Terrorism, Counterterrorism and International Law

By Weiss, Peter Ulrich | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Spring-Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Terrorism, Counterterrorism and International Law


Weiss, Peter Ulrich, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


INTRODUCTION

WHAT DO NELSON MANDELA, Menachem Begin, Gerry Adams and Yasser Arafat have in common? They all made the transition from being regarded as terrorists to being recognized as statesmen and peacemakers. In fact, three of them, Mandela, Begin and Arafat, have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and Mandela is viewed today by many as the leading moral authority of his time in the world.

What does this tell us about terrorism? If nothing else, that terrorism, the word on everyone's lips, is easier to talk about than to define. As one commentator, Nissan Horowitz, put it in the mainstream Israeli newspaper Ha 'aretz, "Terrorism -- it's all in the eyes of the beholder. Why is the attack on the Twin Towers called terrorism, while the bombing of a hospital in Kabul is not?" (1) Indeed, international lawyers have struggled to define terrorism for nearly a century, largely without success. In the words of the hoary cliche, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Or, in the context of Israel/Palestine, whom the Israelis call a terrorist the Palestinians call a martyr.

The reasons for this paradox are not mysterious. The terrorist acts out of a sense of injustice perceived by the group to which he belongs, hence he is a hero to the entire group, which may be as small as an anarchist cell or as large as an entire tribe, nation, religion, class or other societal grouping. In the period following the end of World War II, the anti-colonial struggle in Africa and Asia and later the anti-oligarchic struggle in Latin America often relied on tactics condemned as terrorist by those unsympathetic to the aims of the struggle and applauded by those in solidarity with the struggle, whether directly engaged in it or cheering it on from the sidelines. The controversy raging around the film The Battle of Algiers, with its scenes of bombs exploding in crowded cafes, is emblematic of that era.

With the end of colonialism -- albeit not neocolonialism -- and of "wars of liberation" -- albeit without bringing a full measure of freedom to those who waged them -- terrorism has lost much of its luster and now elicits virtually universal condemnation, at least in legal terms. And yet, a comprehensive definition still eludes the world community.

THE SEARCH FOR DEFINITIONS

In his post-September 11 speech to the General Assembly, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British Ambassador to the United Nations, said "What looks, smells and kills like terrorism is terrorism." As this is not exactly a legally serviceable definition, diplomats and international lawyers have until recently solved the definitional problem by writing conventions outlawing terrorist acts without ever mentioning the word "terrorism." The official website entitled "UN Conventions on Terrorism" (2) lists eight United Nations conventions and two protocols enacted between 1963 and 1991, dealing with such diverse offences as hijacking, attacks on diplomatic agents and other internationally protected persons, hostage taking, theft of nuclear material and unlawful acts against maritime navigation and fixed platforms located on the continental shelf. It requires no complex process of reasoning to realize that any of these prohibited acts can occur within or without the, context of terrorism. The taking of a hostage for the p urpose of obtaining the liberation of a political prisoner fits the definition of a terrorist act. The same crime committed solely for the payment of ransom does not. The hijacking of the four planes on September 11 was a megaterrorist act. It is questionable, however, whether the hijacking of a plane bound for Florida to enable the hijacker to land in Cuba fits the general view of terrorism.

The last two conventions mentioned on the UN website finally do use the buzzword "terrorism," reflecting the progression from the crime without a name to the crime everyone fears. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Terrorism, Counterterrorism and International Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.