Terrorism as Genocide: Killing with “Intent”

Political violence can include intra-state or inter-state actions. Flanigan and Fogelman described domestic political violence as coups, rebellions, civil wars, political assassinations, major rioting, etc. However, political violence also encompasses genocide, mass killings, protests, terrorism and other forms of direct action.  Violence is a form of direct political action used by individuals and governments in an attempt to achieve a political goal; both genocide and terrorism fall under this category.

BY ASHLIE PERRY | October 07, 2012


Etzioni (2004) becks the question “Under what conditions is democracy undermined?” in order to effectively wage war on terrorism. International relations have defined actors as both state and non-governmental organizations at the international level. Forms of violent acts, like terrorism, have changed the previous definition of “actors”. Terrorism, as well as other acts of political violence, has shifted the focus from large scale conflicts between nation states to small arm battles.  It is defined many ways by different institutions, depending on the institutions’ agenda. The varying views of terrorism ultimately affect the way that each institution, state or government responds to terrorist acts. Despite the plethora of definitions, there are some commonalities.  Terrorism is a form of direct political action used by individuals and governments in an attempt to achieve a political goal. For terrorist, the belief in major transformation of society, or millenarianism, allows for personal redemption even though violence is used (Crenshaw M. , “Has the Motivation of Terrorists Changed?”, 2006).

There are more than 86, 000 documented terrorist attacks from 1970- 2008 alone (START Database).  The prevalence of genocide has also increased in recent history. This brings forth the current research questions; can terrorism be a form of genocide? Can terrorism result in genocide or genocidal acts? Have there been instances of genocidal terrorism since the term was coined in 1945?

The argument put forth that terrorism, when using definitions previsouly established in genocide studies, certain condition of terrorism can be classified as a form of genocide. Terrorism, according to Raphael Lemkin’s definition, can be used as a form of genocide. This does not evoke the argument that all cases of terrorism are genocide nor that all genocides are acts of terrorism. However, the argument is put forth that non- state and state terrorism can be used as a form of genocide.

Drawing upon the New York Public Library’s Raphael Lemkin Archives (1947-1959), Lemkin’s definition of genocide, in contrast to the 1948 UN Convention definition, is used to draw comparisons between the concepts of genocide and terrorism.  Would terrorism be considered a form of genocide under both Raphael Lemkin and the UN Genocide Convention’s definitions of genocide?

Lemkin also addresses the motivations to use genocide and the psychological scars that are evoked during and after genocides occur. The intent to evoke “fear, sorrow, pain, etc”, mass movement, crowd behavior of actions against others, and the linkage between nationalism and genocide were used to describe genocide. Similarly some of the scars and motivations described by Lemkin are used in the psychological studies of terrorism. The research question emerges, what is the difference between terrorism and genocide?

© Copyright 2012 by CESRAN
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