Terrorism and the State: a Brief Academic Analysis
Ganor defines the difference between terrorism and guerilla warfare as: “The aims of terrorism and guerrilla warfare may well be identical; but they are distinguished from each other by the targets of their operations. The guerrilla fighter’s targets are military ones, while the terrorist deliberately targets civilians. By this definition, a terrorist organization can no longer claim to be ‘freedom fighters’ because they are fighting for national liberation. Even if its declared ultimate goals are legitimate, an organization that deliberately targets civilians is a terrorist organization.” (Ganor, 2002).
I find this distinction largely useful, but not perfect. As I have stated, historically accepted guerilla revolutions have resorted to violence against civilians in the past. For a modern sociopolitical revolution, however, I think that there is the line. If a group is willing to kill innocent people, their cause is not justifiable. However, the fact that revolutionaries within history have done this, and are not considered terrorists, shows a flaw in Ganor’s argumentation. I think that this issue can be supplemented with further distinction. Terrorists will commit bombings, rape, and murder upon nonmilitary, civilian targets within society. They will be indiscriminate in their targets, their target locations will be out in the open, public and visible to maximize shock and awe, and may target children, or use them for suicide bombings.
Legitimate revolutionaries would be hard pressed to legitimize any such behaviors, and in all likelihood, legitimate revolutionaries who are empathetic, human, intelligent, and aware of the consequences of such actions would likely choose to avoid such. Thus, further distinction can be made, that guerilla revolutionaries can be assumed to be rational actors with extreme sociopolitical grievance, whereas terrorists are irrational actors with authoritarian aims (such as in the case of Islamic terrorist groups aiming to establish a world caliphate). A legitimate revolution would be far more likely to engage in guerilla warfare with an illegitimate government, and conduct assassinations, bombings, and attacks upon that government’s military installations, that government’s army, and their supply lines. Under no other circumstances would I find such violence, least of all further violence, legitimate or justifiable.
Cited: Ganor, B. (2002). Defining Terrorism: Is One Man’s Terrorist another Man’s Freedom Fighter? Police Practice & Research, 3(4), 287–304.