The term terrorism is capable of igniting fear in those around the globe based on numerous factors and ideas regarding its actual meaning. Hoffman carefully establishes the multiple uses of this term as well as the difficulties that have been found when attempting to format an effective universal definition. The chapter discusses the changes that have taken place in society as well as the cultural influences that come into play when a particular group or individual attempts to define the term. Religious influences as well as social norms and values are discussed in relation to defining terrorism as well as revolutions and social activist organizations. By discussing these variations of viewing the world, Hoffman also allows the reader to see the variations of viewing terrorism. What some may call terrorism, others may refer to as initiating a necessary change. Others may believe that terrorism is simply threatening violence and causing fear while others see terrorism as the actual act of violence. Therefore, the overall theme of the chapter involved the multiple ways that people view terrorism and how these views have made it challenging to find a universal definition for the term.
Many of the challenges that are involved in defining terrorism are related to the evolution of ideas and the advancements of technology. Hoffman explains that it used to be easier to define terrorism as the threat of violence was often realized and these actions were clearly a form of terrorism. However, in modern times, with the availability of the internet and more reliable transportation, fear can be a reality without ever initiating an act of violence. This then reverts the global leaders to defining terrorism based on the intent, but can also lead the definition to assume that a cause is an intention. This would also make many revolutions for social change such as the Civil Rights Movement definable under terrorism. Also, given the ability to organize without a distinct leader via social media, the terrorist groups are undefinable as the world leaders seek a hierarchical, pyramidal structure to define such a group. Therefore, the definitions that are provided by Hoffman towards the end of the chapter appear to be vague and open to a number of interpretations. Even though the attempt was made to solidify the definition, the author still leaves room to either declare a civil group as terrorists or overlook a potential terrorist organization based on the criteria of the definition.
With such vagueness in the definition of terrorism that was provided by Hoffman, there are still many questions left to be answered. For example, would a civil union or activist group not also be considered to be politically aimed and motivated? Who determines the perceived violence when the threats of violence are used to constitute terrorism? After all, different people have different fears. Furthermore, the idea that the definition of the organization can be so wide ranging poses the question as to how this will be applied should the group be pressing for a social change that is against the government’s idea of acceptability. This leaves the definition far too vague to be accepted universally. Finally, Hoffman claims that all terrorist acts involve either the threat or the act of violence, but this does not account for cyber terrorism in the face of modern technology. This critical area of terrorism must be taken into consideration when developing a universal definition for the term technology. As for Hoffman’s use of citations and references, I feel that the chapter would have been more effective with the use of government and law enforcement agencies’ definitions of terrorism as they evolved. Although there are a few mentions of the United Nations and other federal governments, it would be helpful to see the evolution and comparison within the various agencies.