Email Last Updated Jun 15, 1:


The conceptual issue The history of terrorism is probably coextensive with the history of political violence. Its use has repeatedly shifted in some significant respects.

Moreover, in contemporary political discourse the word is often employed as a polemical term whose strong emotional charge occludes its somewhat vague descriptive meaning. All this tends to get in the way of sustained rational discussion of the nature and moral standing of terrorism and the best ways of coping with it.

Its ultimate aim was the reshaping of both society and human nature. That was to be achieved by destroying the old regime, suppressing all enemies of the revolutionary government, and inculcating and enforcing civic virtue. A central role in attaining these objectives was accorded to revolutionary tribunals which had wide authority, were constrained by very few rules of procedure, and saw their task as carrying out revolutionary policy rather than meting out legal justice of the more conventional sort.


The standard punishment was death. Trials and executions were meant to strike terror in the hearts of all who lacked civic virtue; the Jacobins believed that was a necessary means of consolidating the new regime.

This necessity provided both the rationale of the reign of terror and its moral justification. Accordingly, the Jacobins applied the term to their own actions and policies quite unabashedly, without any negative connotations.

International News | Latest World News, Videos & Photos -ABC News - ABC News

Critics of the excesses of the French Revolution had watched its reign with horror from the start. Terrorism came to be associated with drastic abuse of power and related to the notion of tyranny as rule based on fear, a recurring theme in political philosophy.

In the second half of the 19th century, there was a shift in both descriptive and evaluative meaning of the term. Disillusioned with other methods of political struggle, some anarchist and other revolutionary organizations, and subsequently some nationalist groups too, took to political violence.

They had come to the conclusion that words were not enough, and what was called for were deeds: Their violence steered clear of other, uninvolved or insufficiently involved persons.

The perpetrators and some of those sympathetic to their cause claimed those acts were nevertheless morally legitimate, whether as retribution exacted on the assumption that no member of the ruling class was innocent or as a means necessary for the overthrow of the unjust order.

When used by others, it conveyed a strong condemnation of the practice. The government set up in Russia by the victorious Bolsheviks was totalitarian.

So was the Nazi rule in Germany.


Both sought to impose total political control on society. Such a radical aim could only be pursued by a similarly radical method: Its success was due largely to its arbitrary character—to the unpredictability of its choice of victims.

In the Soviet Union, it was eventually unleashed on victims chosen at random. Totalitarian terrorism is the most extreme and sustained type of state terrorism. While students of totalitarianism talked of terrorism as its method of rule, representatives of totalitarian regimes, sensitive to the pejorative connotation of the word, portrayed the practice as defense of the state from internal enemies.

However, state terrorism is not the preserve of totalitarian regimes. But the type of terrorism that came to the fore in the second half of the 20th century and in early 21st century is that employed by insurgent organizations. Many movements for national liberation from colonial rule resorted to it, either as the main method of struggle or as a tactic complementing guerrilla warfare.

So did some separatist movements. Some organizations driven by extreme ideologies, in particular on the left, took to terrorism as the way of trying to destroy what they considered an unjust, oppressive economic, social and political system. This type of terrorism is, by and large, indiscriminate in its choice of target: It shoots at people, or blows them up by planting bombs, in office buildings, markets, cafes, cinemas, places of religious worship, on buses or planes, or in other vulnerable public places.

It also takes people hostage, by hijacking planes and in other ways. Insurgents practicing terrorism portray their actions as struggle for liberation and seek to be considered and treated as soldiers rather than terrorists or criminals.To counter terrorism, the FBI's top investigative priority, we use our investigative and intelligence capabilities to neutralize domestic extremists and help dismantle terrorist networks worldwide.

ter·ror·ism (tĕr′ə-rĭz′əm) n. The use of violence or the threat of violence, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political goals. terrorism (ˈtɛrəˌrɪzəm) n 1.

(Government, Politics & Diplomacy) systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve some goal 2. the act of terrorizing 3. the state of being terrorized ter•ror. The use of violence or the threat of violence, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political goals.

Agro-terrorism; Aircraft hijacking (); Animal-borne bomb attacks; Beheading; Bioterrorism; Car bombing (); Cyberterrorism; Dirty bomb; Dry run; Explosive; Hostage-taking. Jul 27,  · Terrorism: Terrorism, the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.

Author and Page information

Definitions of terrorism are complex and controversial; because of the inherent ferocity of terrorism, the term in its popular usage has developed an intense stigma.

Nov 09,  · Protecting the United States from terrorism is the founding mission of DHS. While America is stronger and more resilient as a result of a strengthened homeland security enterprise, terrorist threats persist and continue to evolve.