Is it possible to stamp out Terrorism?

Terrorism has claimed countless number of innocent lives and have impacted on economies across the globe. Many nations have grappled with terrorism for decades without truly understanding what keeps fuelling it. And the frequency of such terrorist attacks has significantly increased over the last decade1. It is more important now than ever for us to understand what drives terrorism and what we can do to stamp it out!

We believe the first step in tackling terrorism is understanding the issues in categorising this heinous crime under the label of “terrorism”. Currently as it stands, there is no internationally accepted definition of “terrorism”. The UN has been attempting to define “terrorism” for over two decades now, but is yet to reach consensus on the definition. The primary disagreement seems to be in distinguishing terrorism from legitimate liberation movements. In 2010, the Head of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate had said “nations are hampered by an inability to define and criminalise terrorism”2. Unfortunately, this remains an issue today!

What is it about the word “Terrorism”?

The definition of the term “terrorism” is highly subjective depending on the political party or ideological group that is defining it. The well-known slogan "One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” highlights the subjectiveness of the term. From an international criminal law perspective, Dr Ben Saul (professor of international law at the University of Sydney), has noted that the term “currently lacks the precision, objectivity and certainty demanded by legal discourse”3. The political connotations of the term also make it difficult for it to be admitted into international law.

Furthermore, criminal law needs to be able to clearly express condemnation of the crime and to stigmatise the perpetrators. But does the label “terrorism” have sufficient capacity to stigmatise the crime? From the perspective of the terrorist organisation and their sympathisers, the term “terrorism” is synonymous with terms such as “freedom fighters” or “jihadists”. This together with the conflicting and subjective definitions around the term “terrorism”, one can conclude that the term would be ineffective in stigmatising the crime. This is in stark contrast to the clear stigmatisation that is associated with other crime labels such as rape, child molestation, murder, manslaughter…etc.

Instead of stigmatising the crime, many believe the term “terrorism” in fact glorifies the crime! Osama Bin Laden has said “The terrorism we practice is of the most commendable kind for it is directed at tyrants…”. ISIS have openly created online resources that encourage “terrorism” - proudly using that same term. It seems the term in itself has now become part of the propaganda of terrorist organisations!

It is clear that what is needed is a better term that can be used to objectively categorise this horrendous crime without any political bias, and without any doubt in terms of its capacity to stigmatise the crime...

“Cowardism” and “Cowardist” - Newest Words in our Vocabulary

What is the true nature of the crime which we currently refer to as “terrorism”? Is it not the cowardly act of killing/injuring innocent and unarmed civilians – including children? Let's take a closer look at the meaning behind the word “cowardly”. The English Oxford dictionary defines “cowardly” as:

adjective. 1. Lacking courage. 2 (of an action) carried out against a person who is unable to retaliate. “a cowardly attack on a helpless victim”

Based on that definition, we propose the introduction of 2 new words into our vocabulary which we believe are better alternatives to “terrorism” and “terrorist”:

noun. Violent action carried out through cowardly attacks targeting unarmed civilians as means of coercion.
noun. A person that carries out a cowardly attack that is targeting unarmed civilians as means of coercion.

Note 1: The term “cowardly” is used here to signify that it is a deliberate attack on unarmed civilians or non-combatants – those who are unable to retaliate or defend themselves. It is also “cowardly” in the sense that the perpetrator is avoiding direct engagement with the military and choosing to attack soft targets instead.

Note 2: The term “cowardly” is referencing from the point of view of an observer/witness of the crime, not the point of view of the perpetrator. That is, whether the perpetrator internally believes he/she is cowardly or courageous has no bearing at all on this definition. But from an observer's perspective, there should be no doubt of the cowardly nature of the attack given that unarmed civilians are the victims of the attack.

Note 3: This definition doesn't stipulate any particular type of “coercion”. That is, it applies for all types of coercion whether it be political, religious, ideological driven, self-determination driven...etc. Any cowardly attack to kill or maim civilians is to be regarded as unjustified no matter what the cause. If a self-determination, rebellion or a revolutionary movement has to resort to cowardism, that movement should then be deemed to be in violation of international human rights!

Terrorism to be referred to as "Cowardism"
Terrorists are to be referred to as "Cowardists"

Terrorism expert Walter Laqueur believes the term “terrorism” needs to be replaced: “The term terrorism has come to encompass such wide varieties of violent acts that it should be replaced by another term”4. Not only is it a disputed term, it also does not have the capacity to sufficiently stigmatise the crime or to express the public's disgust of the cowardly attack on unarmed civilians. In fact, we’d argue that it glorifies the crime!

Horrific burns suffered by child victims of the cowardist attack in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 21st of April

We are advocating the use of the term “Cowardism” to be used instead of “Terrorism” – In fact, we believe that it is not possible for us to win the war against terrorism until we do so! Clear arguments in favour of this change:

  • The term “cowardism” has significantly more capacity to stigmatise the crime than the disputed term “terrorism”.
  • The term “cowardism” is not subjective and not open for interpretation. It simply represents an attack that targets unarmed civilians as means of coercion. It doesn’t attempt to qualify the reasons behind the coercion and doesn’t discriminate on whether the perpetrator is a state or non-state actor.
  • The term “cowardism” will clearly convey the public’s disgust and condemnation of this crime. Even if terrorist organisations refer to these attacks by other names such as “martyrdom operations” or "jihad", the strong symbolism associated with the term “cowardist” (when wielded by the public and media) will always have overarching influence in shaming the perpetrator
  • The term “cowardism” will evoke a rational response to the crime, whereas "terrorism" tends to evoke fear and panic - which can often turn into prejudice against minorities.
  • The UN has been unable to define this heinous act using the term “terrorism” after more than 20 years of negotiations! But the global community is now demanding a solution – we cannot afford to waste another 20 years arguing on semantics!

