I’ve been thinking about the concepts of terrorist, terrorism, insurgent, and what these terms mean to our resulting interest in international relations. The discussion keeps popping up to delineate the terms and codify the meanings. Coming to a common consensus on such an overloaded set of terms is fairly difficult. There are dictionary definitions, encyclopedias, and entire thesis on the origination of the terms, but for sake of discussion lets try to think of them this way.
Terrorism is a strategy utilizing unexpected violence and associated fear. What differentiates terrorism from criminal enterprise is the political motivation behind the acts of terrorism. Simple wanton violence for the sake of violence would not be terrorism it would be anarchy. Of course it would follow that a person engaged in the act of terrorism is a terrorist. Terrorism is a strategy that can be state sponsored, other than state sponsored, and individual in its execution. The motivation to create violence and fear in a population can be ideological (religion, sectarian, revenge), or it can be compensatory (cash, trade, barter). In general though there is some defining quality of attempting to create change in the larger political structure.
When I think of the insurgent Iâ€™m thinking about a politically motivated individual. Politics is not just the realm of the state though, and the religious convictions or hubris of the individual does play a part in the political power equation. The insurgent is working towards imposing violence on the nation-state through the use of tactics and strategies that may include terrorism. So an insurgent can employ a strategy that is in the role of terrorist and still maintain their political affiliation of insurgent. This is no different than an insurgent who uses guerilla warfare, aerial bombardment, swarm, or some other strategy.
As to motivation and the differences between insurgent and terrorist it might be that there is no difference. Terrorist or trigger puller the motivation of who â€œgetâ€™sâ€ what when and how (politics) might not be tied to the sectarian or world of here and now. Violence can be itâ€™s own reward, and the willful destruction of happiness and freedom their own ends. The destruction of the nation state or the governmental authority may be simple side affects of the insurgent/terrorist/guerilla warriorâ€™s actions. Applying motivations or dogma to a group that may not have either and be dispersed over a global environment is nearing on the ludicrous.
Each cell or group may have differing perceived reasons for their apparent decision to perpetrate violence against the state. The violence itself may be it’s own reward. The dispersion of ideas and techniques are a side effect of their common bond in waging conflict but not necessarily in political fellowship. With technology the ability to coordinate over vast distances instantaneously and distribute and refine techniques quickly gives the appearance of mindful coordination. The reality is likely not a shared political will but a shared choice of perpetrating violence.
Insurgent or terrorist? Likely neither and both. We donâ€™t call a soldier a â€œtrigger pullerâ€ or identify them as such beyond a simple role. Similarly the term terrorist is much over used to describe the implementer of a tactic that might have broader implications. Weâ€™ve codified in law the term terrorism and the associated term terrorist without taking into account that it in reality limits the scope of the discussion inappropriately.