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Terrorism and the "Just War"

Please help with the following:

1. What are the common elements of most definitions of terrorism?

2. What are the debatable criteria and why?

3. International law has established limits on warfare, referred to as the just war theory. Describe these limitations and the difference between "jus ad bellum" and "jus in bello."

4. Evaluate whether the recent war in Iraq meets the "Just War" criteria.

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Good questions! Let's look at each question individually, which you can then draw on for your final copy.


1. What are the common elements of most definitions of terrorism?

Terrorism is "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion" (Terrorism(a)). There is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism ("Terrorism in the United States 1999"). Most common definitions of terrorism include only those acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack), and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants. Some definitions also include acts of unlawful violence and war (Terrorism(b)).

2. What are the debatable criteria and why?

Official definitions as mentioned above, determine counter-terrorism policy. And, most government definitions outline the following key criteria for an act to be considered a terrorism are: target, objective, motive, perpetrator, and legitimacy or legality of the act as defined below:

1. Violence - According to Walter Laqueur of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "the only general characteristic of terrorism generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence." However, the criterion of violence alone does not produce a useful definition, as it includes many acts not usually considered terrorism: war, riot, organized crime, or even a simple assault.

2. Psychological impact and fear - The attack was carried out in such a way as to maximize the severity and length of the psychological impact. Each act of terrorism is a "performance," devised to have an impact on many large audiences. Terrorists also attack national symbols to show their power and to shake the foundation of the country or society they are opposed to. This may negatively affect a government's legitimacy, while increasing the legitimacy of the given terrorist organization and/or ideology behind a terrorist act (Juergensmeyer, 2002).

3. Perpetrated for a Political Goal - Something all terrorist attacks have in common is their perpetration for a political purpose. Terrorism is a political tactic, not unlike letter writing or protesting, that is used by activists when they believe no other means will effect the kind of change they desire. The change is desired so badly that failure is seen as a worse outcome than the deaths of civilians. This is often where the interrelationship between terrorism and religion occurs. When a political struggle is integrated into the framework of a religious or "cosmic" (Juergensmeyer, 2002, pp. 127-128) struggle, such as over the control of an ancestral homeland or holy site such as Israel and Jerusalem, failing in the political goal (nationalism) becomes equated with spiritual failure, which, for the highly committed, is worse than their own death or the deaths of innocent civilians.

4. Deliberate targeting of non-combatants - It is commonly held that the distinctive nature of terrorism lies in its intentional and specific selection of civilians as direct targets. Specifically, the criminal intent is shown when babies, children, mothers, and the elderly are murdered, or injured, and put in harm's way. Much of the time, the victims of terrorism are targeted not because they are threats, but because they are specific "symbols, tools, animals or corrupt beings" that tie into a specific view of the world that the terrorist possess. Their suffering accomplishes the terrorists' goals of instilling fear, getting a message out to an audience, or otherwise accomplishing their often radical religious and political ends (Juergensmeyer, 2002).

5. Disguise - Terrorists almost invariably pretend to be non-combatants, hide among non-combatants, fight from in the midst of non-combatants, and when they can, strive to mislead and provoke the government soldiers into attacking the wrong people, that the government may be blamed for it. When an enemy is identifiable as a combatant, the word terrorism is rarely used. Mass executions of hostages, as by the Nazi military forces in the Second ...

Solution Summary

Some common elements of most definitions of terrorism are highlighted, including a discussion of the debatable criteria and why. In reference to a just war, it also describes the limitations and the differences between "jus ad bellum" and "jus in bello" and evaluates whether the recent war in Iraq meets the "Just War" criteria.