Magoosh GRE

Can ‘terrorism’ be justifiably distinguished from other forms of political violence?

| August 17, 2016

Abstract

Should terrorism be classified separately from terrorism?  This paper examines each issue with the goal of determining if there is reason to specify independent categories.  Utilising secondary evidence, the literature illustrates the many similar and disparate components of both political violence and terrorism.  The evidence presented demonstrated the need to independently categorize each action in order to formulate the best method of response.  This work will be of use to any researcher looking into political violence or terrorism.

1 Introduction

The ability to distinguish terrorism from other forms of political violence has become a topic of substantial debate (Zimmerman 2012).  This paper examines both the concepts of political violence and terrorism with the intention of determining if there is a justification in distinguishing the processes.  Beginning with a brief overview of the fundamentals regarding the practice of terrorism and political violence, this essay will establish a clear reason for study.  Following this section with a review of relevant literature that sheds light on the potential for mutual influence will demonstrate the modern consensus regarding the concepts.  Combining the first sections of this paper will allow for the capacity to draw reasonable conclusions based on the produced evidence.

In the end, this essay will have defined both the concept of terrorism and political violence, illustrated the position of each of these concepts in the modern era and combined the evidence to produce a reasonable potential for future links, with the stated goal of determining the if there is a justifiable difference between political violence and terrorism.

2 Terrorism

This section will define the concepts of Terrorism and Political violence in order to establish any relationship between them.

2.1 Overview

A tool utilized by violent minded organizations, terrorism is defined by the use of fear and violence in pursuit of goals (Zimmerman 2012). Commonly utilized by a wide array of varied groups, both ends of the spectrum from liberal to conservative have used terrorism over the course of time. The strength of the terrorist lies in the capacity for a small group to influence larger groups’ decisions via the use of the force (Zimmerman 2012). By instilling a sense of impending fear and destruction a sometimes very small group of people or single person can be responsible for shifting an entire process.

Terrorism is a common means of threat in political systems around the world (Crenshaw 2012).  In some cases there is not a clear definition of the term terrorist which allows that person or organization to exist on the fringes of society, often pushing the boundaries of acceptable action.  There are several fundamental drivers that propel the terrorist to action including politics, ideology and religion (Wright-Neville 2010). These factors illustrate how the mechanism of fear and intimidation can serve nearly any person in any place.  Zimmerman (2012: 349) defines the act of international terrorism as “warfare without territory, waged without armies as know them.  It is warfare that is not limited territorially:  sporadic battles may take place worldwide.  It is warfare without neutrals and with few or no civilian innocent bystanders.”  The very nature of the terrorist as a small or compact operation is an effective weapons for the group.  Terrorists are and terrorism is considered viable weapons in many circumstances, making the act truly hard to combat on an international level (Mamdani 2009). Further, the multiple methods of acting on the terrorist threats compound the difficulty in finding an effective means of stopping the process (Crenshaw 2012).

A hallmark of the terrorist, and in turn the act of terrorism, rests in the disregard for innocent life (Neumayer and Plumper 2011).  Common among any form of terrorist attack is the loss or destruction of property or people completely unrelated to the cause of the terrorist organisation. In some cases, such as the American population, terrorists commonly target them specifically for their money and probability of achieving a high profile target (Zimmerman 2012).  Others are targeted for their capacity to provide the largest return for the terrorist (Neumayer and Plumper 2011). This same factor of terrorism targeting the wealthier nations translates to the European and higher profile countries.  The primary goal of terrorism, of spreading the group’s agenda, can only be achieved through the achievement of a high profile event (Neumayer and Plumper 2011).  Lacking an audience much of the impact of the operation, successful or not, is lost. A primary strength of the terrorist is the infection of fear that in turn weakens a leader’s resolve, allowing that political system to gravitate to the terrorist point of view (Zimmerman 2012).  Therefore, the terrorist is attuned for an opportunity to make the biggest splash with the leas t effort.

