Wednesday, 24 May 2017


Terrorist is a word that's increasingly on people's lips these days, especially after Monday's attack in Manchester, but what exactly is terrorism? People believe it's incredibly difficult to define - like beauty, or quality. There's the old adage that says one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, so the conclusion is that it all depends on your perspective.

The dictionary definition is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Were the French Resistance terrorists? By that definition, yes - they targeted the Vichy as much as the Germans. To quote another well-worn phrase, history is invariably written by the victors and victors never portray themselves as terrorists. However, the French Resistance were actually freedom fighters using the weapons of terrorism - they were objectively both and it's not actually a matter of perspective. Any use of terror tactics makes one a terrorist, irrespective of motive. Regular armies can and have used terrorist tactics.

As always, there are differences between dictionary definitions and legal definitions - here are various legal definitions of terrorism which eliminate states from the equation:

  1. It can only be conducted by non-state actors operating undercover,
  2. It reaches more than the target victims (indiscriminate),
  3. It is legally illegal.
The following conditions fall outside some legal, definitions of terrorism:
  1. In war (and sometimes peacetime) when committed by a nation state,
  2. In self-defence,
  3. Against enemy materiel in times of war,
  4. Collateral damage.

That, bizarrely, gives a state carte blanche to commit terrorist acts against minorities.

Is terrorism ever successful - again, yes - there are many examples from the Yugoslavian Partizans through Israeli Irgun against the British in Palestine to Vietnam. You could even say that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a success in its intent, as it brought about the liberation of Balkans and the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, albeit at massive cost.

Terrorism's aim is to inspire terror - to terrify - and every candlelight vigil, every public tear, every emotional speech in response to a terrorist act is a win in the terrorist's book. They hurt us and hope to have scared us. What they don't like is popular indifference.

Perhaps this time they've picked the wrong target, as we have a history of dealing with IRA violence to the extent that we have a generation who are bit more stoic about it than most. However, the problem is that IRA violence never really impinged on those born after say 1987, who now range into their late 20s and early 30s, form a sizeable proportion of the population and are very prone to emotional outbursts, especially on social media - millenials, as they are termed. That emotional proclivity has, in many cases, spread into the older generation through the same vehicle - or, perhaps, it was always there, but social media has given it a platform.

The usual response from politicians is to call suicide bombers cowardly, but this is no more than a knee-jerk, political reaction to vilify for political reasons, and thus not really grounded in reality. Barbaric, definitely, but cowardly?. Someone who commits an attack using terror tactics and then runs away can feasibly be called a coward, but someone who is willing to die in the execution of an attack can in no way be called a coward when they pay the ultimate price. Would you have the courage to be killed for your belief,` whether that belief is warped or high-minded?

Can a suicide bomber be called deranged? If they are, then it must be a form of selective derangement, as they can lead normal lives and are indistinguishable from fellow citizens in every other area of life, which is what makes them so dangerous. Admittedly, some are indeed deranged and suffering from mental health problems, but certainly not all, unless you call all religious belief a derangement (there are arguments in favour of that - a suspension of disbelief).

The response can only be the rejection of the terrorist's narrative of a pending clash of civilizations and, while it can be counterintuitive, particularly in the emotional wake of tragedy, psychologists generally agree that the most effective antidote to jihadist terrorism is to police them as criminals, rally round to provide useful help in the aftermath of an attack, assimilate minorities to defuse the problem at source and get back to business as soon as possible.

Marches by the EDL and the like play to the jihadist narrative by tarring all with the same brush, thus increasing tensions and ramping up considerably the sense of oppression such that it actually increases attacks that can be viewed as justified by the newly converted perpetrators. The EDL is just as much a tool of the jihadist as the suicide bomber - they are the recruiters to the cause and certainly no solution.

The news media don't exactly help with their interminable analyses and endless human interest stories that play on the emotions of the viewers and makes them feel more scared than they ought to be - even with the latest attack you're still far more likely to die in a road accident and fewer are being killed by terrorism now than in the 1980s, although you wouldn't think it.

There is one crucial difference between the IRA and ISIS - not that ISIS has been identified as being responsible in this case. The political aim of a united Ireland is something that can be the subject of negotiation and compromise, whereas a caliphate isn't exactly negotiable.

Just carry on!


  1. I agree that we mustn't make moderate Muslims choose between their religion or modernity (that's what these jihadist’s really desire) but I disagree that we should do "nothing". The answer for me lies in those communities that unwittingly harbor and nurture the radicals, the moderate Muslim majority. IMO, they need to be convinced/rewarded/coerced into (properly) marginalizing the literalists, ridicule them, starve them of oxygen, excommunicate them. Otherwise, this will go on and on getting ever more brutal and eventually the mindset of the EDL (and worse) will gain the upper hand (like Brexit) and then we'll be in a whole world of pain.

    1. I totally agree we can't do nothing. But why did Mrs May not tackle non-EU immigration when Home Secretary, or since - especially when non-EU immigration presents the greatest threat to security?

    2. I think there are probably many reasons ranging from incompetence through to political correctness, but, I'm not sure immigration is hugely relevant in most cases? Sure, there may be a few nutters getting through (they probably always will) but they can only thrive if they fall on fertile soil. IMO it's the ideology of "Islamism" that needs to be spoken out against and challenged, most of all in the Mosques and schools in THIS country and by moderate and secular Muslims! The literal interpretation and exploitation of ancient books (i.e. literalist religion) for political purposes is the issue here, the terrorists seem perfectly clear and explicit about what they stand-for and want, the secular West simply isn’t listening. Until our politicians start talking about Islamism in more than just hushed whispers behind cupped hands then moderate Muslims and those who support them will not feel any encouragement, need or pressure to act in concrete (and risky) ways to bring about reform.