From a juridical-political point of view, the term terrorism poses considerable definitional problems. 1 Any attempt to produce a universally acceptable normative definition is certain to prove illusory. 2 Yet, as has been well observed, “To the layman terrorism presents no problem of definition.” 3 Without some adjectival qualification, the term is really too broad to be useful. It can embrace the “putting in fear” of the victim, which is an essential part of the normative content of the common crime of robbery; the incidental fear induced by a reckless rampage of teen-age street gangs; the deliberately engendered sensations evoked and utilized by a Mafia enforcer; or the “violence for effect” expressly designed to coerce or disrupt the normal workings of some social or political system.
It is with this last phenomenon, increasingly well-known in our days, that we are concerned with. Political terrorism, whether of the domestic or transnational variety, means acts or threats of violence intended to affect the social and political life of the community. The identity and suffering of the instant victims are generally less important than the prime purpose of producing panic, disorder, paralyzing fear, and a certain, official reaction against those who have been responsible for the acts. Terrorism, restricted by way of description to such activities, implies a specific relationship between the forces of action and those of reaction. It has been well said that, “Terrorism is the weapon of the weak.” 4 In the sense the term is used here, terrorism implies the use of a particular criminal technique against the community and against those who have legitimate authority to act in the name of the community.
The terrorist is, thus, always the outsider, always operating in contravention of law and, indeed, in contravention, to a large extent, of the generally held standards of decency and fair play of the community. There is an unwritten law even in the realm of criminality and the subculture of violence which is strikingly paralleled by similar developments in the law of warfare. In conventional warfare, there are “understandings” which in some cases have hardened into international agreements and to which there has, even in situations of total warfare, been substantial adherence. The true terrorist has no such respect for any of these conventions of crime or warfare; indeed, it is his very business to flout them. The true terrorist, if he indeed is to be true to his creed, can have no scruples and no kindliness toward his fellow man. 5 He must steel his heart against such emotions in order to be