July 9, 2013 | Quote
What’s the Definition of ‘Terrorism’?
By a two-to-one margin, Americans have consistently expressed concerns about new terrorist attacks at home. But there’s a whole lot less agreement on how to define the word “terrorism.” Ask 1,000 people, you’ll probably get 1,000 answers.
“Ordinary citizens, the media, and politicians throw around the term ‘terrorism’ so loosely that in ordinary conversation it has lost all but the most vague meanings,” said Lance Janda, a military historian at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. “Some folks use it as a catch-all term to describe attacks or events that they don't like rather than being more precise.”
It's ironic — the word “terrorism” appears constantly in newscasts, congressional debates and speeches by world leaders, often as a way of securing public support for one security measure or another. But for such a widely used word, there's actually no single definition of what “terrorism” means. There are many, and often, they're incompatible.
At least experts take some solace that the lack of an ironclad definition of terrorism hasn’t stopped the U.S. and it’s allies from formulating a counterterrorism policy.
“If you look at counterterrorism efforts between the U.S. and Europe, it’s not as though countries are confused and unable to cooperate effectively,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.