According to the FBI, terrorism is defined by three characteristics:
- Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
- Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
- Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S (FBI, 2015).
As such there are two forms of terrorism including political and criminal. This is the defining difference between these forms of terrorism as one focuses on a political or social agenda whereas crime tends to seek a profit. Although there are instances in which these concepts overlap. For example, if the Russian Mafia sells a nuclear weapon to a country that intends to use it against the US then this could be considered a terrorist act under current US law (Schmalleger, 2011). It is also considered criminal terrorism because there is no political agenda. There is a fine line with terrorism as both can be extremely destructive.
FBI. (2015). About Organized Crime. Retrieved from Federal Bureau of Investigation
Schmalleger, F. (2011). Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the 21st Century, Eleventh Edition,. Prentice Hall. NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
The problem with terrorism is that it is seen by those who practice it as a necessary from of combat or warfare because these groups are typically overmatched by their adversary. As such, terrorism is a form of asymmetrical warfare. Asymmetric warfare can be described as a conflict where two opponents differ in size and strength. Wars that involve Asymmetrical Warfare often are fought between a large entity such as the US and a small entity such as the Taliban. Strategies used in asymmetric warfare are often more based in tactics and unconventional warfare where the weaker of the two enemies takes advantage of the larger forces most prevailing weakness of being large and difficult to mobilize when fighting smaller opponents. Asymmetrical warfare can be described as guerilla warfare or insurgency, and often terrorism. The key point is that it is a form of warfare that attempts to undermine the larger opponent or wear him down through casualty and cost. When looked at from this perspective the Revolutionary War with the US and England is an example of terrorism. I only mention this idea because it seems important in terms of understanding the foe and how to defeat him.
I think the problem with terrorism is that it is often dealt with using policies that are ineffective. The US and other countries have repeated the effort to democratize many Islamic countries that are often struggling against religious fanaticism. The overarching goal of fundamentalism is to resist western ideology on the basis of it being a threat to Islam. This belief allows for Islamic governments to act in a totalitarian manner because it believes that it is acting in a manner which is protecting the nation from outside influences in particular westernization. This political ideology takes the form of a revolt against western ideology and philosophy which is viewed by fundamentalist as a threat to Islam.
Again, fundamentalism is much more than extremism or terrorism; it is rather a powerful challenge to the existing order of the international system of secular nation-states. Given that this institution is Western in origin, the revolt against it is also a revolt against the West… (Tibi, 1998)
The fundamentalist see the western threat as the European and United States imposing a secular political and philosophic order on Islamic states. However, this belief becomes a contradictory political ideology which creates instability rather than uniting the Islamic people. The fundamentalists in this way serve a more destructive role within the Middle East because they create internal turmoil and damage the efforts that have been made in the past to find autonomy and freedom from militant rule and dictatorships.
The fight against Islamic fundamentalism seems to be a losing one in many ways. Despite the fact that many Islamic nations have condemned ISIL, support for this group is large. Three months after ISIL declared its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, Nigerian militant leader Abu Bakr Shekau declared an Islamic state in the northwest corner of Nigeria. This declaration essentially the same declaration used by ISIL. Within Syria and Iraq there are many supporters for ISIL as well. If these groups are going to be stopped, I think the policies of enforcing western ideologies on these countries will need to be altered since they seem to create a vicious cycle.
Tibi, Bassam. The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder. Berkeley, Calif London: University of California Press,