U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Terrorism: The Problem of Definition Revisited

NCJ Number
American Behavioral Scientist Volume: 44 Issue: 6 Dated: February 2001 Pages: 881-893
H. H. A. Cooper
Date Published
February 2001
13 pages
This article considers how to define "terrorism" or at least know it when it is seen in the coming decades.
Those who have sought to develop a definition of "terrorism" have wished for an insightful statement that could stand a chance of gaining a high degree of acceptance by others as well as of encompassing the majority of manifestations of acts that would qualify as terrorism. This effort will continue into the 21st century. As part of this effort, this article offers the following definition of terrorism as a basis for reflection on the problems of terrorism and how it is likely to present itself in the new millennium: "Terrorism is the intentional generation of massive fear by human beings for the purpose of securing or maintaining control over other human beings." The awful prospect that looms before the world in the new millennium is the ever newer and more horrible ways of generating fear in populations through the onward sweep of technologies that relatively small groups can use to kill and terrify masses of people who imagined that they were safe. The tools of terrorists may include not only weapons of mass destruction but also "cyberterrorism," which would mount attacks on the computer systems on which modern society is becoming more and more dependent. Everything from electronic commerce to the supply of energy is vulnerable. Although no definition may adequately capture the many tactics, acts, and intentions of "terrorists," the victims whose minds, bodies, and lives are mangled by those who premeditate and execute violent acts against them know its meaning. 9 notes and 15 references