Inside Terrorism – Bruce Hoffman

Reading the first chapter of Hoffman’s book Inside Terrorism made me aware of the issue of how to define the terms “terrorist“ and “terrorism”. In my eyes, Hoffman found a nice way to describe the history of the term “terrorism” and how the meaning of the term has changed. After having read the text, I would state the following terms as the some of the key characteristics of terrorism: threat of violence, act of violence, aim to “change ‘the system’ “ (42), political change and the refusal to be bound to rules of warfare (cf. 35).

I agree with the distinction Hoffman made between the term “terror” which means the “internal political violence directed mostly against domestic populations […] [ordered] by those already in power” (23) and “terrorism” which means “the violence committed by non-state entities” (23). However, there are also a few points that I do not fully agree with. As an example, Hoffman claims that a certain kind of self-denial is a characteristic of terrorists. To me, this statement seemed to be too much of a generalization and I do not think that it should and can be applied to all terrorists. The same applies for the argument that “[t]he terrorist will never acknowledge that he is a terrorist and moreover will go to great lengths to evade and obscure any such inference or connection” (30). In addition, when Hoffman mentioned that the news media used to avoid the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” and rather used the words “guerrillas” and “extremists” (cf. 37), I started to wonder if this was only the case in the U.S. or if one could speak of a global phenomenon.

Lastly, I agree with Hoffman’s statement that today, there is “no one widely accepted or agreed definition for terrorism” (37) since probably every country (government) defines the term in a different way.

– Chantal M.

One thought on “Inside Terrorism – Bruce Hoffman

  1. Unpacking the term terrorism: we have to do it. We see this term “terrorism” circulating our everyday lives through communications such as media, government press, conversations, campaigns, military operations and more, however, do we actually understand the core implication of terrorism and why it materializes time and time again? Hoffman’s chapter thoroughly unpacks this terminology and in doing so illuminates the history and roots of terrorism, dating all the way back to the revolution in 1789. Through the classes I have attended at UNC and through reading works of Hoffman and others I have come to the conclusion that there is justly a reason why there is not a consensus on what this term actually means, the most important reason being that the global community must agree on this definition and this is almost next to impossible without preference here or preference there on what it “should” be defined as. Hoffman does a brilliant job in boldfacing the absolutes of what terrorism is and what it will be to come: my favorite being “about power: the pursuit of power, the acquisition of power, and the use of power to achieve political change.” (15) When we zoom out on terrorism, it is imperative to understand that in every act of terrorism there is motive and a target behind the act. Mostly, this motive tends to be to obtain attention from the enemy target and also to gain power by demonstrating the powerlessness of the target’s government or citizens to everyone including the target itself, thus weakening the target and strengthening the terrorist (achieving power).

    A professor of mine brought to my attention one of the most interesting things about terrorism and its coverage in modern media: the interchangeable terminology such as “civilians” or “non-combatants” when describing victims of terrorism. What we fail to recognize as consumers of this media is that Osama Bin Ladin was in fact a civilian himself. It is interesting to see how the media uses these terms aggressively and loosely in which deems inappropriate in my opinion. Hoffman touches on this on page 36, saying The New York Times on covering an attack, “used words ‘terrorists’ and ‘terrorism’ interchangeably with ‘guerrillas’ and ‘extremists.’” These terms DO NOT equate, and make myself question what I’m made to believe as an American citizen that consumes such media.

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