What would it mean to universally define terrorism as “the intentional use of, or threat to use, violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims”? To officially use Professor Boaz Ganor's definition would actually mean that the numbers of terror attacks would lower considerably, taking away thus the government's ability to politically capitalise on them and to gain popular support for certain warfare policies. In this post, the Mali example will be used.
According to START, Mali has suffered 199 terrorist attacks between 1990 and 2014, resulting in the death of 725 people, in total, including 178 perpetrators. 70% of the attacks were carried out between 2012 and 2014. In this period, the most common targets were military (28%) and diplomatic (25%). Business targets are deemed very rare being one of the few examples the recent attack on a hotel in Bamako. Three organisations alone were responsible for 72% of all attacks:
- The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), 38%
- Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), 17%
- Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), 17%
Revisiting Boaz Ganor's Definition of Terrorism
“Terrorism the intentional use of, or threat to use, violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims (..) based on three important elements:Applying the Definition
The essence of the activity (i.e. an activity that doesn't involve the use, or threat to use, violence will not be defined as terrorism).
The aim of the activity is always political (i.e. in the absence of a political goal, the activity in quest will not be defined as terrorism).
The targets are civilians (i.e. acts are purposely directed at civilians; which distinguishes terrorist acts from other kinds of political violence [e.g. guerrilla warfare and civil insurrection])."
If we apply the above definition to the Mali example, we realise that over half of the attacks would not be considered a terrorist attack since they are military objects (NB: almost all of the so-called Diplomatic targets were UN Peacekeeping/Stabilisation Missions, meaning that they were technically a Military target); therefore striking such targets would be considered political violence at best; since 53% of the 199 terrorist attacks wouldn't constitute terrorism. Such consideration would have a huge political impact inasmuch as it wouldn't draw the same international sympathy it does under the classification of terror – and by targeting the military, it could have other implications that wouldn't exactly serve national interests within a specific political conjuncture.
Another implication, of not viewing the 53% Mali attacks as an act of terrorism, would be that the three organisations that perpetrated them would not be considered terrorist movements, and therefore illegitimate entities, but either guerrilla movements (given the tactics they use) which would confer them a certain degree of legitimacy or, in the worst case scenario, cartel-style criminal organisations that due to the success of their operations would hint at a loss of control and incompetence on the part of the authorities.
We all agree that we need a clear universal definition of terrorism in order to globally fight it effectively. However, there seems to be the lack of political will to do so when country A defines terrorism as any attack against people and government (as if there were an equivalence between people and the government [a small group of individuals who often make decisions that negatively affect people's lives in absolute impunity]); when country B defends a definition that includes criticism against the regime/ruling party; and when country C defines terror as anything that contradicts its agenda. Meanwhile, the civilian population pay the price.
Political profit should not tramp on people's Security.
(Image: Self-Portrait with Death as Fiddler - Arnold Böcklin)