Terrorism: a brief explanation by a guy who just found his old political science notes

Terrorism is a scary thing. I mean, it’s right there in the word. “Terror.” I don’t know if that’s the Greek root or not, but it seems pretty self-explanatory. But for those of you who don’t know what it is, I was going through some old papers when I came across notes from a political science class on foreign policy, and terrorism was the subject of a class. So, sit back, relax and let me try to explain to you what’s going on here.

Given what happened in Boston, we need to take a step back and learn what makes terrorism. I have a single page of notes on college-ruled paper and I am not afraid to share whats on it and my own interpretations of my shorthand.

What is Terrorism

Terrorism is the use of terror (really?) to coerce somebody, and it typically does not discern between military and civilians when it comes to targets. There are several types: State Terror, Ethnic Terror, Ideological Terror, Religious Terror, State-Sponsored Terror, and the use of Terror by Organized Crime. I realize that’s a lot of big words and not all of us have a Wikipedia handy, so I’ll give you the short definition of each of those.

  • State Terror – When a government decides to go into the business of terror, they can do it one of two ways. State terror is one of them. It’s direct, meaning the State (in this instance, “state” refers to a government, not 1/50 of the U.S.) engages in acts of terror, either on a foreign power or against its own citizens. It’s the dick move of politics and the best example I can think of is when Kefka poisoned a river in Final Fantasy 6 to deal with a resisting kingdom. 
    Allah Kefka!

    Pictured: State Terrorist


  • State-Sponsored Terrorism – This is the other form of government telling the Geneva Convention to perform a physical impossibility. In this case, the state is indirectly involved. Instead of doing something itself, it just sponsors another organization that goes in and disrupts life with violence.
  • Ethnic Terror – In this instance, a group really dislikes someone of a different race/ethnic group. It seems like I should have an example of this ready, but for the life of me, my Southern-bred mind can’t th-…

    Congratulations! You’re now on a watch list.


  • Ideological Terror – When one group has some disagreements with another group, be it a government, civic organization, etc. they resort to violence and terrorism to make their point. The IRA is a good example. People who bomb abortion clinics are another. Simply put, this is a disagreement over ideas, mainly political. Not like a disagreement in beliefs…
  • Religious Terror – …which is exactly what this is. People are more sensitive about their faith than anything else, it seems. It’s kind of difficult, because religion can be an undercurrent of any of the other types of terrorism. Israel vs. Palestine, IRA vs. England, al Qaeda vs. U.S., etc. Of those three, only the first and the last one are a direct use of religious terrorism. In the other one, religion can play a big part, but it’s not the only reason there is so much hatred.
  • Terrorism by Organized Crime – This one is a Law and Order-special. You see it whenever a cop on any cop show tries to take on the mob. Car bombs, kidnappings, horses in a rival’s bed. The mob will do whatever it takes to take down anyone moving against it. Especially in a Batman comic.

What Inspires Terrorism?

In order for there to be terrorism, you need a few things: Motivation, leadership, organization, training, money and weapons. In the case of the Boston Marathon bombers, the unspoken investigation will be the feds trying to figure out all of these things. Motivation is pretty easy to figure out. News stories are already appearing talking about his “Islamic radicalization” (Note : This is not a hit piece on Islam, nor is it some vague attempt to call out Islamic extremism at all), but the remaining pre-requisites for terrorism are still unclear. And, publicly, we might not ever know.

Terrorism itself has a few precipitants (“things that come before it” if you’re reading this from prison or an Atlanta public school) and a few pre-conditions (“things that must happen”). For the former, there needs to be grievances, which come in one of three categories: Economic, political and/or cultural. You will also need a social movement to get the pot sufficiently stirred. If you’ve ever read the book Romance of the Three Kingdoms or, more likely, played the Dynasty Warriors series, you’ve seen the precipitants in the form of the Yellow Turban/Scarves rebellion.

You also saw this disturbing compensation he's holding.

You also saw this disturbing compensation he’s holding.

The pre-conditions necessary for terrorism are modernization, urbanization and an established government. A tribal nation is a lot less likely to have terrorist organizations as we know them now, basically, but wearing a lion pelt and threatening to summon the spirits of an ancestor to devour children is probably a lot more awesome.

Now, along with all this, you need an actual reason to commit an act of terrorism. I’m not talking about “I want to scare you” as the reason. I mean, there needs to be something a terrorist wants out of the deal. For example, publicity. Revenge is another. Simply causing disorder and catastrophe aren’t outside the realm of possibility either. Maybe a terrorist organization wants concessions or to force obedience. Or, maybe they thought Justin Timberlake’s new album was awful. I’m not saying I’d bomb anything over it, but I could see it and Taylor Swift’s latest being perfectly legitimate casus belli.

Too far, America.

Too far, music industry.


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