Dissecting the Meaning of Terrorism



It seems that many writers today, even of the most eminent, are struggling to find an acceptable definition of terrorism.  Many governments are doing the same.  It is said that one nation’s terrorist is very often another’s freedom fighter, and many times one nation’s terrorist of yesterday is seen as a hero tomorrow.  But a little child knows that terrorism is any act that brings terror.  It is as simple as that.  Why are we lost in the semantics?  And to any adult, terrorism is even something more than that; it can be any seemingly innocent act, which harbors, sustains, and promotes acts of terror.

We need to dissect the meaning of terrorism in order to put things into perspective.  Every war in the past was fought by thousands of soldiers.  The last large war reigned terror on most of the face of the earth.  Today it is a fact that by pushing a few buttons, it is possible for the whole world to be over within 30 minutes.  How did it happen that a few human fingers have accumulated such power to determine not just the fate of nations, but the very existence of life itself?  How did a few individuals come to even challenge the very power of the infinitely great?  As the unthinkable draws even closer every day, it would be prudent to finally come face to face with the full spectrum of terrorism instead of talking about this or that individual terrorist or nation.

The Legal Immoral Terrorist 

This is the soldier who tries to save his own life while at the same time killing and destroying others, not in order to save his life, but just for the sake of killing; this is the war criminal.  He will even disobey state orders in order to kill and destroy on his own.  When he returns, very often, the state protects him and many times he is even called a hero.

The Illegal Immoral Terrorist

The Illegal Immoral Terrorist has a strong desire to destroy property and even to kill others, but does not want to die or suffer in jail.  His resources do not come directly from tax money.

The Illegal “Moral” Terrorist

The Illegal “Moral” Terrorist does not try to save his life; he is ready to die at any moment for his cause and sometimes he even plans to die, but people are killed or mutilated because of his acts.  His resources do not come directly from tax money.  When his country is under occupation by another country, he is considered a useless man, a terrorist in the eyes of the puppet government of his country and a good portion of his countrymen.  After many years when his country becomes free from the hold of the empire, then the free government of his country and almost all his countrymen often call him a hero, a freedom fighter.

The Legal Social Terrorist

This is the soldier who by the orders of the state goes to war knowing that he might die, and he kills and destroys by obeying orders from the state.  To avoid jail, execution, or disgrace, he will go, taking the chance he may die even though he does not want to die or suffer.  He obeys state orders but has no desire to examine them; he is a pawn of the system, ignorant and confused a tool of the rich who exploit the poor, perhaps like most of the soldiers around the world.  His family and the state call him a hero, and in truth he/she is a hero and a victim at the same time.

The Blind Citizen Terrorist

In this category belongs a large number of people around the world and especially in the West who work day in and day out researching and making millions of weapons, some of which have unthinkable destructive power.  They are people who say that they work for peace while knowing that any weapon, when used, brings terror, violence, death, and pain.

The Apathetic Citizen Terrorist

Virtually every citizen in the world who supports with his/her taxes the war machine is in this category.  When he/she hears that one fifth of today’s military spending would suffice to ensure everyone a sustained basic supply of food, drinking water, education and public health services, he puts his head in the sand and says, “What can we do?”

The Religious Seed Terrorist

Any citizen that will run away in the name of religion from any battle for a just world and hide in order to save his life or to avoid imprisonment is in this category.  Representing the nonviolence of the weak, this is a coward.

And finally on the other end of the spectrum there are the real advocates of peace, the real fighters.  Their actions could precipitate violence, but that is not their intent or plan.

The Legal Moral Fighter

This is the soldier who is enslaved into the government system and is willing to die for his country and family, but who would not kill or destroy.  Usually historians do not mention him.

The Real Mahatma Fighter

The real fighter in his/her fight for peace does not try to save his/her life or avoid punishment, nor does he seek to give up his life or take any other life into his hands.  And he will yield not even one inch to his opponent even if that means that he will die or spend his entire life in prison.  He represents the nonviolence of the brave, a rare fighter like Gandhi, Badshah Khan, Martin Luther King, or Socrates.

Who is then outside of the spectrum of violence?  It is the little children and the childlike adults who should be our teachers on nonviolence, but we almost completely ignore them, and we do not give them the podium to speak; instead, we keep it for ourselves full time.

Therefore the question we face today is this, “How long will the universe wait for the unthinkable to befall us?”

Mr. Andreas Toupadakis, Ph.D. is a Former Research Scientist of Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.