Terrorism is a very complex phenomenon to approach, expanding itself throughout a number of different scope of terror. Especially since it overlaps on so many different domains of politics and political sciences, such as policy making, law, military and security studies, and so on.
But what makes such a subject so very problematic is that even though it is a matter of growing concern in the International order, especially since the 9/11 events, there is still no really agreed-upon definition of it. Therefore, making every study, concern, or attempt to deal with the situation at hand, all the more difficult, and abstract to say the least.
The Need for Defining Terrorism
For instance, having a definition of terrorism would make the world order able to deal with it as a whole and under a united banner. This, in the globalization of terrorism and theaters of jihad, as can be seen in past years and decades is starting to show itself as a must. A clear example of the problem could be seen in the fight against the Hezbollah criminal network around the world. Indeed, while the US, Israel, and several other states do recognize it as being a Terrorist Organization -TO -, the rest of the world still doesn’t. Making the worldwide network of criminal operations, a tool of destabilization, and fundraising used by Hezbollah, and making it all the more difficult to fight on a universal level.
Indeed, a country that does not recognize it as a TO, will not always agree to cooperate with foreign security agencies, creating a de-facto safe heaven for parts of the organization until a way to circle around this legal matter is found. Allowing an operation to take place and bend the country into cooperation one way or another.
For example, DEA’s new approach to the matter helps a lot in circumventing these obstacles. Therefore, in order to build a united line of thought throughout this article, a single and agreed-upon definition of terrorism will be adopted as being: ‘Terrorism is the deliberate use of violence aimed against civilian targets in order to achieve political ends; nationalistic, socio-economic, ideological, religious-political’ (Ganor, B. 2001).
By understanding this, this article will try to show the need to take the regular scope of terror of what could be called, ‘formal organizations’ and try to expand upon it. Following the realization that even though the theory does take into consideration insurgencies and organizations seen as ‘hybrid terror-organizations’. It does not go far enough in its understanding.
Indeed, while different organizations can be seen as gaining political power and succeeding in their objectives, therefore, going through a process of progressive deradicalization. They are subsequently being replaced by more extreme TO, that deem themselves needed in order to keep on the good fight for the cause.
Why Expand the Scope of Terror-Organizations?
But, no-one has ever thought to think about what would happen if an organization would succeed to claim a territory and declare its legitimacy as a new independent state. How would it and its actions, therefore, be considered? Would it still be seen as a terror organization? Or would it, then, be a state in itself using political terror as a tool of political violence? And therefore, what could then be done against it following the rules of International Relations -IR-?
Indeed, while the process of TO organizations, and insurgencies succeeding to take political power is something that is known, and plenty reflected upon. Such as the PLO or the story of Mao Zedong in China. And where such a process always comes back to the outcome of international recognition of a new political leadership of the country. And a relative end of the official use of terrorism by the organization following the achievement of its political objectives and the necessity of switching from terror to governance.
What would happen if a terror organization would get a hold on a territory and keep employing terror tactics as an organization inside and outside its borders? Would it still be considered as terrorist? Or would it switch to be a legitimate state-like entity using political violence against its own population and abroad? This situation could be thought of as a little far fetched it is true, but when really thinking about it, it came relatively close to actually coming into being.
The ISIS Case Study
Indeed, while ISIS at one point succeeded to get a hold of a rather extensive territory, before being torn down by the international community efforts. It could have considered to declare its independence and switch from being an organization holding territory to a legitimate international player, and even a real state as of today’s standards. If it somehow would have managed to gather the support of some other internationally recognized states. In the same problematic way of Kosovo is still struggling to get its independence internationally recognized and therefore legitimate.
Indeed, here comes a problem that even the situation that arose with hybrid organizations, possessing altogether a civil plane, with social welfare and education, an independent political wing, and a full-fledge independent, hierarchical military wing does not represent truthfully. And as such, has been left aside and hidden from considerations.
Indeed, while hybrid organizations do use terror, as well as presenting other features, they still count as something that has already been studied and therefore understood. And if they were to come to power, they would probably become the state itself, therefore going under the definition of a ‘state supporting terrorism’ if they were not to give up their terrorist tendencies and not totally separate themselves from their military wing. Transforming it as a proxy to be used abroad to forward their geopolitical interests. All the while slowly moving on to deradicalize progressively in order to maintain state functionality, legitimacy, achieve governance, and stay in power.
Or make their military branch an official part of the state’s military, therefore giving it a fully legitimate use of force. Which could end up with the state going into war with another international actor if it were to disproportionally use violence against it.
But no matter what, if the organization was to take power over the government, it would, in turn, be the legitimate political power and retain its legitimacy over the state’s institutions. As well as take over and retain the country’s standing in front of the International Community.
