Defining Terrorism

Daniel C. dcrookston at
Tue Jun 25 13:45:35 MDT 2013

On Tue, Jun 25, 2013 at 3:32 PM, Nathan England <nathan at> wrote:
> I don't disagree with you. But in the real world, terrorism is not defined as "death by explosion"
> at the least convenient time. Terrorism is defined as someone who incites terror.

Since we're discussing definitions, I'm going to nitpick: a
terror*ist* is someone who incites terror; terror*ism* is the act of
inciting terror.

And sure, okay, explosions and convenience aren't necessary elements.
But getting beheaded in a funeral home because you refused to denounce
capitalist America would still count as terrorism.  Actually, I'm
pretty sure I'd denounce capitalist America even without a threat of
beheading.  So, insert whatever thing you wouldn't denounce.

> Plenty of government agencies and political groups use fear to coerce people to do what they
> want, how is that not terrorism? You scare the crap out of people so they fear for their own lives.

Advertising also uses fear to get people to do things.  Who provides
your data backup service?  You're using them because you're afraid of
losing your data.  I wore my body armor in Iraq because I was afraid
of being shot.  You drive slowly in bad weather because you fear a car
accident that could kill yourself or someone else.

All of these are things that we fear, but none of them are terrifying
because of their common thread: we know what we can do to minimise or
eliminate the threat.  Think about the common thread in terrorist
attacks: you don't know how to avoid them.  You're going about your
normal life when suddenly you're dead.  The threat is deadly, and you
are powerless and out of control with respect to it.

THAT is what separates fear from terror.

> Personally, I like your definition. Unfortunately, that is not how the dictionary characterizes it.

I don't give a... *cough* I don't care how the dictionary
characterizes it.  English language dictionaries are descriptive, not
prescriptive - they describe how speakers use words, rather than
telling us how we should use them.

Not sure what religion has to do with this particular issue.


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