7.2.8 Terrorism

Terrorism is defined here simply as the use of violence by a few people to frighten many others, in pursuit of a political objective.  This distinguishes it from (a) military confrontations between States and (b) violence used directly in non-political crime.  In his book, Terrorism: How to Respond, Richard English devotes the whole of chapter 1 to defining it unambiguously.

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.  John Gray’s article, Excitement, hatred and belonging: why terrorists do it, offers an explanation of what attracts individuals to terrorism: they gain “adventure, excitement, celebrity in local communities… belonging… and comradeship”.  This is appealing to disempowered people with a strong sense of grievance.  And 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.  Both of these were described in David English’s 2016 book, Does Terrorism Work? A History (which was reviewed in the John Gray article referred to above).

The same techniques can be used in coordinated attacks across many countries – international terrorism – as exemplified by Islamic terrorism, which is described later (7.3.3).  Russian war crimes in its invasion of Ukraine could also be described as a form of terrorism, because they were intended to intimidate the rest of the population into agreeing to Russia’s terms (


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