18 Sep 2022


Compare and Contrast: Terrorism

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Academic level: University

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Timothy Garton Ash does not give a precise definition of what terrorism is, but he gives a few pointers to what should be considered when defining a terrorist. At first, he says that biography should be considered. That may help in finding out who they are, where they come from, and exactly they want. Just like the first questions asked during an intelligence interview, this information should also be the first to be considered when determining suspected terrorists. For example, the important issues to consider about the September 11 attack should have been; why did 15 out of the 19 alleged attackers come from Saudi Arabia? Is Osama determined to purify Islam and destroy America? Does he merely intend to change succession in Saudi or does he want to topple the royal house in Saudi? (Ash, 2001). 

Secondly, Ash talks about the goal of terrorists as another factor that should be taken into account. Often, the human motives and biographic motives of actions are usually not apparent even to people themselves. Therefore, it is important to find the goal or objective of any terrorist group. Ash gives the example of Germany Red Army and the Al Qaida, pointing that their goals were so apocalyptic and vague. Hence, it would have been impossible for them to be achieved in the real world (Ash, 2001). However, sometimes these goals are clear and can be easily achieved without necessarily opting to sacrifice innocent lives. 

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Methods or rather the tactics used by terrorists to commit mass actions should also be a concern. For example, one should ask how the suspected terrorist group resort to violence so as to realize its political and personal goals.It is advisable to think of whether violence aims at the uniformed state representatives or is the violence also targeting innocent people. Do the acts of violence try to reduce or avoid civilian injury during the panic or do the actions cause mass murders of innocents like in the September 11 attacks? (Ash, 2001) 

Finally, Ash talks about context. He gives an example of the NATO framework which stated that “use of violence in pursuit of political aims is rejected entirely and unconditionally." Although this is an excellent factor, it is not to be considered since America, and Britain used violence while pursuing their political ambitions in Afghanistan. Just because America and Britain were organized states, their use of violence is not to be considered as war regardless of whether the attacks are directed against terrorist groups or not (Ash, 2001). 

Another journalist known as Reza Aslan had a different definition of what terrorism is. According to Aslan war can be differentiated from terrorism by situating it within the state parameters and arguing that the State be the only institution that has the powers to declare war on its enemies. Aslan admits that many times the state may resort to illegal and even immoral means to achieving victory, but it abides by the rules and regulations of international laws (Aslan, 2009). Aslan adds that, when a state or a group of individual fails to adhere to the international laws and instead chooses to murder innocent people, either through accident or necessity, then that act is to be equitably and legally termed as an act of terrorism. Aslan gives an example of a state like Israel which after killing innocent civilians during the war, it offers an apology and is remorseful about it. However, a terrorist group like Hamas does this without remorse or apology (Aslan, 2009). Aslan is confused about when terrorism is considered as war. He gives an example of Israel saying that, before it was declared a state, the Irgun, the Stern Gang, and the Irgun primarily conducted its military actions and they were all said to be terrorist groups. Therefore, when Israel was declared a state, members of these groups were absorbed into the regular military, given uniforms, and were termed as legitimate soldiers of an army that were legally sanctioned thus giving a double standard of what terrorism is. 

Another journalist by the name Bruce Hoffman defined terrorism as a planned, systematic, and calculated act of violence or a threat of violence directed and used to pursue or serve a political aim. He describes a terrorist as someone who attempts to catalyze his opinions through coercion and intimidation (Hoffman, 1999). 

There are three nations that face serious issues of national security including the United Kingdom, the United States, and India.For that reason, these countries heightened the robustness of their efforts towards counterterrorism. They faced varying results regarding rights preservation, efficacy, public confidence in the government, and compliance with the rule of law. All these three nations share similar burdens with national security and legal heritage, but they also enjoy the benefits of stable and reliable structures of governance, separation of power, and political processes that support making decisions regarding security challenges.Additionally, they have high standards of transparency regarding legal operations (Setty, 2011). As a result of that, the three countries present useful insights about how the definitions of terrorism and counterterrorism have gone through similar but numerous evolutions despite them having diverse historical contexts. In these countries, the lack of a standard definition of terrorism has led to the possible abuse of human rights and disregard for the rule of law in attempts to fight against terrorism. However, a standard definition for counterterrorism for all the countries is tactics, practices, strategies, and techniques that governments, law enforcement departments, corporations, and the military adopt to effectively respond to acts of terrorism and threats that may be both imputed and real (Setty, 2011). 

The US defines terrorism as “dangerous acts to human life that violate the criminal laws of the US or any state that may be intended to coerce or intimidate the citizens of that country; to influence government policies through coercion and or intimidation; to affect the government's conduct through assassination, kidnapping, or mass destruction; and occurs primarily within the US territorial boundaries and jurisdictions” (Setty, 2011). According to this definition and the US understanding of counterterrorism, persons found to be terrorists are subjected to a specialized trial in Court 3, a delay or complete denial of access to an attorney, denial of freedom of expression, reduced rights to privacy even in their homes. 

