Travel Broaden the Mind
By Richard Jackson 
It has become something of a cliché to note that there are over 200 definitions of terrorism in existence within broader terrorism studies literature; that many terrorism scholars have given up on the definitional debate and use the term unreflectively; and that such a state of affairs hampers theoretical progress and skews terrorism research in unhelpful ways. However, the significance and consequences of the definitional debate go far beyond such narrow academic confines, important as they are to the field. Rather, the issue of definition is central to the way in which the Global War on Terror is prosecuted by the authorities both domestically and overseas. It also affects the way in which …show more content…
That is, terrorism is defined and understood by the nature and characteristics of the act itself, rather than the nature of actor, and is conceived as a particular kind of political action directed towards certain strategic goals rather than as a broad ideology or movement. Louise
Richardson for example, defines terrorism as ―politically motivated violence directed against non combatants or symbolic targets which is designed to communicate a message to a broader audience.‖ Crucially, such a definitional approach accepts that states are also actors who can and frequently do adopt strategies of terrorism and commit terrorist acts. This is a useful formulation that provides the basis for the identifying criteria I present below.
Partly due to these definitional approaches, research on terrorism in the broader field has been characterised by a number of unfortunate tendencies. An initial tendency widely noted by some critics of the field is the selection bias of much terrorism research. In this case, the terrorism label is applied almost solely to non-state groups opposed to Western interests. It is usually not applied to those groups supported by Western states – even when they commit identical acts of civilian-directed violence such as hijackings, bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. Thus, while left-wing groups have always received an inordinate amount of attention in terrorism studies literature, right-wing groups like the Contras,