Terrorism as The Weapon of the Weak
This far along with the article, it is important to assert one point on which this thought process is based, which will be further explained at the end. Indeed, some scholars and thinkers, explain that terrorism is no longer the ‘weapons of the weak’ as it used to be. And that states can as well use terrorism, either directly onto their own populations, domestically or abroad, or being an actor of terrorism by supporting terrorist organizations.
But here a major difference comes to play. The notion of ‘legitimate’ political violence, used by the state, inside of which the use of the tool of ‘terror’ can be ‘legitimately’ used. Which is, in fact, the base of the legitimacy of the State following the peace of Westphalia and therefore creating the state as a legitimate political entity of the world’s system. And where the state has all authority and legitimacy to the ‘legitimate use of force inside its borders and over its citizens’.
But the tactic of terrorism is used by organizations without legitimacy, in order to achieve political goals. Therefore, following this line of thought a state cannot be considered as per se a ‘terrorist’ actor. But only as a state using the anarchy of the International world order, in order to further its own political and geopolitical objectives and aspirations by any mean it deems necessary.
Terror State or Smart Use of Proxys
In this instance, the support and use of a Terrorist Organization as a proxy like the use of Hezbollah by Iran is legitimate. As a tool to further the country’s interests and do not make this state a ‘terror state’. And such a tactic is working rather well, as shown in the book Operating in the Gray Zone, (Eisenstadt, M. 2020). Indeed, the use of proxies by Iran is being very destabilizing for the US. Therefore making a much stronger power than Iran doubt and question itself on its capacity to wage war and willingness to engage in a regional conflict due to Iran’s proxies in the region.
And although the disproportionate use of violence against its population is ‘wrong’ following western standards, it does not make the state a terrorist actor but makes it a user of disproportionate political violence. Which is its right, if the political power of the state is willing to take the risk to then have to deal with it in front of the International Community.
What is Terrorism?
Even further, at a time where fighting against terrorism has proven to be a rising concern, the over-broadening of the scope of ‘what is terrorism?’ Is, in essence, a bad idea.
Indeed, if everything can be considered as being terrorism, then ultimately nothing is. Therefore reducing the possibilities of legitimately confront it instead of opening the way to a more efficient way to fight the phenomenon. Therefore, until the day the current world order changes and the state is no longer the entity of reference, one should restrain himself to consider states are terrorist actors.
From Terrorism To Governance
The last point of a state is that it has increasingly been considered to be responsible for the well-being of its population as an all. Being expected to provide a range of goods, law and order, education, and so on.
But, as can be seen in various scenarios with terror organizations, like Hamas, Hezbollah, and even with organizations as extreme as ISIS, they have proven to actually come to fulfill most these roles. Indeed, once getting a hold and staying in power over a territory. They started to manage it, providing goods, and even somewhat coming back to life as ‘usual’. Fulfilling the role of the active government. Therefore, one could assume that short of the legitimacy of international recognition, and their specific ideology forbidding them to ask for it.
Indeed, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal of ISIS is the bring about of the Armageddon. That they intend on achieving by destroying the current world order by all means necessary. Therefore, intrinsically forbidding them even from the thought of ‘asking’ the system for legitimacy. But had it not fallen to the International Community assaults it would and should have been able to be considered as a full-fledged state according to the Westphalia accords. Even though such a thought wouldn’t be to the liking of the main trends of political thinking today. Nevertheless, opening the door to an all-new scope of thinking in terrorism studies.
Such an Unlikely Possibility?
In case such a situation would indeed happen in the future, and an organization would take hold of a territory. All the while continuing its terrorist activities all over the world indiscriminately and declare itself independent and legitimate. How would it, therefore, be considered? It wouldn’t be a terrorist organization any longer.
Would it, therefore, be a rogue state fighting against the whole of the International Community and the rest of the standing system by using political violence? And therefore, probably doomed to die and be annihilated by a global war as ISIS was.
Or would it be something else between the two? Not totally a state, but yet not fully a terrorist actor of any known type any longer. An actor having active terrorist activities of all kinds against foreign states by the way of unconventional terrorism. Like the already happening lone wolves’ attacks and independent cell activities. All the while being a quasi or full-state of its own. And how would the international community deal with this new type of international actor?
Conclusion, Expanding the Scope of Terror-Organizations
One could therefore conclude that although the field of terrorism has been studied for years now, and has been the focus of extensive research. The scope of terrorism and its field might not be fully complete yet. And some -future- actors, such as insurgent groups and terrorist organizations that will seize and hold territory while continuing on being fully operational should be in a category of their own, somewhere in between organizations and states. Or again, maybe there is no such middle category, and if a terrorist organization such as ISIS or Hezbollah should get ahold of a territory and declare themselves independent as a state. Then all their actions on foreign soil should be considered as being under the definition of legitimate political violence. And therefore, be considered as acts of war and opening the way to direct retaliation by the victim states.
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Sources: Ganor, B. (2001). Terrorism: No prohibition without definition. International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism: Online 0. Article Series, 7