This writeup attempts to define the abstract term Terrorism using inductive logic.

Before the 1970s, most Americans would think of horror movies or general fear when hearing the word terror. Some of the well educated might have thought of the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France or perhaps the biblical King of terrors. Others might even have confused the word with a cuddly breed of dog: the terrier. But a string of events politically charged the word, and now it is a rhetorical hot potato. After a string of hijackings commanded national attention in the 1970s and 1980s, the word came to mean something other than fantasy violence or simple fear; these hijackings were warlike acts with real, bloody, and televised results. A terrorist came to describe someone who committed these so-called acts of terrorism. But there is something specific about what the word terrorism entails. Why were the hijackings not just called war, violence, or hate crime? If terrorism is simply the engagement of unsuspecting parties, then why don’t we use the term guerrilla warfare? What sets terror apart?

For many, the September 11 tragedy polarized Arabs as the only practitioners of terrorism. One definition of terrorism emerged: an act of violence against America or the West committed by a member of the Arab race. Note that John Walker Lindh was not tried and convicted of terrorism but rather treason. Also, once information linked the 2002 sinking of a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemem to Al Qaeda, news agencies around the nation inserted the word terror into their headlines. If an Arab boy threw a rock at the window of a proponent to this racially specific denotation of terror, then the boy would be a terrorist. Surely more than race defines terror. One counterexample is Timothy McVeigh. The Oklahoma City bombing was widely reported as being a terrorist act.

What then did the actions of McVeigh have in common with the other acts of terrorism, specifically the September 11 attacks? Their overlapping characteristics reveal the truer definition of terrorism. One similarity was the symbolism of the target. Airplanes, airports, centers of elite capitalist trade, and federal buildings of law are all cells belonging to critical organs of the Western body. Terrorists do not strike suburban homes or grocery stores. Terrorists tend to hide their identity. Although they may eventually admit to or brag about their actions, the aggressors in these scenarios were either masked while committing the action or removed from the scene altogether. While terrorist attacks are never spontaneous, they lack an obvious provocation. It takes a bit of imagination to view the Oklahoma City bombing or the September 11 attacks as having been provoked. Perhaps, the American institution of law and the capitalist stranglehold on world trade was unfair and has oppressed the terrorists from afar for years.

Regular violence may be unprovoked, but if so then it is tends to be spontaneous; hate crime is the violent expression of discrimination. War is the physical diplomatic tension between nations competing over Boolean issues. Terrorism, on the other hand, takes place during diplomatic peacetime. It is a premeditated and unprovoked assault of an axiomatic target with weapons appropriate for war. The aggressor is an individual or group who intends to cripple the ability of an individual or group to realize the principle that the target represents.

Let us test this definition. Armed robbery of a bank would not be terrorism because the aggressor seeks personal wealth. His first priority is not to cripple the ability of the bank to function as a bank. A man murdering his wife would not be terrorism because the crime is not against an axiomatic target, but instead against the whole life of the individual. The capture of the Bastille in revolutionary France was not terrorism because the monarchial government failed to properly feed the people of France. This was a sensible provocation for revolution. Ousting Saddam Hussein would not be terrorism because the United States would first declare war against the Iraqi Government. The aggressor would respect the conventions of war.

There are many examples that will fit the above definition of terrorism but do not at first seem to be acts of terror. Consider a man who does not approve of watching television. Suppose he devises a plan to use a sniper rifle to secretly neutralize his neighbor’s television. He then carries out the action. This example of a civilian dispute fits all facets of the definition of terrorism. The plan was premeditated; the two neighbors were not in a diplomatic war at the time; the aggressor used a weapon suitable for warfare; the aggressor attacked a target with the intention of crippling his neighbor’s ability to watch television (which is the innate function of the target). This event would in fact be terror on the smallest of scales. There is no reason to toil with the above definition. Locke had no problem assuming individuals could be in a state of war with one other. Why, then, can an individual not terrorize another? Terrorism is just another tool in the toolbox of aggression.

Node your homework... Definition of an abstract term (using induction).

Althought I wrote the above definition, I may or may not actually believe this.