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What is terrorism?
The New Arab
by Zohra El-Mokhtari
What is terrorism? French, Tunisian and international legislation has not provided a clear definition of the word, and the UN struggles to define a concept that has meant different things to different people. So how is it possible to fight something that is so vaguely defined?
Countries including France, Tunisia, Israel and the United States have often used the concept of "war on terror" without giving it much explanation.
On 9 January 2016, while paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack in the French supermarket Hypercacher, Prime Minister Emmanuel Valls repeated the phrases he had used in November 2015: "Those enemies who attack their co-citizens deserve no explanation. Because explaining would be the beginning of forgiveness."
More recently, after the attacks that took place in Aude (though no longer prime minister), he pleaded for "a ban on Salafism". Like other presidents and prime ministers across the world, the former head of the government wants to eradicate terrorism without ever providing an explanation or definition for what it is.
A changing definition
The word "terrorism" appeared in France during the 1789 Revolution. It referred to the Regime of Terror (September 1793 - July 1794) during which the republican movements, encouraged by Robespierre, opted to use violence. The aim was to "defend" the Republic against the enemies of the revolution.
This was the beginning of a period when the use of terror attacks for political purposes multiplied in France, notably against the last king of France Louis-Philippe I, which killed 18 and injured 22.
This shows that, paradoxically, terror contributed to the foundations of the Republic, even though the state itself is founded on the universal values of liberty and equality.
Later, terror attacks by colonisation supporters in France proved extremely deadly. Historian and far-right specialist Anne-Marie Duranton notes in her book Le Temps de l'OAS (At the time of the Secret Army Organisation [SAO]), that attacks attributed to the SAO tallied "12,299 explosions with plastic, 2,546 individual attacks and 510 collective attacks for a total of at least 2,200 deaths".