Jagz Marlo

What is terrorism?

After the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, which resulted in the death of three people and injured an estimated 264 others, US President Barack Obama said, “Anytime bombs are used to target civilians, it is an act of terrorism.”

What does it mean when we describe something as an act of “terrorism”, and why does it matter? Is terrorism defined by criminal action plus affiliation with some sort of group? How does terrorism affect human rights? Are international organizations doing anything to prevent terrorism?

For this concern, I have conducted live interviews of random people on the streets of Neubaugasse and Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna. I chose this specific area as it is very alternative and attracts lively crowds of people for shopping or gathering over coffee. I asked different questions such as: What is terrorism? Is terrorism related to certain religion or group? Is it a threat to human rights? How do you think the international community is responding to terrorism? I have chosen the following replies, as they reflect different views on the topic of terrorism from people on the street:

Anna, 25, an Austrian student, believes that terrorism is not related to any religion. “No religion would demand a person to fight the other,” she said. “However, people make changes according to their views to justify their own personal agendas related to religion. This could be religious, it could be political, or maybe it could be a bit of both. I also believe that oppression, anger and hate are the true causes of terrorism.”

Martin, 33, international student from Berlin living in Vienna thinks that “terrorism is a technique that a group uses to target civilians in order to create a culture of fear within the targeted population.” He strongly believes that such groups serve some plans created by certain movements. “Yes of course it is related to religion; people kill other people just because they think they do not follow their beliefs. Most religions are unable to tolerate the existence of another religion. Such people think you are either with us or against us. When you are against us then you are a threat to our beliefs and you deserved to be killed to save this world from you.”

As far as Human Rights are considered, the United Nations has been concerned about terrorism and human rights since the attacks of 11 Sept 2001 and the following acts of terrorism around the world. Since that date, combating terrorism has become more urgent and the United Nations has placed a priority on the question of protecting the right to life, which includes measures to prevent terrorism.

Nicholas, 43, an accountant, believes that human rights are threatened by terrorism. He thinks that if human rights, like the right to life or right to freedom of movement, for example, were taken away by acts of terrorism, then a society will end up in a regime that is built on slavery. “Terrorism takes away freedom,” he added.

Sabrina, 39, a lawyer said, “Yeah, terrorism is all over the world. I think it is something very dangerous and I hope it stays away. I am sure the United Nations is doing something. We do not want people to kill people around the world, because this might bring war to Europe”.

Combating terrorism is described by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a “global challenge,’ as terrorism does not have borders. Many countries have helped the United Nations through military or even through education as part of showing solidarity towards facing the threat of terrorism. Terrorism should be addressed in a multi-dimensional way starting from the root causes, whether they are political, social, and economic, besides the potential cultural aspect.

About Ghazal Ghraoui

Ghazal Ghraoui is currently enrolled in the University of Vienna's MA in Human Rights. She received her Bachelor degree from the University of Damascus, Syria and her Graduate Certificate from the University of Queensland, Australia. Her interest is in methods of combating international crime and terrorism. She recently completed an internship at the UNODC in the Terrorism Prevention Branch. She can be contacted at ghazalghraoui@gmail.com

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