We read in newspapers and watch on TV many cases regarding students gunning down their classmates and teachers.

Suppose a student brought a gun to class, pointed it at his friends and teachers, and started terrorizing them. And then, later, gunned a few of them down. Why isn't this act called ‘terrorism’ and why isn't he called a ‘terrorist’? I have never seen the words terrorist or terrorism used to refer to these people or their acts in the media. Does the mass media knowingly omit these words due to sentimental reasons (considering the family of the murderer or something like that)? Or is it because it's inappropriate to use those words?

I've come to learn that the word terrorism is from the French, terrorisme, which is derived from the Latin verb terreō meaning “I frighten”. I believe then it is apt for the above mentioned situation. Does the word terrorism actually refer to an act committed by a group of people? And is that why the terms are not used in the above explained situation? I have also read the answers on Usage of "terrorist" in english.stackexchange.com. But they didn't clear my doubts.

Can anybody help me find the correct definition and usage of the words terrorism and terrorist? Especially on this point—does terrorism refer to an act performed by a group of people?

  • 1
    It's a question of means vs ends. Terrorists use violence, and the threat of violence, as a means to a broader end. In cases like Columbine, one of the saddest things is that the perpetrators seem to have no broader ends, the violence isn't a means for them; it's an end unto itself. This is evident in the structure of a terrorist organization vs lone wolves like James Holmes; terrorists are happy to send suicide bombers, though they will die, because the organization still has others to carry out its mission. Holmes effectively committed suicide, and his "mission" dies with him, forever. – Dan Bron Oct 17 '14 at 11:21

Terrorism: ( From The American Heritage Dict.) n.

  • The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

I think the difference is on the supposed motivations rather than on the fact that the criminal act is performed by a single person or a group. Plus terrorism is often an organised activity while the student action is probably considered something like a 'raptus' and a single activity without a proper organisation behind it.


Good question. Thoughtfull. Heres the answer; The word 'Terrorist' in dictionary means "A person who tries to frighten people or government into doing what he/she wants by using or threatening violence."

Here, the inclusion of the word 'government' clearly states that the question of terrorism arises only when there is a threat to national security.

Terrorist, not necessarily is a group of people, it can be a single individual as well, but the actions of a terrorist pose a direct threat to the government or the nation.

When a student does that it is a normal murder done because there is no government interests involved nor is there any nation insecurity intension when the student does it.

On the other hand, when a person affiliated with underworld hide outs, they have an intension of destroying the nation or part of it, or perhaps ruling over some area; which is certainly a very big threat to national security. Thus, called 'Terrorism'. Hope it helps.

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