How to Research Terrorism

"One Man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" - Anon Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. There is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism. Most common definitions of terrorism include only those acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack), and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants.


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    Define Terrorism. Most will generally agree it involves perpetrating violence targeting non-combatants to instill fear for political ends. However there isn't a consensus as to whether it is only illegal activities or governments can be considered state terrorists. What about "insurgency"?
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    Consider definitions of terrorism by official bodies such as the United Nations, United States and European Union.
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    Look at history. The French Resistance during World War II were possibly the largest coordinated terrorist attack in history. The most sustained terrorist campaign of the 20th century was between the UVF, UDF and Irish Republican Army. Even Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist in 1961. In 1981 Reagan declared War on Terror which was re-used in 2001.
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    State terrorism. The Weathermen were a 1970s terrorist response to perceived state terror, watch The Weather Underground documentary. In the 1980s, Reagan supported the terrorist Noriega in Panama and the Nicaraguan Contras. Read books including Pirates and Emperors and The Culture of Terrorism, both by Noam Chomsky about state terrorism.
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    Study the motivations first-hand from videos or declarations from the groups themselves. For some groups their motivation is self-determination. Underground by Haruki Murakami has some interviews with religious terrorists.
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    Contemporary terrorists. Critically evaluate who the United States has designated terrorist organizations[1] and why. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and EZLN would be good groups to research as they span the whole spectrum of terrorist motivations.
    • Al Qaeda - labeled terrorist by the UN, US and EU (run no social programs)
    • Hamas - labeled terrorist by the US and EU. Murders Israeli civilians (including school children). Regularly fires missiles into the internationally recognised borders of Israel. Shoots political opponents in their kneecaps as part of governing the people of Gaza. But also runs extensive social programs and governs in Gaza, and some in the West Bank.
    • Hezbollah - Ditto, all of the above. Labeled terrorist by the UN and US but also runs some social programs and governs in Lebanon.
    • EZLN - revolutionary resistance movement in Mexico
    • Luis Posada Carriles - terrorist with asylum in the United States
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    Tactics. Various tactics are used, suicide bombs and car bombs among them. Study the Freedom Fighters Manual distributed by the CIA in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
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    Study counter-terrorism.


  • Terrorism did not begin or end with 9/11. Keep 9/11 in perspective relative to all terrorist atrocities.
  • Arabs aren't all terrorists. Read al-Jazeera for an Arab perspective[2].


  • Weigh conspiracy theories on their merits against the consensus.
  • Researching terrorism is sometimes gruesome and not for the fainthearted.
  • Sometimes it is in governments' interests to lie about terrorism.
  • The US, EU and the UN are not always right even if they are the world's 'governing bodies'. Use your own brain, not theirs.

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Categories: History | Research and Review