International Terrorism - Meaning and Perspective Under International Law.

Updated: Feb 26


The term ‘terrorism’ is derived from Latin words ‘terrere’ and ‘deterre’. The word terrere means to tremble, and the term deterre implies to frighten. Thus, terrorism means to harm people so that they are so frightened that they start trembling. It is a strategy to achieve avowed objectives through the systematic use of violence thereby undermining the lawful authority of a government or a state.


In the past, violence was resorted to when the rulers failed to redress the grievances of the people, and they resorted to oppression and infringement of the rights of the people. Terrorism has political overtures, and violence is the means resorted by it.


Terrorism is generally identified with attempts made by individuals or groups to destabilise or overthrow existing political institutions. At the global level terrorism has been used in anti- colonial conflicts whether by both the sides or by one side (Algeria and France);


it has been used by groups of different religious denominations (Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland); in conflict between two national groups over possession of contested homeland (Palestinians and Israel) and also in disputes between revolutionary forces and established governments (Iran, Indonesia, Argentina, etc.).


There is only a technical difference between cross-border terrorism and international terrorism. While in the former, terrorists are trained in one country to operate in just one other country, the international terrorism has its victims in several countries. Al Qaeda, for example, is not limited to its victims in any one country or region. Its “enemies” are found worldwide, though its main targets may be a few countries.


The Al Qaeda seeks the predominance of Islamist principles and all those who come in its way must be targeted. Thus the United States and the United Kingdom today are the general victims of international terrorism. India, Russia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and many other countries are also victims of terrorism.


The difference between cross-border terrorism and international terrorism is rather indistinct. All terrorism involving two or more countries may be, broadly speaking, termed as international terrorism.


Liberals, Conservatives and Realists on Terrorism


There are two main streams of thinking on the causes and remedies for terrorism-Liberal and Conservative. To these may be added the third, the Realist approach. We shall very briefly refer to the three views.


Liberal Views:-


Liberals feel that terrorism is a response to economic, social and political deprivation as well as bad government. People who have a sense of grievance will turn to violence to dramatise their misery or to change the conditions that are responsible for it.


Since in modern times the governments are generally held responsible for miseries of the people, it is against them that the rebellions are usually directed. Some of the governments may fail to provide basic amenities, and refuse or may be unable to correct social injustices.


Governments may often dispossess people of their basic rights and may be corrupt and inefficient. Such governments often become targets of terrorist attacks.


Conservative View:-


Conservatives, on the other hand, attribute terrorism to the natural stresses and strains of nation- building. New systems of laws and institutions backed by a government often frighten some people.


Classes, castes, religious and linguistic groups-all may find difficult to adjust under a new government, and new laws. The state tries to enforce its laws. Various groups may resent these attempts.


The state may use force to check violence by resistant groups. A cycle of violence and counter-violence may then begin.


Realist View: -


Realists see terrorism as arising out of competition between nation-states. States normally settle their disputes through the threat, or actual use of force. Realists consider terrorism as a consequence of competition among nation-states for increasing their powers.


Realists, being total believers of power, attribute terrorism to the struggle for power, which as Morgenthau had said, is the essence of international politics.


In view of their different perspectives of terrorism, liberals, conservatives and the realists naturally have different responses to the curse. For liberals, the way out of terrorism is to improve the lot of the people, including those who might be seeking secession, and to provide better governance. Liberals, thus, feel that timely and imaginative social, economic, political and administrative engineering can redress the grievances of the people, and check terrorism.

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