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Enough of the Definition of Terrorism

By Omar Malik

In 1977 Walter Laqueur predicted accurately that ‘the disputes about a detailed, comprehensive definition of terrorism will continue for a long time, they will not result in a consensus and they will make no notable contribution towards the understanding of terrorism.’Attempts to incorporate all the many manifestations of terrorism within a single definition were doomed from the start. The term terrorism has been applied across the whole spectrum of political violence, and over the centuries of history. It has been applied to times of war and of peace; to the actions of states, groups and individuals; to actions against liberal states and to actions against repressive states and dictatorships. To treat terrorism as a general concept separates the action from its context, and consequently from its intention and its justification; it therefore divorces it from its meaning. This is a bad start to any definition, given that its purpose is to illuminate the meaning. Almost a quarter of a century after Laqueur’s prophetic words, Omar Malik’s paper charts a route out of the definitional log-jam. It provides the important first steps both to understanding terrorism and to formulating a proper response.

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