Global Campaign 2019

Given words such as “terrorism” and “terrorists” are so widely used, is it possible for us to bring about a change in our vocabulary to use words that are more befitting of the crime - “cowardism” and “cowardists”? To do this, we will need a change of perspective at a global scale! We believe this can be done with your help!

Here are our ambitious goals which we hope to achieve in 2019 - "Global Campaign 2019":

  • 1. Petition the UN to abandon its futile exercise in attempting to define “terrorism” and to use the term “cowardism” instead to label this heinous crime. More information regarding this will be posted on this website shortly...
  • 2. Drive the use of new words “cowardism” and “cowardist” through social media - to get people talking about these new words, using them in conversation, and openly discussing why we need this change in vocabulary...etc.

We understand that there is a long road ahead of us. But this is currently the only solution that we know of that can tackle terrorism at a global scale! The premise behind it is quite simple - just a change in our vernacular - something that we can all contribute towards!

How would the term "Cowardism" lead to the beginning of the end to Terrorism?

It is well known that terrorists seek publicity through their acts of violence5. Coincidentally, a symbiotic relationship can often be observed between media and terrorist organisations6. As Prof Taha Najem has pointed out "The broader and more prolonged the media coverage of terrorism turns out to be, the greater the terrorists' feelings of accomplishment, influence, and power".

We believe the use of the term “cowardism” will break this symbiotic relationship while still enabling the media and journalists to continue their important work of reporting the crime. We can guarantee a newspaper that reports on a terrorist attack as a “cowardist attack” will not be used as a recruitment poster by these terrorist organisations! Once media starts to use terms such as “cowardism”, “cowardist attack” or “cowardist bomber” at a global scale, the terrorist organisations will find it harder and harder to find inspiration for these attacks!

Once both criminal law and the media adopts the term "cowardism", we believe it will lead to the beginning of the end to "terrorism" as we know it! Cowardist organisations will see benefit in abandoning their cowardly tactics and to seek resolution through legitimate political engagement.

How You Can Help

In order for us to achieve Global Campaign 2019, we need your assistance with the following:

  • Please share a link to our webpage through social media (eg Facebook, Twitter, Linked In... etc):
  • Please start to use the above vocabulary change in all your social media posts and personal interactions. Use one of the following hashtags whenever possible: #cowardism #cowardist #GlobalCampaign2019
  • Here are some of the examples of vocabulary changes we’re hoping to see used in social media and in our common spoken language:
    • “terrorist” to be only referred to as “cowardist”
    • “suicide bomber” to be only referred to as “cowardist bomber”
    • “terrorism” to be only referred to as “cowardism”
    • “terrorist organisations” to be only referred to as “cowardist organisations”
  • If a language other than English is your primary language, please let us know how you’d translate “cowardism” to your language. We are currently maintaining a list of possible translations in several languages. We will shortly be publishing these translations.

Global Campaign 2019 Statistics

Known statistics as of 8th of June


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Frequently Asked Questions

We believe using the correct vocabulary is the first step in addressing the global scourge that is cowardism. As per the saying "pen is mightier than the sword", we can use our words to combat cowardism at a global scale. We believe referring to the crime without any glorification of the crime is paramount if we are to break the vicious cycle that terrorism creates (eg one terrorist attack inspiring others to commit similar terrorist attacks). When such attacks are referred to as a "cowardist attack", it is obvious that it there will be minimal chance of it being a source of inspiration.

Yes, when we first came up with the new words, it was difficult for us to use them initially too. This is because the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" are so deeply ingrained in our minds after constant exposure through the media. It will get a lot easier once the media also start using the correct vocabulary. In the meantime, try saying out loud the word "cowardism" three or four times. This will help to instil it in our minds.

Yes, we are looking at how this can be done. Being a non-profit organisation, we are hoping someone can volunteer their time to provide us with the translations. If so, please contact us through email: [email protected]

It's great that you are taking the initiative in driving this further. We need this to be a global movement - please reach out to your overseas friends too. Through social media and other means, pls ask them to share it with their friends. Please also write to local media broadcasters (eg radio, TV, newspapers...etc) and ask them to discuss whether it is possible to run a media segment to introduce the public to the new words and to openly discuss it.

Setting up an online forum is something we are planning on doing... However, not in the short term. At the moment we are encouraging everyone to discuss the new words through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

As we are a non-profit organisation, we are unable to allocate any funds for any media advertising. However, we will be advocating the use of these new words through social media and through a petition to the UN. We seek your assistance in the use of these new words within your network of friends, relatives and colleagues. It needs to be a global scale solution and we all need to contribute if we are to succeed.


About Us

We are a non-profit organisation that was established on 24th of April 2019 - just couple of days after Sri Lanka was cowardly attacked on Easter Sunday. We are Sri Lankans but we are also citizens of the world - we dream of the day when the world has stamped out the scourge that is cowardism! We believe this is within everyone's reach - and within our generation!

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