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What Is a Terrorist Movement?

Most debates focus on what counts as terrorism, but there’s another increasingly important definitional challenge presented by a seemingly obvious, but in fact quite difficult, question.

Definitions are the bane of terrorism analysis, and most are plagued with gaps, ambiguities, and inconsistencies. Even close allies do not agree on definitions of terrorism and which groups should be labeled as dangerous. Often there is an “I know it when I see it” sense of what is good and bad, which in practice is little help for governments, financial institutions, social media companies, or others trying to stop violent extremists. Politics also heavily shapes definitions, with some ideologies such as Islamic extremism receiving far more attention than white supremacy, anti-government extremism, or traditional civil strife. The result is poor discourse, uneven enforcement, different rules in different countries, and a general cynicism that definitions are simply ways for the powerful to marginalize the powerless.

Most debates focus on what counts as terrorism, but there’s another increasingly important definitional challenge presented by a seemingly obvious, but in fact quite difficult, question: What is a terrorist movement? Being formally labeled a terrorist “group” or “organization” is often tied to penalties under law, deplatforming by technology companies, and the denial of financial services, among other punishments.

Read more at Lawfare

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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