Neumayer and Plumper (2011) argue that the common terrorist is drawn from middle to upper class lifestyle that has allowed that person an education.  This holds true as Besley and Person (2011) demonstrate that many of  the strongest and well-armed terrorists of the modern era are products of third world nations being supported by the first world nations.  There is faction that sees the disparity in living conditions and determines that the means to attain a portion of that for them is through the mechanism of terrorism (Zimmernan 2012).  Others see terrorism a descent into brutality that indulges the very worst aspects of any population (Mamdani 2009). As poorer nations slip further into poverty and decline, the capacity for the more violent aspects of the nation’s population to take power increases.

2.2 Forms of Terrorism

Acts labelled as terrorism have the capacity to take varied forms including political acts of terrorism or civil terrorism (Zimmerman 2012). In each case, the capacity for the terrorist to achieve their true ends is dependent on the population’s reception to the use of terrorism.  Terrorism aimed at the population commonly interferes with security issues at large gatherings that have the potential to include death and destruction as the means to accomplish the end goal (Neumayer and Plumper 2011).  With large convention centres, sporting events and major gatherings vulnerable to terrorism, there is a constant opportunity for the terrorist to perform an act that could have devastating consequences for many innocent people.

A secondary form of terrorism exists within the political world (Zimmerman 2012). The underlying goal of the terrorist’s acts in these cases seeks to generate a specific political outcome. This practice can be credited with instilling fear and trepidation in entire regimes and governments.  With the possibility of harm coming to a wide number of the population that the government is responsible likely, the leaders take care and in some cases delay initiatives in order to appease the terrorists (Besley and Person 2011).  Again, it is the capacity for a single person or small group that uses violence, to deter or alter an entire nation’s path that attracts so many people to terrorism.

 2.3 In summary

Terrorism is typically an act of violence by a group, organisation or person in order to achieve a specific goal (Zimmerman 2012).  This weapon is effective due to the capacity to instil fear and worry in the masses with little effort or funds (Mamdani 2009). In this pursuit, many middle class well educated individuals consent to utilize terror as a weapon (Besley and Person 2011).  Terrorism can be directed at the civilian population or utilized as a means of political change (Neumayer and Plumper 2011).  In each case it is the willingness to harm the innocents in order to accomplish the ends that identifies the terrorist (Zimmerman 2012).

3 Political Violence

3.1 Overview

Crenshaw (2012:312) defines political violence as an act of violence directed towards a specific political end or simply violence perceived as having the capacity to be for a political reason. The use of force to overcome opposition in legislatures around the world is a common event that can be credited with being responsible for regime changes around the world (Zimmerman 2012).  Political violence has taken a variety of labels over the course of time in order to accurately portray the chain of events.  The terms extremism, squadrismo, subversivism and stragismo have been used in the past to illustrate various forms of political violence aimed at a specific political goal (Crenshaw 2012).

A hallmark of the tool of political violence is the feeling of frustration and oppression by those that seek to utilize the instrument (Martin 2003).  There is core conviction that there needs to be a form of physical violence in order to assure that the population will accede to the factions demands.   Nearly any aspect of governmental involvement in the civilian population can be termed a form of coercion (Crenshaw 2012).  Even the act of not acting can become a very powerful weapon in the hands of an administrator that refuses to send aid or resources to those that need it in order to gain political leverage.  In a very real sense, each action the ruling regime takes can be considered as a token to one group or another, it is the belief of oppression that fuels many people to utilize violence in order to gain attention to their cause (Martin 2003).

It is common for acts of political violence to impact a large population (Zimmerman 2012).  Due to the fact that a government inherently has a large civilian core, the nature of each national decision has the potential to echo around the world. If a specific goal is not achieved, or funded or resolved, the act left undone could reverberate and impact other international concerns (Martin 2003). It is the opportunity for the act to influence the actions of the civilian population that continues to fuel the use of the practice of political violence. Martin (2003) argues that political violence if identified by the scale and scope of the violent act. The quality and quantity of force involved in the action denotes the relationship to the ruling regime (Martin 2003).  With a potential for extraordinary large influence, the act of political violence can be potent tool for change.

3.2 Forms of Political Violence

Wright-Neville (2010) cites the need for national defence as the primary justification for political violence.  With most nations possessing a military capacity in one form or another, War, can be considered a form of political violence. The organisation and sometimes long-term operation of violent activities in order to achieve a national goal has long been utilized as a means of governmental motivation (Zimmerman 2012).  Classically, the act of war is hallmarked by the accompaniment of high casualties and prolonged economic and societal recessions that can in turn lead to the formation of further disaffected groups willing to utilize political violence.

