair justice. Only this way will each party get what they want, retribution and justice. But, until the world understands that terror begets terror, there will be a lot more terrorism in the future.