Volker Eick
Novi Sad, January 26th, 2008, 18:00 - 18:30

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The term ›terrorism‹ comes from the Latin word terrere, ›to frighten‹ via the French word terrorisme. The first use of the word ›terrorism‹ referred to state rule by terror. It was coined in the years after the French Revolution – the so-called Reign of Terror – and identified terror as an instrument of state power. Therefore, ›terrorism‹ became popular between 1793 and 1795 during the regime de la terreur. It was the French Revolution leader Robespierre who – just shortly before he himself was killed by his ›Madame Guillotine‹ – proclaimed in 1794: »Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.«
›Terrorism‹ thus refers to state action. In the interim, with the generalization of the bourgeois national state since the eighteenth century, the power of states and of ruling class ideologies have successfully deflected and redefined terrorism as first and foremost an instrument of anti-state power.
Generally speaking, the term is meant to de-legitimize any kind of resistance. A 1988 study by the US Army found 109 definitions of ›terrorism‹ that covered a total of 22 different definitional elements. As the only general characteristic generally agreed upon is that ›terrorism‹ involves violence and the threat of violence, many scholars avoid using this term – except those who are interested in using it for political, ideological and economic reasons.
Among these more than hundred definitions, not all recognize the possibility of the legitimate use of violence by civilians against an invader in an occupied country or against ›their‹ government, and would thus label all resistance movements as ›terrorist‹ groups. Ultimately, the distinction is a political judgment. The paper will guide us through its controversial meanings.