Terrorism: conceptual framework
In Updesh Kumar & Manas K. Mandal, eds., Countering Terrorism: Psycho-social Strategies, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2012, pp. 3-25
Terrorism is a complex issue, yet attempts to explain it are of¬ten quite simplistic, revolving around certain generalizations and abstractions. Consequently, despite causing so much human and material destruction in recent decades, terrorism remains a largely misunderstood concept, generating unnecessary controversies and emotive debates. This chapter attempts to conceptualize terror¬ism while deliberating the complexities pertaining to its definition, causes, purposes, and manifestations. Is terrorism a means to an end or an end in itself? Can one man’s terrorist be another man’s freedom fighter? Is it possible to morally justify terrorism? What is the role of religion in the recent wave of terrorism? Is terrorism only a nonstate activity or does it also include instances of state violence? These questions have been critically debated in recent literature on terrorism. While points of disagreement still remain among schol¬ars writing on the subject about some theoretical aspects of terror¬ism, over time a broader scholarly consensus has indeed emerged regarding its previously controversial and emotive issues.

Terrorism is a label that no individual or group is willing to—what to speak of a state that under in¬ternational law has the right to use force, even though with some conditions. Consequently, the absence of consensus on the defi¬nition of terrorism is understandable. However, when terrorism occurs, we mostly know quite well what it is. More than anything else, it is the psychological effect of terrorism that distinguishes it from other acts of politically motivated violence, such as war and guerrilla warfare. It is this peculiarity of terrorism that the present chapter attempts to explain in some detail. The discussion critically reviews the published works on the theory of terrorism to answer the aforementioned questions regarding the meaning, justification, causes, and motivations of terrorism. The chapter also explains an issue that is often sidetracked in the current literature on terror¬ism: that of state terrorism. However, given the difficulty of labeling a state as terrorist under present formulation of international law, the discussion is confined only to rethinking the concept of state-sponsored terrorism. After explaining the varied complexities associated with the phenomenon of terrorism and the consequent multiplicity of its theoretical explanations, the chapter concludes by arguing that the issue of counterterrorism should also be under¬stood within an equally complex and multidimensional theoretical framework.

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