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Distinguishing Terrorism from Other Forms of Violent Conflict

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The most obvious difference between terrorism and traditional violent crime is found in the distinct motivations of the terrorist and the criminal. Although it is possible to argue that criminals, like terrorists “ do terrorize their victims” it is their collective motives and purposes that set them apart.   The criminal does not generally intend to terrorize their victims, they do so inadvertently by trying to coerce property or some other favor from the victim either for some personal “ enrichment or satisfaction. ”   “ Terrorism is motivated by larger political causes and the acts are symbolically carried out in order to further the cause. ” (Cunningham and others, 9)While it is certainly true that terrorism, like ordinary crime, invariably involves the infringement of statutory or common law, it is the primary motivation of the offender that separates terrorism from ordinary criminal conduct.

(Cunningham and others, 9) The distinction between terrorism and other forms of political violence such as war, insurgency, and guerrilla warfare is far more pronounced than the distinction between terrorism and traditional crime.   War in any form and insurgency encompass entirely different targets than those of terrorist activists.

(Cunningham and others, 8) While terrorists typically target civilians who do not have the means to defend themselves, war and insurgency generally involve military targets who are armed and far from defenseless. (Cunningham and others, 8)  In general: “ Terrorists do not usually target armed police or soldiers who have the capability to fight back, although some groups have been known to do so. ” (Cunningham and other, 8) Terrorists are not usually “ recognized combatants, ” in the sense that they are not attached to a government-sponsored military department. Unlike the military engaged in warfare, terrorists are not openly armed nor to they wear distinguishing uniforms.

Moreover, those engaged in warfare are bound by the rule of law contained in the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Times of War 1949 whereas terrorist conduct is direct violations of the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Times of War 1949. 

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