What is Terrorism?

Why would individuals choose to commit acts of terror? More importantly, what can we all do to combat this horrendous societal woe?

We all fear terrorism. Whether we’re riding the subway to a dinner date with a friend, or standing beneath the shadow of the Freedom Tower, we can’t help but think a slew of anxious thoughts: What would happen if a suicide bomber would unzip his vest, or an individual with a gruesome agenda begins shooting at everyone in their path? We think these thoughts, yet we go on with our lives. In our minds terrorism is a threat that is borderless, limitless, and abstract. It seems to be beyond reproach – a force so immense that no one can control it. However, when we are learned in a matter, that abstraction seems less frightening. Like anything in this world, knowledge leads to more power.

What is terrorism?

It seems so obvious, that you might write me off as condescending, and click out of this article. But, before you do that, hear me out. You might think you comprehend terrorism – it’s just a bunch of bomb wielding, truck ramming, AK-47 possessing individuals, right? Well, yes, but the complexity and variety in terrorists and their attacks are less known by many. Terrorism is a multifaceted beast that must be torn apart layer by layer.

Terrorism in its essence is the killing of innocents for political, religious, or value-based reasons. However, politicians worldwide, especially in America, Europe, and Australia seem to define terrorism as merely the terroristic actions of Islamic extremists. They seem to disavow the terroristic actions of all others, instead defining those as murders.

The US has had its share of terrorist attacks. The one which is seared most in memory is 9/11, when radicals belonging to al-Qaeda rammed commercial planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Once the day was through, and the brave men and women of our fire department sifted through the rubble tirelessly, over 3,000 Americans were dead. The terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden, was hunted for years, and the US, under the direction of President Bush declared a ‘War on Terror.’ This war, spanning many countries (including Iraq and Afghanistan) was fought to squash Islamic extremism and its beliefs.

While this is all good and well, the US continues to hunt Islamic extremists, currently those belonging to ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). ISIS, under the direction of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a dreadful organization, hell bent of destroying Western civilization, and establishing a global caliphate. ISIS and their lone wolves are responsible for attacks in France, the US, Spain, and many other nations worldwide. There isn’t a citizen in this country (save for Trump in his cheeto-dust presidential palace) who isn’t terrified at the aspect of being the next victim of ISIS and their attackers.

The President and the GOP are so hell bent on calling out Islamic terrorism for what it is, that they tend to neglect home-grown terrorism, resting inside the very country we call home, and carried out by white Americans with evil vendettas of their own. Michael Walzer, an American philosopher, describes terrorism as the, “deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of political leaders.” If this is the definition we are going with, then Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered 9 African-American churchgoers in 2015 is a terrorist; Adam Lanza, who opened fire in Newtown, CT, murdering 20 first graders is a terrorist; James A. Fields, who rammed a car into counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” (Neo-Nazi, KKK) rally in Charlottesville is a terrorist. The difference between the attacks of these white men, and the attacks of the Islamic extremists, is that one is called for what it is, and the other is blamed on derangement, idiocy, and murderous tendencies. It’s a dangerous road to travel on, when those in power refuse to acknowledge half of the terrorist coin.

Terrorists carry out their actions to instill fear into the public. They wish nothing more than to scare you all silly, and watch you hole yourselves up in your homes. Their attacks are carried out to receive something from the government. It is our job to never yield. Terrorists believe that the psychic terror inflicted will be so overwhelming, and so deafening, that it’ll cause our leaders to succumb to their demands. It is more likely for you to get hit by a taxi on your way home from school, than for you to die in a terror attack. Yet, the fear of such attacks leaves us paralyzed and petrified of what’s to come.

It is important to note that terrorists never declare themselves as such. They will usually go by more honorable names such as “freedom fighter,” “rebel,” “separatist,” and “patriot.” They see themselves as upright individuals fighting for what they see as right. Their value systems have them believing that their righteousness outweighs all else, and it has been said that ‘’one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

What motivates people to become terrorists?

While terrorist organizations themselves have political purposes for turning to terrorism, for individual terrorists, this isn’t always the case. Usually, these individuals are losers who are searching for some acceptance from fellow members of one terrorist group/faction or another. While social solidarity is an important motivation in the making of a terrorist, it isn’t the sole reason. If one is poverty-stricken for most of their life, and their nation is full of poverty as well, terrorism may seem like a plausible option for them. They are angry, hungry, and seeking vengeance for their poverty. At this point, their bellies are so swollen they will believe the propaganda anyone throws their way. Some terrorists are religious fanatics, who wish to serve God in the most extreme ways possible. Each terrorist has their own reason. Together they are a menacing force, with religious extremism being the main cause of terror across the globe.

What are some proposed solutions to terrorism?

Solutions to terrorism have been discussed since its ravaging on the world began. Some suggest deportations and enhanced police powers. Others believe that preemptive military strike is necessary or that we need to increase our intelligence and surveillance. However, the solution that is most likely the best “counter-terrorism” tactic is humanitarian aid and education. If we give individuals no reason to join terrorist factions, we will see a decrease in attacks. While there will always be evil forces in the world, which we cannot control, we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves from this evil. But, when we are vanquishing this evil, we must remember that the ends do not justify the means. We cannot lose ourselves or our morality when combatting terrorism. We cannot blame Muslims for the acts of a few zealots, just as we cannot blame Christians for the acts of their extremists. If we hate on others as a method of crushing terror, more terror will await.

What can we all do to combat this societal woe?

We must live fearlessly. If we live in fear of death, the terrorists win. They win the moment you succumb to your worst anxieties. They win the moment you give up. Stay strong. Live every moment of your life like it’s your last. If you do that, they have failed in their mission.


Molly Meisels is a native New Yorker and a contributor at GlamSalad.com. When she is not writing about politics, she can be found savoring pepper steak at cozy restaurants all over the world.

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