A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Is This Terrorism? / Why Does It Matter?


Often in the aftermath of high-profile violent attacks, or sometimes even while these events are still unfolding, we find commentators, reporters, and general observers asking “Is this terrorism?” They ask each other, they ask authorities, they ask experts, and they ask the researchers responsible for the collection of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) at START.

The fact that there is no single definition of terrorism, and that different audiences view this question from different perspectives for both valid and questionable reasons means that the resulting discourse can be chaotic and confusing. My goal with this Discussion Point is not to revisit the long-standing issues and implications stemming from the lack of a universal definition of terrorism. These have been discussed at length elsewhere, by both scholars and in popular media. Instead, my goal is to discuss some of the cases that fall into a gray area between terrorism and other types of violence. In doing so, I illustrate that even when armed with a single definition— a carefully conceived, painstakingly articulated, systematically applied definition—we can still find ourselves facing a situation where the answer to the questions “Is this terrorism?” and “Is this not terrorism— is it something other than terrorism?” are both “Yes.”

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Miller, Erin. 2016. "Is This Terrorism? / Why Does It Matter?" START (February). https://www.start.umd.edu/news/terrorism-why-does-it-matter

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