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Pinning down the true definition of terrorism

students studying at UEL

A University of East London (UEL) academic has published a new book analysing the definition of terrorism – the first book-length treatment of its kind.

Anthony Richards’ book, Conceptualising Terrorism, explores various terms and definitions relating to terrorism in a post 9/11 world.

Speaking at the launch at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Whitehall, Dr Richards, Reader in Terrorism Studies at UEL’s School of Business and Law, explained his motivation for writing the book.

“One of the main reasons is that since 9/11 there seemed to me to be an ever more urgent need to try and pin down the meaning of terrorism, and to explore its potential as an analytical concept,” said Dr Richards.

“There seems to have been plenty of interest in using the term ‘terrorism’ in public and political discourse but very few serious attempts to determine what is meant by the concept and what its parameters are, despite the otherwise voluminous literature on terrorism since 2001.”

In writing the book, a project that was seven years in the making, the most significant challenge for Dr Richards was the hugely contested nature of the term ‘terrorism’.

“The debate as to what constitutes terrorism, and what does not, is a very controversial and complex one,” said Dr Richards.

In a global context, Dr Richards maintains that the term is often applied selectively according to where one’s interests lie, and there is a real need to instil some analytical quality into the concept of terrorism.

This is important not only to prevent the term being manipulated to justify all types of counter-terrorism responses, but for policymaking and academia too.

Dr Richards said, “We need to strengthen the theoretical foundation of terrorism studies, for all other terrorism-related theories rest on what one means by terrorism in the first place.”

Dr Richards’ book drew praise from Lord Carlile of Berriew, the former Independent Reviewer of UK Terrorism Legislation and a guest speaker at the launch.

“We live in a world where terrorist events have become a daily norm,” said Lord Carlile.

 “Anthony’s purpose-based conception of terrorism should become a central part of a long overdue and universally agreed definition.”