Political violence can be present in a small political environment just as easily as a larger institution (Caruso and Schneider 2011).  With many small towns around the world creating the perception of self-rule and autonomic capacity, there is the constant opportunity for unlawful coercion in the pursuit of regional or local political goals.  A primary instrument of politicians rests in the law enforcement offices present within any region (Zimmernan 2012). With elements including improper search and seizure, torture and unlawful arrest, the potential for local use of political violence is both considerable and consistent. This form of political violence can quickly become a form of human rights violations, which in turn can begin to form an even greater issue than the basic violence (Kreiger and Meierrieks 2011).

Government and ruling bodies have several methods of potential political violence that do not include the military portions of their governments (Zimmerman 2012).  In some cases, political violence can take the form of deprivation of resources that can in turn cause water, food or basic elements of life hard to find. In these cases, the political motivation behind this serves to drive the continued policies.  Political violence can also take the form of legislative opportunities that include forms of legal torture or immunity from prosecution (Crenshaw 2012).  A specific person or group can be sentenced to life in prison or death for political cause.  This same concept expands out to encompass an entire social structure or culture in the form of genocide or mass execution (Mamdani 2009).  A political decision could determine the fates of entire cities and towns if there was a need to do so.

3.3 In summary

Political violence is directly connected to the goal of accomplishing a political end  (Zimmerman 2012). With the potential to impact a very large group of people, including innocents, the political system consistently provides the potential to influence national direction and attitude (Mamdani 2009).  War is a common and very high profile example of political violence that encompasses large amounts of people, money and infrastructure (Martin 2003).  A political body can fail to act and cause political violence through deprivation and lack of resources (Crenshaw 2012).  Further, basic legislative action such as the death penalty and a life sentence are considered forms of political violence if employed for political gain (Martin 2003).

4 Terrorism compared to Political Violence

4.1 Comparison

Zimmerman (2012) argues that there is a clear division between the acts of terrorism and the employment of political violence. Mamdani (2012) states that political violence is merely an offshoot of the terrorism act.  Both practices include the death of many innocent civilians. Mamdani (2012) contends that both practices share similar traits that include the utilization of force and violence in order to accomplish their goals. However, the act of terrorism has the potential to be focused on a wide variety of motivations that include religious or economic causes (Piazza 2011).  Political violence is a product of the desire to impact a particular policy or national effort (Zimmerman 2012). The terrorist’s expansion of cause is a point of separation between terrorism and political violence.  With the act of terrorism not requiring any one certain motivation or conclusion there is a defined difference in the two practices.

Piazza (2011) demonstrates that many times terrorists are motivated by economic or monetary issues.  This indicates that the end goal for the terrorist is a narrow victory that will have a limited impact on the larger population. Crenshaw (2012) notes that a hallmark of the political violence lies in the large amount of civilians harmed as well as the potential for an even larger international harm. Another difference that is common between the fundamental operators of political violence and terrorists is the fact that the terrorist is often a member of a secret society (Crenshaw 2012).  Political violence has a hallmark of legislative or high profile leadership as opposed to a small group or individual. This distinction is another factor that touches on the scale and scope of political violence versus the terrorist action (Zimmerman 2012).  Terrorists are defined and aided by the element of anonymity, whereas the act of political violence involves the establishment.

Martin (2003) uses the example of genocide to illustrate both political violence and terrorism.  A national or political goal does not need to kill or eliminate each person in a group order to achieve their ends. A government may use political violence to disrupt a culture or a way of life that is contrary to positive oversight (Martin 2003).  This argument by Martin (2003) classifies the act of Genocide against the Jews in Nazi Germany as both a political act and an act of State terrorism.  With a clear political element that incorporates an ideological viewpoint, the correlation of the two processes is an accurate description of the events.

Zimmerman (2012) demonstrates that many of the extremists’ secret groups that support terrorism are driven to the practice due to economic considerations.  The need to influence regulatory policy and enforcement procedures calls for an aggressive campaign that some individuals feel includes unrestrained violence.  This is similar to the element of political violence that is policy-centred and emphasizes the need to accomplish revenue centred goals (Crenshaw 2012).  In some cases, a nations efforts to limit the drug traffic is directly tied to the countries anti-terrorism efforts.

