General Question

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

When does a random act of violence become a terrorist act?

Asked by The_Compassionate_Heretic (14626points) April 10th, 2009 from iPhone
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

32 Answers

GAMBIT's avatar

When it is done to cause fear and harms non-military personnel perpetrated not by a government but by a group that has it’s own agenda.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@GAMBIT Does mafia violence count as terrorism?

GAMBIT's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic – I see the mafia as a gang. So I would say no. They have turf wars against themselves.

cwilbur's avatar

When it’s meant to cause fear, and when that fear is used as a tool to accomplish political goals.

Lefty_the_space_monkey's avatar

I think that terrorism is largely just a political term.

It’s used to describe violence perpetrated by the “bad guys.”

jrpowell's avatar

My definition is the same as the one cwilbur has.

filmfann's avatar

Let me start off my answer by defining terrorism.
Osama Bin Ladin is probably the second best known terrorist in the world. The 9–11 attacks were probably the most vicious act he will accomplish. His targets were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol. The WTC was an attack on our financial system. The Pentagon was an attack on our military. The Capitol was an attack on our government and laws.
The weapon of a terrorist is not an airliner, a car bomb, or an exploding vest. The true weapon of a terrorist is fear. These other things are tools he uses to create fear, and he uses that fear against a people to make them do things they don’t want to do.
Following me so far?
I said Bin Laden is the second best known terrorist. Who is the first?
George W. Bush.
He used fear to make us go into Iraq. He used fear to get us to allow torture, spy on Americans, hold American citizens prisoner without recourse to the law, and subvert Constitutional rights. He used fear to get reelected.
The results? The financial system is a wreck. The military is over-burdened. Our government and laws have been compromised.
Bush succeeded beyond Bin Ladens wildest dreams.
Worst President Ever.
Now, as far as random acts of violence, they are not trying to accomplish a goal using fear as leverage. It would be if their aim were anarchy, or getting minorities out of their neighborhood. If we are talking about a random mugging, then that isn’t terrorism. If it’s trying to do more than that one act, it heads in that direction. A gang shooting up a house over a drug war qualifies.

Response moderated
Jack79's avatar

I agree with filmfann, but would also like to add that the motive behind the act is often what characterises it. For example, the mafia is in it for the money, they would never harm anyone if there was no profit (at least an indirect one). They do use fear, but even then it is to ultimately make money by selling protection.

Terrorist attacks are politically motivated. The word “terrorist” is simply the term used by the victim. The perpetrators call themselves “freedom fighters” (as in the US-sponsored mujahedin in Afghanistan and Kosovo, before their interests took different paths in 2000). The “brave revolutionaries” who organised the Boston Tea Party were nothing more than “dirty terrorists” as far as His Majesty the Rightful Owner of the Colonies was concerned.

Whichever side you’re on, there is certainly a difference between brave/cowardly/dirty terrorists/guerillas/rebels and common criminals who are in it for the money.

Bagardbilla's avatar

I personally take offence to an of-handed statment like yours!
I look like someone who can easily be mistaken for an Arab and this sort of speech is nothing short of raciest.
You probably were just saying it in jest…however it is speech of this nature which is the root cause of great misunderstanding amongst different peoples of the world. Once we can dehumanize someone, we are only a short step away from doing far worse to them…

shilolo's avatar

[mod says] Inflammatory/racist comment removed.

Zen's avatar

Though asked, I hope, tongue-in-cheek, When does a random act of violence become a terrorist act?

Visit:, or, or, and read their manifestos.

That’s a beginning.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@Zen Was Timothy McVeigh a terrorist? He wasn’t part of Hamas, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the IRA, the Chechen Rebels or anyone else.

Zen's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Yep. @Zen Note to self: always include every single example in the world.

filmfann's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Hush! The entire Bush argument for all the illegal stuff they did over the last 8 years was based on the argument that there have been no terrorist attacts since 9–11, and if you bring up the unibomber or the guy who was making a huge smiley face on the map by blowing up mailboxes, their entire argument is destroyed.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Not being snarky. I think he’s a terrorist too.

YARNLADY's avatar

I believe it is a legal definition, based on various interpretations of the court, and not necessarily based on the act itself or the motive of the perpetrator.

mattbrowne's avatar

When there’s a political motive.

filmfann's avatar

@mattbrowne The mail box bomber from a few years ago had no political motive. He just liked the movie fight club

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I’ve known a couple people who liked the movie Fight Club way too much. The ones that saw that movie and decided to emulate that behavior missed the point if the film in a pretty fundamental way.

Zen's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Yes, it’s called satire, unlike Spider-man and Batman, which are serious commentaries.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Some people don’t see it as satire. I thought the film was fantastic but I’m not about to go out and start a fight with a priest. Fight Clubs started appearing shortly after that film. My point was that the guy blowing up mailboxes in the smiley face pattern missed a pretty important point of the book/film (the book was better, darker).

Zen's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Hey, I hear you, and – I’m not entirely stupid. Just saying, after watching the Spidey movies, some people tried to swing from buildings and climb walls. There will always be people who don’t get – or ignore – satire.


mattbrowne's avatar

@filmfann – Why would you consider him to be a terrorist?

filmfann's avatar

His seemingly random attacks were scaring the nation, yet had no political motive. Same thing with those snipers who were just picking off random people, who were just in it for the money.

mattbrowne's avatar

@filmfann – I would call these kind of people criminal psychopaths. They also enjoy other people’s fear. Terrorists have political motives and ideological goals.

filmfann's avatar

The snipers were in it for the money, not political motive, but their weapon was fear. That was achieved with the rifle in the trunk, but the real weapon here was fear. They were terrorists.

mattbrowne's avatar

It depends on the definition of terrorism. Yours is obviously somewhat different from mine. Wikipedia writes:

A policy intended to intimidate or cause terror. It is more commonly understood as an act which

(1) is intended to create fear (terror)
(2) is perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a materialistic goal or a lone attack)
(3) deliberately targets (or disregards the safety of) non-combatants.

filmfann's avatar

I bow to Wikipedia. BTW, that doesn’t make me wican, does it?

mattbrowne's avatar

I know, Wikipedia isn’t the Holy Grail ;-)

YARNLADY's avatar

@mattbrowne <gasp>blasphemy

benjaminlevi's avatar

@Lefty_the_space_monkey its only terrorism when “they” do it

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