Terrorism is a word that strikes many emotions into the hearts of people around the world. Anyone who comes across the word can most likely recall a distinct moment in his or her life where they have felt the affects of terror. These feelings of fear, anger, and despair drive heavy and at times capricious interpretations of what defines this word. The results of this uproar of opinions are prejudices and discrimination against groups mistakenly and falsely associated with past terrorists. To terrorize is to create and maintain a state of extreme distress and fear. The truest form of this definition does not discriminate between race or religion. Any act performed with the intent to instill fear and uphold power is terrorism, regardless of the magnitude or background of the offender.
In the word's beginning, it became part of the phrase terror cimbricus used to describe panic as the Romans made preparations for an attack in 105 BC. Later, it was famously used to name the bloodiest period of time during the French Revolution when Maximilien Robespierre held his power through inspiring intense fear in the hearts of the French people. After this "Reign of Terror," a terrorist was known as one who takes advantage of their power through violence and force. More recently, in June of 2001, the "U.S. Army Field Manual No. FM 3-0" defined terrorism as a "calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear. It is intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies ... [to attain] political, religious, or ideological goals." The word "unlawful" is key to this definition. Although seen as violent acts of oppression to some, declaring war, punishing criminals and fighting other militaries are all "lawful" in the United States (under certain authority). Inside and outside of the U.S. many people hold different theories as to what determines a deed as an act of terrorism, the definition cannot be bound by law. One man's patriot or soldier is another man's terrorist.
Terrorism has been widely used to describe certain events in history, while exempting other acts of "unlawful violence" due to bigotry, miseducation, belief systems, or ignorance. To illustrate this, one can consider the attacks on the United States by the terrorist group al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001. These aggressive intrusions on the safety of Americans became immediately known and remembered as terrorist attacks. In this case, the situation was accurately declared as an act of terrorism. However, in the aftermath, Anti-Muslim hate crimes have become five times more numerous than before September 11th. And while other citizens are now wrongly accused of terrorism and attacked due to their faith, other acts of terrorism have been overlooked. In the beginning of American History, the "Sons of Liberty," often depicted as patriotic heroes of the American Revolution, brought about the fight for independence through violent and cruel acts of terrorism, destroying and vandalizing homes and tarring and feathering British officials. Today, white supremacists pose significant threats to those that oppose their views and the non-white community. At one rally to oppose the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, one counterprotester was killed and 19 left injured by a white supremacist plowing his car into a group of counter protestors. Most news stations used "white nationalist" in the place of the term terrorist, although this crime was clearly meant to instill fear. All action taken to intimidate others through fear and panic is terrorism, regardless race or reason.
This dictionary definition is often lost in the commotion that follows an act of terrorism. Some may only connect violence with terrorism, however the true motive behind terrorism is to inspire fear. In July of 2011, James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 through a shooting in a movie theater. Although this act of violence was horrendous, his motives were not to inspire fear, but sprung from psychological issues. He did not act with the intent to gain any political or religious power or change; his motive was his own relief from depression through violence, but it didn't concern him what after effect it would have. Acts of terrorism are not any act of violence, but violence with the desire to disseminate fear and compliance.
The word "terrorist" should not be employed casually; it is crucial that it is used correctly. One must learn that it accounts for all actions with the intent to inspire fear in others. In the news and on the street, there are acts of terrorism occurring everyday. If one understands the definition of terrorism and puts aside prejudices, they can accurately identify acts of unjust brutal suppression. Once leaders and the public have learned to comprehend terrorism correctly and impartially, then the world can move forward in preventing future attacks, disciplining perpetrators of justice and saving lives.