Typology of modern terrorism (draft)
by Elias Davidsson, February 2008
Terrorism, for the present purposes, is understood as a violent act against innocent civilians by non-state actors, perceived by external observers as having been committed for an ideological or political purpose.
It is submitted here, that there exist two distinct categories of terrorism.
The first category has the following characteristics:
- The terrorist and his society do not enjoy fundamental human rights.
- The purpose of the terrorist is to contribute to liberation from oppression (military occupation, apartheid, etc.).
- The terrorist expects to risk his own life or liberty in the act.
- The terrorist is convinced of the morality of his deeds and, if arrested, would attempt to justify his act.
- The terrorist act is aimed against the society of the terrorist’s perceived oppressors.
- The terrorist is spiritually and materially supported by his society, including by the provision of money and weapons.
- The terrorist act is claimed by a political organisation that seeks legitimacy.
The second category has the following characteristics:
- The terrorist enjoys civil and political rights where he resides.
- The political purpose of the terrorist is not explicited or remains vague.
- The terrorist does not expect to risk his own life or liberty in the act.
- The terrorist will not attempt, if arrested, to justify his act.
- The terrorist act is an attack against the society in which the terrorist resides.
- The terrorist is not supported by the surrounding society.
- If the terrorist act is claimed at all, it is claimed by a dubious or bogus, organisation, that does not seek political legitimacy.
While not every single terrorist act neatly falls into one of these two categories, I suggest that the above model provides the best operational categorisation of terrorism. By using this typology, the analysis of contemporary incidents designated as terrorism will be simplified and expedited.