During the Irish unrest, the United Kingdom has been tied to the utilization of paid gunmen in an attempt to accomplish political ends (Zimmerman 2012).  While the Irish and Catholic political community had the Irish Republican Army, or the IRA, to defend it and advance their goals, the established regime was thought to have incorporated the aspect of political violence into their response.  The use of tactics that are very similar in nature to the terrorist group, IRA, the distinction between the state run effort and the opposition is minimal.  Mamdani (2012) argues that in certain cases the acts of political violence qualify as a division of the terrorism approach. However, Martin (2003) contends that to deny the difference between political motivation and actions and those of the terrorist organisations is to discount a large qualitative infrastructure that is tied to any state run operation.  No matter the depth or overall scope of the violent act, there is a substantial paper trial to be found and followed in any politically motivated action (Zimmerman 2012).

The September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in the United States serves as an example of the stark difference between terrorism and political violence (Sageman 2008).  This was an attack that was determined to be masterminded by Osama bin Laden as an agent of Al Qaeda. Although there was a distinct political element to the Islamic hatred of the American and the United States as a whole, there was not a single political motivation resting behind the attacks (Gries, Krieger and Meierrieks 2011).  The driving factors behind the attack were a combination of perceived oppression and religious ideals that have set the group solidly against the Western world.  After the attack, many around the world ascribed the event a politically motivated challenge to democracy, when in fact it was a simple demonstration of what a few dedicated souls could accomplish against the most powerful nation on earth (Gries et al 2011).  The September 11th attacks each share similar attributes including the massive loss of innocent life and widespread damage and destruction. Yet, the retaliation effort made by the United States government was limited to a single group and by association, Afghanistan, a single nation.

The nation of Somalia provides a modern example of state run terrorism (Murphy 2012).  In this instance, the legislature and governing bodies have identified the opportunity for revenue in the capacity to harbour terrorist within the borders of the nation.  With this acceptance many individuals closely associated violent Islam has found themselves a base of operations (Murphy 2012).  This combination of elements touches on both the aspects of political violence and terrorism.  Somalia lack of action to expel the pirates or terrorist groups is in itself a form of political violence (Zimmerman 2012).  The indiscriminate use of force on the innocent and unwary is a hallmark of the terrorist and terrorism process (Besley and Person 2011).  In a very real manner, there is a mix of terrorism and state run political violence to be found in the ruling regime of Somalia.

Caruso and Schneider (2011) contend that the economic factors that surround the political violence practice and common terrorism share a common bond. This argument illustrates that the monetary resources are critical to both governments and terrorist groups, compelling both to take violent action in pursuit of their agenda. Further, both political violence and terrorism are commonly enacted by educated leaders, which in turn result in widespread damage and harm to a wider population (Zimmerman 2012).  Political violence is indiscriminate and has the potential to impact a regional group, or entire culture, while the terrorist organization is often forced to narrow the impact field, and thus the overall potential for harm (Lee and Er 2011).  This difference is again reflective of the potential scope of operation and opportunity for damage.

Bloody Sunday, or the Bogside Massacre that occurred on Derry, Northern Ireland is an example of state sponsored political violence (Lee and Er 2011).  This action pitted the civil rights protestors against soldiers of the Queens military. The political consequences of this act are clear in that there was an immediate cessation to the protests, thereby accomplishing the political goals of the government (Lee and Er 2011).  Coinciding with this element was the fact that there was the potential for a much wider conflagration based on the action of the establishment that day. Yet, much like an act of terrorism, the soldiers targeted a specific protest that was squarely in the path of the legislative agenda (Lee and Er 2011).  This illustrates that while the actions of political violence and terrorism are similar, there is a clear and defining depth of scope that continues to distinguish the processes.