According to the UK, terrorism is defined as, "using violent acts or means for political gains and aims and involves any use of violent acts with the intention of subjecting the public to fear." This definition holds great importance because, in order to counteract these actions, the government is given the powers to arrest the terrorist suspects without issuing a warrant of detention, the suspected terrorist can be detained for up to twenty-eight days, prosecution of terrorists groups, restriction of publishing contents that may encourage terrorism (Setty, 2011). 

India defines terrorism as "an act that requires a person to act violently, kill, disrupt essential services, or damage property; with the intention of coercing the government, endangering India's' sovereignty, intimidating civilians, or adversely affecting the peace between different racial, regional, religious, or caste groups." Counter Terrorism acts give the police and law enforcement agencies the power to curtail the civil liberties of the suspects during trials in ways that are similar to the provisions stipulated in the POTA, freeze the assets of groups suspected to be terrorists and to detain the suspects for prolonged periods of time (Setty, 2011). 

By defining terrorism, a meaning of what it entails is derived that contributes towards how a country or a region views and fights against terrorism. According to Timothy, the biography is the most important aspect to look for when dealing with terrorism. That means, knowing all the original details of someone that can help in understanding how and why people act in a particular manner ( Ash, 2001) . For example, terrorists in many countries act with a reason. It may be due to nation disputes with other countries or even religious related disagreements in within the same country. Therefore, the biographic information helps intelligence offices to categorize terrorism as whether domestic or international. 

When Ash talks of human motives as a concept in the definition of terrorism, the main idea is to capture the end goal of the terror attack. It is one of the major reasons as to why officers will always find it necessary to spare some of the terrorists and use them for further interrogations. Gathering information as to why people choose to attack a country gives a green light on how the terrorists are prepared to conduct their activities shortly ( Ash, 2001) . Victims who are held hostage does not mean they have an opportunity of being set free. Instead, interrogators need to use them as informers before subjecting to them to death. Understanding the motive of such groups becomes easy to deal with them since the government the government is always ready to negotiate for its citizens. Terrorism intelligence is always set to try and minimize the impact of death on the residents of a country for vague reasons presented by terrorists. 

As part of his thoughts, Ash talks of the trigger factors in a terrorism scenario. At times it 's hard to make the claim an attack is politically or economically initiated ( Ash, 2001) . Reason being, it brings rise to domestic disputes since no one would like to associate with such actions. Most of the attacks that happen in the world, they have a large circle of contributing factors that lead to their occurrence. To some point, it is easier to deal with the acting group of people than digging deep to get hold of everyone associated with an attack. Therefore, having enough biographic as well as motive forms a good foundation for dealing with terrorism. 

From another perspective, Reza Aslan bases his argument on what makes an act of war to be termed as terrorism. If a state decides to go against the international laws, then it becomes a terrorist attack ( Aslan, 2009) . However, terrorism ma also conducted internally within a given state by the residents of the same country hence the urge to perform a biographic study of terrorists. Killing innocent people is just but one way of how terrorists act. There are other numerous tactics they may use to achieve their goals. Therefore, how small or terrifying an act is, does not deny it an opportunity to be termed as terrorism. Anything having a negative impact on people or even the resources of a country should be considered as terror attacks. 

It is right to agree with Bruce Hoffman’s argument on terrorism since it must be characterized by planning and a systematic order of doing things. 80% of the terror attacks that has ever happened globally fall under the category of well-calculated violence ( Hoffman, 1999) . Their main is not just to create intimidation as Hoffman claims but to create a sequence of threats that will make their deeds a concern to the whole nation. A perfect example is a current situation in Europe where terrorists have decided to have a pattern of mass killings invading fear to settlers of different states. They have to ensure that national security is at risk and the government is left with no option but to have a negotiation with them. A situation where insecurity is a problem becomes hard to deals with as the government has to portray an element of confidence in protecting the civil rights and shows its ability to deal with terrorism. 

Every country has a way of dealing with terrorism depending on the experience and the state of development to impact efficiency. Countries with high technology and adequate resources are in a better position to control terror threats early enough before they happen. That is through tapping any available information that proves of planned actions within the country. According to the US government, any information or data that proves to cause any harm to citizens of any state to influence the government policies is considered as terrorism ( Setty, 2011) . Therefore, officers on the ground are committed to ensuring that every resident feels safe at any given time. The only controversial part is the rule that denies a suspected terrorist the right to freedom or access an attorney. Just like other crime suspects enjoy their rights, terrorism suspects should also be subjected to same until proven guilty. 

To sum up, all the definitions of terrorism either by scholars or country based revolve on the idea of violence and threatening national security. Most of the nations that have experienced terrorism know how important it is to introduce control measures in advance to curb it from happening. The end results of terror acts are death, fear as well as loss of properties. Therefore, there lacks any need to wait until it happens so the intelligence department can rush to investigate the issue. It is always advisable to be one step of terrorist to minimize the damage and loss of innocent life in the world. 


Ash, T. G. (2001). Is there a good terrorist?. New York Review of Books , 48 (19), 30-35. 

Aslan, R. (2009). Which One’s the Terrorist . Random House. 

Hoffman B. (1999). Inside Terrorism by Bruce Hoffman. Political Science Quarterly , 114 (2), 326-327. 

Setty, S. (2011). What's in a name? How nations define terrorism ten years after 9/11. 

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