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...
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:
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”:
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 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!
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:
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":
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.
In order for us to achieve Global Campaign 2019, we need your assistance with the following:
References from Media
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.
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!
You can reach us through: