Dalhousie Law Journal


International law, terrorism, problems of definition, government by intimidation, France, Revolution of 1789-1794


Any discussion of terrorism whether it affects the inlterests of a single country or those of more than one immediately involves problems of definition. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, terrorism is defined as "1. Government by intimidation as directed and carried out by the party in power in France during the Revolution of 1789-1794; the system of the 'Terror'; 2. A policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorizing or condition of being terrorized." The English statute passed in connection with the 'troubles' in Ireland - Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1978' - is only slightly more helpful, for it defines terrorism as "the use of violence for political ends and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear." The primary Dictionary definition reflects the political atmosphere of the time of its compilation and the views of those living in a democratic state, for in the nineteenth century the principal concern of libertarians was condemnation of authoritarian regimes and their denial of human dignity. As concerns terrorist acts by individuals acting on their own or on behalf of some political movement, the general tendency was to regard those who were seelcing to overthrow autocratic regimes as political heroes, and those whose targets were friendly or non-authoritarian governments as anarchists.