7.2.8 Terrorism

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/729.htm)

Terrorism is defined here simply as the use of violence to frighten people, in order to reach a political objective.[1]  A small number of terrorists can intimidate a much larger population – so it is an effective technique for a minority to attempt to gain sway over the rest of the population.

Terrorist organisations appear to have a ready supply of recruits, even though it can involve violence so unspeakable that most people would be unable to bring themselves to commit it.  It is worth asking what attracts individuals to terrorism, and one persuasive answer is that they gain “adventure, excitement, celebrity in local communities… belonging… and comradeship”.[2]  This is appealing to disempowered people with a strong sense of grievance.  Death in action can be seen as a badge of honour, so terrorists tend to be unafraid of law-enforcement (

Terrorism has been used within a State – as with the Basque separatist organisation ETA, and the IRA in Northern Ireland.[3]  In recent years, Islamic terrorism has been more in the news – as described later (7.3.3).



[1] The simple definition of terrorism used in this book is merely intended to distinguish it from (a) military confrontations between States, and (b) violence used directly in the course of non-political crime.  In his book Terrorism: How to Respond, Richard English devotes the whole of chapter 1 to the problem of trying to define terrorism unambiguously.

[2] John Gray provided this explanation of the attractions of terrorism, whilst reviewing David English’s 2016 book Does Terrorism Work? A History.  The review was available in June 2017 at http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/07/excitement-hatred-and-belonging-why-terrorists-do-it.

[3] Both ETA and the IRA are referenced in the above book by David English.