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Basic Information

Specious arguments about semantics aside, terrorism is the deliberate infliction of violence on non-combattants for psychological effect. One who habitually commits acts of terrorism (or a member of an organisation which habitually does so) is termed a terrorist.

Terrorism is not related to the cause in which it is employed (you may be both a terrorist and a "freedom fighter" - the two are not mutually exclusive), nor by the person who employs it - since states may engage in acts of terror at least as well as non-state actors.

The term is, however, frequently abused - frequently as a synonym for "unlawful combattant", regardless of whether they attack non-combattants or not. Values dissonance may occur on the issue of whether police and similar security forces count as non-combattants.

Another frequent abuse is to describe any harm occuring to those not immediately under arms as terrorism - attacks against off duty troops1 and institutions of state2 may well be called terrorism, but arguably may not qualify, nor should collateral damage resulting from an attack on a "legitimate" target really be classed as terrorism. Attacks on economic targets are much harder to classify - a target which, even if civilian owned, manned and operated is clearly engaged in war production may be legitimate but following this argument too far would seem to justify wholesale destruction of infrastructure and even food production3. As with all adult matters, context is important and a great deal of morality is culturally bound.

Another definitive example might be that of dealing with enemy intelligence assets in a civilian population - to identify a spy, execute him and stick his head on a spike as a warning isn't an act of terror, to take someone at random and do the same and warn the community that you'll keep doing it until the informing stops and it could be them next is.

Of course, terrorism has arguably been a part of human conflict for as long as human conflict has existed - our earliest ancestors are likely to have been quite happy to frighten their rivals out of a conflict and once civilisation took hold, so did the idea of making an example of people … and thence terrorism.


1. full source reference

See Also

Game and Story Use

  • PCs are - hopefully - more likely to witness this than take part in it, although in a suitably black and grey setting anything is possible.
    • It may still be their side doing it.
  • Likewise, scale may be anything from killing a few people from a village to cow the peasants to destruction of an entire planet.
  • Fun with values dissonance can be had if the PCs, thinking themselves genre savvy side with The Resistance against The Empire, only to find that The Resistance really are a terrorist organisation. Who, if anyone, is "the good guys" remains to be seen.
  • The smear labelling is also something PCs may receive, courtesy of a media blackwash (or perhaps legitimately if they are over zealous in pursuit of the Evil Corporation).
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