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Primoratz’ Definition of Terrorism Essay

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Updated: Dec 20th, 2021


This paper looks at the definition Primoratz gives to the term “terrorism” in the article “what is terrorism”. It also points out weakness of the definition and suggests possible solutions to the weaknesses identified in the definition. His definition emphasizes on the negative views that the general public holds against terrorism and related activities.

Primoratzs’ definition of terrorism

Primoratz looks at terrorism as an act of threatening people with the intention of a forcing them to engage in activities that they could not do under normal circumstances (16). Carl Wellan gives a rather comprehensive definition, noting that terrorism includes all activities that cause extreme fear to the targeted group (Primoratz 17). He adds that even though this can be achieved in a peaceful manner, most cases of terrorism are accompanied by violence and destructions.

Primoratz argued that although terrorists strike with impartiality because of the large number of innocent civilians who fall victims of such acts, they usually plan well in advance so that the action does not became a liability to them. Terrorist execute attacks, with at least two targets in mind. The first target acts a sacrificial lamb to send a message to the second target that is always directly linked to the first target through ownership. The hit target is usually innocent the destruction caused usually provokes the guilt to take action. Primoratz suggests that the use of the non guilty group to provoke the guilty ones to respond to the terrorist demands is what defines terrorism (16).

Primoratz further argues that the innocent people who fall victim to terrorism are only as innocent according to the terrorists’ personal judgment of their grievances.They target innocent people who do not warrant such acts of violence but fall under their clutches. When a terrorist harm or even end the life of a person he certainly is aware that his subject is not guilty in anyway to his grievances, this is terrorism at its worst.

Some terrorist use shared accountability as their argument and justification their terrorism activities. This means that even though his target may be innocent, a mere fact that they belong to a certain group to which the terrorist is opposing qualify them to be targeted. There is never an innocent victim as far as this group of terrorist are concerned (Primoratz 19).

Both Primoratz and Walter Laqueur agree that some terrorist have used the killing of the innocent in order to create dread, accord them fame and hopefully weaken the authority of a state. However the act of terrorists being consciously selective in their target so that the guilty are spared from direct attacks and only harm the innocent is their bone of contention (Primoratz 19). Primoratz feels that the fact that the terrorists act of indiscriminating against the innocent and the guilty is morally wrong (20).

Problems and Solutions to his definition

This definition misses out an important aspect of terrorism. The definition does not comprehensively regard the fact that in many terrorism acts, the guilty always escape as the innocent fall victims. Terrorists have always targeted civilians in situations where they cannot access the target group. A clear example is the attempted assassination of president Pinochet Augusto in the 1986, in which his bodyguards were killed as escaped with minor harm. The assassin had no business with the presidents’ body guards; they instead wanted to kill the president himself.

A Claim that one can loose his or her immunity to terrorism by enlisting as soldier, the security service, or police is contradictory to his earlier claim that terrorist would rather pick on the civilians to drive their point home than target the security personnel. This would imply that the civilians loose their immunity when security forces are in the country. For instance the basic function of the police in a country or state is to ensure the security of its nationals.

The ideal solution to the definition would be to add more information to make it more comprehensive and sufficient. This can be achieved by acknowledging that terrorism is all the insinuated and actualized moves. The aspects of the terrorists’ intentional use of force on people to take up foreign ideas which they would rather not ascribe to under normal conditions would make the definition best suited to this term.

This is because there are numerous acts of terrorism both with violence or otherwise that occurs on daily basis both intended and unintended. The acts are always directed towards civilians all over the world for different reasons. Most terrorism acts have always been by the Muslim communities targeting the US over its international policies.


Terrorism brings about devastating effects and more so to innocent people and property. The motive behind terrorism acts is always ill intended and lacks moral support. It is illogical to target and destroy lives and property and claim to be revenging against a country or a person. World leaders need to device a means of solving problems that afflict their people in amicable ways and avoid violent acts against people and property.

Works Cited

Primoratz, Igor. “What is terrorism?” Journal of applied philosophy 7 :2 (1990):129-38.

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