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Terrorism Definition Essay

The issue of terrorism has received much publicity over the past decade. The attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 provoke a national and even worldwide war against terrorism. Since that day, practically everyone has heard about Osama bin Laden, al- Qaeda and the threat of terrorism. However, the most interesting fact is that various US agencies provide different definitions of terrorism. Despite the top priority, the USA does not have one definition of terrorism.


FBI defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives". The definition of the State Department denotes the terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience". Despite the fact that both definitions bare a common message, stating that terrorism uses force or violence in order to achieve some political or social goals, they have many differences. The definition provided by FBI underlines the goals of terrorism, which can be either political or social; while the State Department distinguishes only one objective, a political one. Considering this, it could be said that FBI's interpretation covers a wider range of actions classified as terrorist attacks. The second difference refers to the targets. FBI gives prominence to "persons and property", and the State Department emphasizes only "noncombatant targets". The term "noncombatant targets" is not defined.

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However, Country Report on Terrorism provided a clarification, stating that the term means "in addition to civilians, military personnel (whether or not armed or on duty) who are not deployed in a war zone or a war-like setting". Consequently, the definition does not include the military personnel in a zone of theatre. In other words, if a detonated bomb in a car kills American soldiers outside the USA, the State Department would not call this a terrorist act. Nevertheless, FBI would name the same situation as a terrorist attack. Thus, FBI provides broader interpretation, when it relates to the targets of the terrorism. The differences are obvious and rather significant, and here appears a question: why federal agencies in question use different definitions?

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"Terrorism" indicates that one should pay a particular attention to the State Department's definition, which does not include national governments as probable terroristic agents. If some national government is considered a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), this would mean that any relations of all US citizens with FTO would become illegal. This would also profoundly affect the foreign policy between US and that country. Hence, such a situation would have an immense impact at individual and national levels. Accordingly, federal agencies use different definitions because of particular interests and various priorities. For example, FBI focuses on many types of crimes and, therefore, its interpretation is broader than the one presented by the State Department. Again, each department has its own peculiarity of work, and they convey it in the definition.

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Thus, despite sharing one common idea, the two definitions by FBI and the State Department have some key differences. They diverge in defining targets and objectives of terrorism. The definition provided by FBI seems broader. This fact is predetermined by a broad specificity of work of the given federal agency. This is the reason why the definitions vary from agency to agency. The interpretations depend on the agencies' peculiarities, which are clearly reflected in the definitions of terrorism.

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