Armed Hostilities

Terrorism Today: the Past, the Players, the Future

Table of Contents
  1. Defining Terrorism
  2. Origins of State Terrorism
  3. Domestic Terrorism in the United States
  4. Radical Islam and the Threat to the United States
  5. References

Defining Terrorism

As Spindlove and Simonsen (2013) note, defining terrorism is quite challenging due to the many forms that it has taken throughout history. My own definition of terrorism would be that terrorism is a violent act that members of one population perform in order to scare the members of the rival population. Many scholars offer a similar definition of terrorism. However, this definition does not cover certain historical events that were classified as terrorism. One of the main concerns in defining a terror attack is the number of people hurt as a result. In order to be effective in scaring the population, the attack has to result in several victims. Therefore, many would rather classify crimes against a single person as hate crimes than an act of terrorism. Nevertheless, Saul (2005) offers several examples where small-scale crimes were viewed as terror attacks. For instance, the abduction of a UN military observer in Lebanon in 1988 was classified as an act of terrorism. Another problem in defining terrorism is that most of the definitions require us to be sure of the attacker’s intentions. Of course, this is not always possible.

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Even today, when IS openly takes responsibility for almost every mass murder in the developed world, the true nature of the crimes can never be known as the attackers are usually killed by the police or commit suicide before they get arrested and questioned. In that way, IS could have claimed being responsible for crimes in order to seem more powerful and threatening, while in reality the attackers acted on their own and for other reasons. The final problem with producing a clear definition is that terrorism is, in fact, subjective, and can be viewed differently in different cultures. For example, in countries with on-going military conflicts, attention is more likely to be drawn to large-scale events, whereas smaller ones would not be widely defined as terrorism. On the other hand, the countries that were never subject to terror attacks before may define an attack on one or two people as an act of terrorism. Overall, in order to fight terrorism worldwide, it is necessary to address these difficulties by providing a well-rounded definition that would take into account the cultural and historical factors that may influence the perception of terror attacks in different countries.

Origins of State Terrorism

Just as the clear definition of terrorism, its origins are still widely debated in the scholarly community (Spindlove & Simonsen, 2013). In his essay on the origins of modern state terrorism, Ansart (2016) argues that the first instances of terrorism can be seen in the historical accounts of the French Revolution. The author says that “The Terror would not have been possible without the power vacuum created by the fall of the monarchy in August 1792” (Ansart, 2016, p. 158). Since France was left without a constitution and a clear power structure, the entire state power has gathered in the hands of the National Convention (Ansart, 2016). The tension between the Convention and the people increased, leading to the first historical instances of Terror (Ansart, 2016).

I agree with the author that the French Revolution was probably the period when terrorism originated in the form that we know it now. I do not think that previous conflicts between the state and the people, or between two states, could be classified as terrorism. This is primarily because the French Revolution was the first of its kind and scale; it gave the power to the people, and the people were angry with the government. The public’s fury, together with the alterations in the country’s government system as a result of the revolt, triggered the rise of modern state terrorism. Nevertheless, there are also certain differences between the current events of terrorism and historical examples. For instance, today, terror attacks have a clearer goal behind them; they are carefully planned to result in many victims, as the attackers’ goal is usually to draw attention to the event in order to influence certain policies or government’s actions. Moreover, in the modern world, there has been a significant increase in external terrorism, where the attacks are committed by people from other cultures or countries.

Domestic Terrorism in the United States

Despite the common preconception that terrorism is always committed by foreign people, the issue of domestic terrorism in the modern world is nonetheless prominent (Spindlove & Simonsen, 2013). There were several cases in the recent U.S. history where terror attacks were committed by the U.S. citizens. Domestic terrorism occurs when people attack the members of their own population, such as fellow citizens of the country, in an attempt to change the state policy or influence the government. One example of domestic terrorism occurred in 2016 and is known as the Orlando nightclub shooting, which resulted in over 50 deaths.

The attack was committed by a U.S. citizen, and there is no official evidence of him being connected to external terrorist organizations, which is why the act was classified as domestic terrorism (Grimson, Wylie, & Fieldstadt, 2016). In the U.S., there are still certain organizations that promote domestic terrorism. For instance, anti-abortion movement, and in particular the Army of God, was responsible for several violent attacks on family planning clinics, as well as on individual medical practitioners that perform abortions. The primary goal of the attacks was to scare the target population from getting and performing abortions, which is why it can be classified as a domestic terrorist organization. I believe that domestic terrorism poses a significant threat to the security of the U.S. citizens, as domestic attacks can impact their health and well-being and result in multiple deaths. In order to ensure the safety of citizens, it is necessary to impose strict control over the activity of domestic terrorist groups and ensure adequate safety of the individual facilities that may be subject to future attacks.

Radical Islam and the Threat to the United States

Ever since the 9/11 terror attacks and the start of the U.S. ‘war on terror’, Islam is seen as the most prominent terrorist threat to the U.S. national security (Spindlove & Simonsen, 2013). However, this view is damaging to the Muslim population living in developed countries, as they are held accountable for the violence promoted and the harm inflicted by the extremist groups (Alnatour, 2015). The recent Muslim Ban, which sent away many of the U.S. residents that came from countries that are perceived as being associated with terrorism, was mainly caused by the preconception that Islam is at the core of terrorism and its ideology.

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Nevertheless, the statistics on terror attacks allow to disagree with this view: “According to the FBI, 94% of terrorist attacks carried out in the United States from 1980 to 2005 have been by non-Muslims” (Alnatour, 2015, para. 5). Moreover, even if all terror attacks were performed by Muslims, the terrorists would represent less than 0.00009 percent of all Muslims (Alnatour, 2015). These facts are hard to believe given the fact that the current ‘war on terror’ is, essentially, a war against the countries of the Islamic region. I believe that radical Islam and the violence that certain radical groups promote are driven by political causes rather than by purely religious. Religion is used by radical political leaders to incite hate and motivate the people to follow the violent path that is preferable to them. Of course, even as a measure of political action, radical Islam is still a threat to the United States. Nevertheless, the threat from domestic terrorists is far more prominent, just as radical Islamists are more threatening to their fellow citizens than the foreigners.


Alnatour, O. (2015). Muslims are not terrorists: A factual look at terrorism and Islam. Huffington Post. Web.

Spindlove, J. R., & Simonsen, C. E. (2013). Terrorism today: The past, the players, the future (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Saul, B. (2005). Definition of “Terrorism” in the UN Security Council: 1985-2004. Chinese Journal of International Law, 4(1), 141-166.

Ansart, G. (2016). The invention of modern state terrorism during the French Revolution. In E. Coda & B. Lawton (Eds.), Re-visioning terrorism: A humanistic perspective (pp. 157-167). West Lafayette, France: Purdue University Press.

Grimson, M., Wylie, D., & Fieldstadt, E. (2016). FBI says it probed Orlando shooting suspect Omar Mateen twice. NBC News. Web.

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