Teachers need to engage our students in a deep critical reading of terms - such as "terrorism," "freedom," "patriotism," and "our way of life" - that evoke vivid images but can be used for ambiguous ends see the sidebar accompanying this article for definitions of "terrorism". And I wanted them to apply their definitions to a number of episodes, historical and contemporary, that involved some kind of violence or destruction.
I wrote up several "What Is Terrorism? Given the widespread conflation of patriotism with support for U. In the following scenario I used the example of U. Country A decides to do everything in its power to overthrow the new leaders of Country B. It begins funding a guerrilla army that attacks Country B from another country next door.
Country A also builds army bases in the next door country and allows the guerrilla army to use its bases. Country A supplies almost all of the weapons and supplies of the guerrilla army fighting Country B.
The guerrillas generally try to avoid fighting Country B's army. Instead, they attack clinics, schools, cooperative farms. Sometimes they mine the roads. Many, many civilians are killed and maimed by the Country A-supported guerrillas. Consistently, the guerrillas raid Country B and then retreat into the country next door where Country A has military bases. I knew that in such compressed scenarios lots of important details would be missing; hence, I included question number three to invite students to consider other details that might influence their decisions. Other scenarios included Israeli soldiers taunting and shooting children in Palestinian refugee camps, with the assistance of U.
The full list of situations can be found at: I began by asking students to write down their own personal definitions of terrorism, and to keep these questions in mind: Does terrorism need to involve the killing of many people or can it affect just one person?
Can it involve simply the destruction of property, with no injuries? Can governments commit acts of terrorism, or is the term reserved only for people who operate outside of governments? Must terrorism involve the people of one country attacking citizens of another country? Does motive make a difference? Does terrorism need to be intentional? Immediately following, I explained to students that, in preparation for an activity, I'd like them to get into small groups and read their individual definitions to one another to see if they could build a consensus definition of terrorism.
They could choose an exemplary definition from one member or, if they preferred, cobble one together from their separate definitions. Some groups quickly agreed upon definitions; others would have spent the entire minute class if Sandra and I had let them. In most cases, the definitions were simple, but thoughtful. For example, "intentional acts that create terror, targeted towards a specific group, or innocent people.
Not just directly, but indirectly.
Posted by Karen Murphy on March 30, A radical group makes a list of opponents it believes should be killed and distributes it to sympathizers, telling them that they will be rewarded in heaven for defending the innocent if they carry out these assassinations. The Middle East consists of approximately 20 countries, with many different religions and a variety of ethnic and linguistic groups. Explore ways that individuals and groups are making a positive difference. Another new scenario focuses on transnational corporations that knowingly pay wages that are insufficient to sustain life. Students should fill in the checklist, and then attempt to answer the questions they have posed in each case to decide whether the incident would count as terrorism.
Their main task was to read each situation and to decide whether any of the actions described met their group's definition of "terrorism. Watching students attempt to apply their definitions of terrorism, I was impressed by their eagerness to be consistent.
As Sandra and I wandered from group to group, we heard students arguing over whether there was a distinction between oppression and terrorism.
Most groups wanted more information on the motives of various actors. It is important to understand the term terrorism and how this term can relate to religious militancy -- but these are not the same thing. Or introduce the lesson by indicating that the term has been in the news a lot in recent months, and it's important to understand what it means.
Working individually or in small groups, direct students to the following articles online, or print enough copies for each student or group. Explain that these provide different perspectives on the issues surrounding the definition of terrorism. Remind them that at this point they are not trying to come up with a final, perfect, authoritative definition, but to raise questions and uncover areas of disagreement discussed by the writers.
Part 2 Bring the class together and make a checklist on the black- or whiteboard or flip chart of the disputed questions in the definition of terrorism. Discuss each issue with the class. Issues might include the following: What about threats of violence? What if no one is harmed -- is it still terrorism? Perpetrator Who carries out terrorism? Is terrorism always carried out by organized opposition groups?
Can states be terrorists? Consider issues of inspiration, planning, provision of weapons, and military assistance. As an example, the Egyptian state has said attacks on tourist buses or assassinations of political leaders by Islamist militants were acts of lone, deranged individuals, not terrorism, because they wanted to prevent further loss of tourism and preempt claims that the state wasn't doing enough to counter terrorism. Target Does terrorism target only civilians?
Could an attack on a military target be terrorism? How do you decide what a civilian is? What about off-duty military personnel? What about the assassination of a head of state, one of whose roles is commander in chief? To qualify as terrorism, must perpetrators of an act of violence deliberately target civilians, or simply be reckless as to whether civilians as well as military targets might be harmed? Are all attacks on civilians terrorism? Is the target of terrorism always human, or can acts of sabotage against property also be considered terrorism?
Motive Is the motive behind an act important in deciding whether it is terrorism, or should only the act itself be considered? What is the objective of terrorism? Is terrorism "violence for an audience" -- an act committed to inspire fear in the public and therefore force policy changes? Or does a terrorist act have specific strategic objectives? Does it make any difference if the perpetrators consider themselves martyrs for a religious or political cause?
Point of view If a cause is considered legitimate, are any means to achieve its goals legitimate? How does one distinguish between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? What is the difference between terrorism and guerrilla warfare?
Is terrorism "the weapon of the weak"? Are illegitimate acts against an enemy in war terrorism, war crimes, or is there even a difference? Does history change the definition of terrorism? If a group achieves independence using tactics called "terrorist" by their previous occupier or sovereign, making their "rebellion" into a "war of independence," are they justified by their eventual success in becoming a state?
Based on this discussion, have students make their own checklist derived from the list created during the class discussion. They should include questions they think need to be answered to decide whether an act is terrorism or not.
Students will use this checklist to evaluate various scenarios. Part 3 Read the following scenarios aloud. Don't immediately reveal the historical incidents on which each scenario is based. Students should fill in the checklist, and then attempt to answer the questions they have posed in each case to decide whether the incident would count as terrorism. A paramilitary group seeking independence blows up the military headquarters of the occupying force.
The group's warning that there will be a bombing is ignored, and many people, civilian as well as military, are killed. Based on the Irgun's bombing of the King David Hotel. Rebels seeking to set up an independent state fire at occupying troops from concealed positions.
Based on the tactics of the American colonists at Concord, Massachusetts, during the Revolutionary War. Members of a particular ethnic or religious group are killed in order to frighten other members of their group into fleeing territory. Ethnic cleansing , seen in Rwanda, Bosnia, and other contexts. Class might also discuss whether American acts against Native Americans would fall into this category. A radical group makes a list of opponents it believes should be killed and distributes it to sympathizers, telling them that they will be rewarded in heaven for defending the innocent if they carry out these assassinations.
Radical antiabortion groups have published lists of doctors who perform abortions. Many people believe this is an encouragement to murder them.