What is Terrorism?

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Law book series (BRIEFSLAW, volume 9)


For the moral assessment of terrorism and counterterrorism, one needs a real descriptive definition of terrorism to identify one’s subject matter and avoid misunderstanding. It is a mistake to omit violence from one’s definition both because this is entrenched in ordinary language and because this is a crucial wrong-making characteristic of terrorism. However, one need not limit terrorism to political violence because one can treat political terrorism as one species of terrorism more broadly defined. For moral purposes, one should define terrorism as the attempt to coerce an indirect target by means of terror produced by the use or threat of violence against a direct target. Although it is true that terrorism can have a wide variety of purposes, not all of them are essential to its nature. It prejudices one’s moral judgment of terrorism if one defines it as an attack upon the innocent because this suggests that it should be judged simply in terms of just war theory rather than a wider range of relevant moral reasons. To limit terrorism to the systematic use of violence ignores the moral similarity to such acts as kidnapping.


Definition Violence Targets Political Coercion Terror Innocence Just war Purpose Systematic 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyWashington University - St LouisSaint LouisUSA

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