Funding for political violence is commonly derived from a state funded source (Crenshaw 2012).  Derived, created and planned from a government position, the common revenue stream that serves the military and political establishments is used for political agendas.  Conversely, terrorist funding commonly derives from illegal means (Zimmerman 2012).  Others cite terrorist sponsors, or large donors, as enabling the organisations to continue to exist (Crenshaw 2012).  Terrorist organisations are obliged to hide and conceal their accounts due to the very real threat of seizure (Zimmerman 2012).  Established regimes employing political violence often have sustainable forms of revenue that can serve to propel their needs for the entire campaign (Crenshaw 2012). The clear difference resources illustrate the divide of potential again prominently dividing political violence and terrorism.

4.2 In Summary

There is clear difference between political violence and terrorism (Zimmerman 2012). Yet others categorize it as a derivative of terrorism (Mamdani 2012).  Revenue motivates both the political and terrorist establishment (Crenshaw 2012).  Yet, funding is substantially different for each organisation (Zimmerman 2012). Terrorists are typically secretive while the political establishment is high profile (Zimmerman 2012).  With attributes that can be applied to both political violence and terrorism, acts are divided by the potential and scope of the damage (Martin 2003).  Further, this division is illustrated on every level as terrorists have to often scrimp and save, where nations draw on taxes and established lines of revenue to fund operations (Martin 2003).

5 Conclusion

This paper has examined acts of political violence and terrorism in order to determine if there was justification in distinguishing the acts.  The evidence presented has illustrated many elements that compel further study, as well as demonstrating the nature of both processes.  With the capacity for small groups to use fear or intimidation to force political change, the need to continually address terrorists and state sponsored violence will not disappear.

As the evidence presented in the literature illustrates both political violence and terrorism share many critical aspects including indiscriminate violence, death and damage to the existing establishment. Yet, the distinct divide exists when the potential for impact is assessed.  The political establishment has an inherent advantage in the areas of resources and funding as well as planning and logistics.  This is distinguished from the secretive terrorist that must hit and run in order to be effective.  State sponsored terrorism, while still utilizing terror and fear has the potential to exceed the scope of any one terrorist organization.

In the end, there are many similarities between political violence and terrorism. While the primary shared component is death, it is the issue of scope that looms large. The evidence presented has illustrated that it is justified to separate the acts of political violence and the acts of terrorism.  With a difference in long term elements representing a substantial difference in approach for recovery forces, there is a clear need to clarify each area independently.  It will not be a definition or action plan that serves to bring these forms of violence to an end, but education, equality and consideration that will build the bridges to the next era.

 

6 References

Besley, T. and Persson, T. 2011. The logic of political violence. The quarterly journal of economics, 126 (3), pp. 1411–1445.

Caruso, R. and Schneider, F. 2011. The socio-economic determinants of terrorism and political violence in Western Europe (1994–2007). European Journal of Political Economy, 27 pp. 37–49.

Crenshaw, M. 2012. Terrorism in context. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Gries, T., Krieger, T. and Meierrieks, D. 2011. Causal linkages between domestic terrorism and economic growth. Defence and Peace Economics, 22 (5), pp. 493–508.

Lee, A. and Er. 2011. Who Becomes a Terrorist?: Poverty, Education, and the Origins of Political Violence. World Politics, 63 (2), pp. 203–245.

Mamdani, M. 2009. Saviors and survivors. New York: Pantheon Books.

Martin, G. 2003. Understanding terrorism. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Murphy, M 2012 Somalia: The New Barbary? Piracy and Islam in the Horn of Africa. Intelligence and National Security, 27 (6), pp. 919–920.

Krieger, T. and Meierrieks, D. 2011. What causes terrorism?. Public Choice, 147 (1-2), pp. 3—27.

Piazza, J. A. 2011. Poverty, minority economic discrimination, and domestic terrorism.Journal of Peace Research, 48 (3), pp. 339–353.

Sageman, M. 2008. Leaderless jihad. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sterio, M. 2012. Presidential Powers and Foreign Affairs: Rendition and Targeted Killings of Americans: The United States’ Use of Drones in the War on Terror: The (Il) legality of Targeted Killings Under International Law. Case W. Res. J. Int’l L., 45 pp. 197–579.

Wright-Neville, D. P. 2010. Dictionary of terrorism. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Zimmermann, E. 2012. Political violence, crises, and revolutions. London: Routledge.

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Category: Essay & Dissertation Samples, Social Science