Defining Terrorism: A Conceptual Minefield
THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF TERRORISM, A. Gofas, R. English, S.N. Kalyvas, E. Chenoweth, eds, Oxford University Press, UK, 2017 Forthcoming
14 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2015 Last revised: 27 Mar 2017
Date Written: September 22, 2015
Calls to define ‘terrorism’ as a legal concept arose in the context of efforts to extradite ‘political offenders’ from the 1930s onwards, with many efforts, over 80 years to the present, to define, criminalize, and depoliticise a common global concept of ‘terrorism’. Those international efforts remain largely unsuccessful to this day. After the terrorist attacks on the United States of 11 September 2001 (‘9/11’), many states enacted ‘terrorism’ offences, spurred on by the perceived threat of global religious terrorism, obligations imposed by the UN Security Council, gaps in existing criminal liabilities and police powers, and the expressive function of stigmatising terrorism as a special kind of violence against public interests. National laws remain, however, startlingly diverse and there is still a global divergence. At the international level, there is certainly a basic legal consensus that terrorism is criminal violence intended to intimidate a population or coerce a government or international organisation; some national laws add an ulterior intention to pursue a political, religious or ideological cause. There remain intense moral and political disagreements, however, on whether there should be exceptions for just causes (such as liberation violence and rebellion), armed conflicts, and state violence. As a result, a conceptual impasse continues, even if agreement has been edging closer.
Keywords: Defining terrorism, extradition of political offenders, counter-terrorism treaties, United Nations, Security Council, war crime of spreading terror, customary international crime of terrorism
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K30, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation