Bruce Hoffman’s piece on “Defining Terrorism” is a thought-provoking essay, raising many questions regarding the nature and goals of terrorists as he moves towards a workable definition. Hoffman ultimately accepts that terrorism cannot be clearly defined, settling instead to close his essay with a section titled “Distinctions as a Path to Definition.” According to Hoffman, the most effective way to define terrorists is by understanding what they are not.
Particularly, I am interested in Hoffman’s final distinction: he points out that the terrorist is “not pursuing perfectly egocentric goals”, further identifying the terrorist as “fundamentally a violent intellectual.” This classification piqued my interest, and I am curious whether Hoffman would assert this stance today. Ultimately that would depend on how he defines an intellectual. Is one an intellectual simply because they are motivated by a cause? That seems to be Hoffman’s logic. Ignoring the fact that defining an intellectual in that manner seems odd, I am confident Hoffman would hold to his position under that definition.
Hoffman seems to imply in the same paragraph that the only difference between a political extremist and a terrorist is violence; I find that a bit dramatic and far-fetched, as it seems to leave the entire psychological element of terrorism, referenced by Hoffman earlier in his essay, out of the picture.
Writing prior to the 9/11 attacks, Hoffman’s analysis predates the nature of terrorism as it has evolved over the last 17 years since his writing. I am curious whether the events of 9/11 and the changes terrorism (and counterterrorism) have witnessed since that attack have changed Hoffman’s classification.