By Imam Vernon M. Fareed
I think it’s safe to say that most people in society don’t know that the U. S. Government has no agreed upon “standardized definition of terrorism. Forget the dictionary definition of terrorism; go on a search for the official definition and you will find numerous ones used by the same (U.S.) Government! Following are a few of the various agencies and departments that have their distinct definition: 1. D.O.D. (Department of Defense) 2. F.B.I. (Federal Bureau of Investigation) 3. D.H.S. (Department of Homeland Security) 4. C.I.A. (Central Intelligence Agency) 5. Vice President’s 1986 Task Force. To add to this garden variety of definitions for terrorism, there also legal and expanded definitions. Expanded definitions are used in part for investigative work and gives law enforcement officials a wider net to cast when attempting to catch active or potential terrorists. We should also be mindful that there are definitions specific to domestic terrorism as opposed to international terrorism, and what is now known as the United Nations has its own definition of terrorism..
Let us take a quick look at a few definitions of domestic terrorism that are used by different U.S. agencies. The FBI says terrorism: “Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law appear intended to 1. Intimidate or coerce a civilian population 2. To influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or 3. To affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. The FBI also utilizes a definition of terrorism based upon the agency’s general function under 28 CFR 0.85 Regulation, “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
The DHS (Department of Homeland Security) with the passage of the United States Patriot Act expanded to include domestic acts within the definition of terrorism. Section 802 of the USA Patriot Act modified the legal definition of terrorism (18 USC 2331) to include a category of “domestic terrorism” defined as, “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any State.” The preceding sentence is the modification created by the Patriot Act.
The D.O.D. (Department of Defense) defines terrorism as, “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious or ideological.”
The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) defines terrorism as, “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”
As we explore this term (terrorism) further, we will also take a look at its application in America with respect to various acts of violence and/or the threat thereof that have taken place over the years.