b – Définitions du terrorisme

L’étude des multiples définitions du terrorisme montre qu’il est impossible, justement, de trouver une définition en la matière. Et les débats sur la question prouvent par leur existence même toute la difficulté qu’il y a à s’entendre sur cette question: comme l’expliquait Raymond Aron à propos du terme ‘révolution’, les « querelles de mots, réduites à elles-mêmes, n’ont qu’une signification médiocre mais, bien souvent, la discussion sur le mot révèle le fond du débat ». Il en est de même pour la notion de ‘terrorisme’.

Quelques liens utiles pour les définitions générales

→ Sur le site de l’Association Internet pour la promotion des Droits de l’Homme.
→ Sur le site de l’Equipe de Recherche sur le Terrorisme et l’Antiterrorisme (travail très détaillé sur l’ensemble des définitions disponibles, sur les descripteurs et les classifications/typologies possibles, notamment travaux d’Elisabeth Campos)
→ Sur le site de Jacques Baud, TerrorWatch.
→ Un recueil de textes de François-Bernard Huyghes pour comprendre le terrorisme, et un essai sur les définitions du terrorisme.

A noter:

La définition de l’ONU reconnaît l’impossibilité de s’entendre sur une définition unanime, et l’explique ouvertement, adoptant au final la définition donnée en 1988 par l’expert A. Schmid (mais en spécifiant auparavant les 3 autres définitions qui peuvent également être utilisées):

« Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought »

William F. Shughart, « An Analytical History of Terrorism, 1945-2000« :

« As the literature on terrorism has evolved, the definition of the term progressively has been embellished. Contemporary scholarship attributes at least four distinctive characteristics to it. First and foremost, terrorism is violence (or its threat) for political effect (ibid., p. 15; Sandler 2005b). Second, terrorism is “a planned, calculated, and indeed systematic act” (Hoffman 1998, p. 15). Third, terrorists are not bound by established rules of warfare or codes of conduct (ibid., p. 35), and, fourth, terrorism is “designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target” (ibid., p. 43). »


Chez les économistes

Walter Enders et Todd Sandler, « After 9/11, Is All Different Now?« , Septembre 2004:

« Terrorism is the premeditated use or threat of use of violence by individuals or subnational groups to obtain a political or social objective through intimidation of a large audience beyond that of the immediate victims. Although definitions of terrorism have varied, violence and political motives are always key ingredients.1 By making attacks appear to be Terrorism is the premeditated use or threat of use of violence by individuals or subnational groups to obtain a political or social objective through intimidation of a large audience beyond that of the immediate victims. Although definitions of terrorism have varied, violence and political motives are always key ingredients. By making attacks appear to be random, terrorists intimidate a larger audience and enhance its anxiety. The targeted society must then expend large outlays to protect a wide range of vulnerabilities. Terrorists rely on numerous modes of attack that include hostage taking, bombings, suicide attacks, assassinations, armed attacks, and threats. Terrorism can be divided into two categories: domestic and transnational. Domestic terrorism begins and ends in the host country: the perpetrators and targets are homegrown. Moreover, domestic incidents have ramifications for only the host country. When, however, a terrorist incident in one country involves victims, targets, institutions, or citizens of another country, terrorism assumes a transnational character. The hijackings on 9/11 are transnational terrorist events for a number of reasons: the incidents were planned abroad; the terrorists came from outside of the United States; support came from abroad; victims were from over 80 countries; and the incidents had economic and security implications worldwide. The near-simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on 7 August 1998 as well as the two suicide car bombings aimed at British targets in Istanbul on 20 November 2003 are transnational terrorist incidents. »

Bruno S. Frey and Simon Luechinger, « Measuring Terrorism« , Octobre 2003 :

« There are virtually hundreds of definitions of terrorism, and there is no consensus of opinion as to which is the most relevant one (see e.g. Schmid and Jongman 1988, Badey 1998 and Hoffman 1998). We follow a pragmatic approach to determine what terrorism is. This allows us to interpret and integrate new phenomena, and provoke further thought on the matter. Moreover, any definition should depend on the issue to be analysed and therefore cannot be generalised.
For the purpose of measuring terrorism, the following elements are crucial: The perpetrators
(i) use force on civilians;
(ii) act in an unofficial capacity. They are, in particular, not part of the national army and do
not wear any national uniform;
(iii) want to achieve political goals;
(iv) aim to have far-reaching effects beyond the immediate victims, particularly through the media.
Why is it important to measure terrorism? The fundamental reason for the existence of the state is to overcome the brutish fight of everyone against everyone, because this represents a negative sum game strongly reducing the welfare of everyone. One of the basic elements of any constitutional consensus is therefore to give government the unique right to use force. All other actors in society must seek to achieve their goals by using peaceful means. Terrorists deliberately undermine this consensus by using force on other people. The government therefore has the task given by the constitution to deal with terrorism. »

Alan B. Krueger et Jitka Maleckova, « Education, Poverty, Political Violence and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?« , Mai 2002:

« There are a range of possible definitions. On the one hand, the U.S. State Department, which acknowledges that no single definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance, seems to capture what is considered terrorism by many governments and international organizations. Since 1983, the State Department has employed the following definition for statistical and analytical purposes: The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term ‘international terrorism’ means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.
The State Department also specifies that “the term noncombatant is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty. … We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site, such as bombings against U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf, Europe, or elsewhere.” The rub, of course, is that the definition of “subnational” and “military hostilities” leaves much latitude for disagreement.
On the other hand, definitions used by scholars tend to place more emphasis on the intention of terrorists to cause fear and terror among a target audience with the aim of persuasion that transcends the harm caused to the immediate victims. Scholarly definitions often also include nation states as potential perpetrators of terrorism. Rather than dogmatically adhere to one definition, we analyze involvement in, or support for, activities that, at least when judged by some parties, constitute terrorism. »

Daniel Mirza et Thierry Verdier, « Are lives a substitute to livelihoods – Terrorism, Security and US Bilateral Imports« , Décembre 2006:
Ils partent du principe que 3 éléments sont essentiels – et surtout récurrents – dans les définitions du terrorisme: a) l’acte terroriste est prémédité et motivé par des raisons politiques, b) l’acte terroriste a pour objectif d’intimider une audience bien plus large que celle représentée par les victimes directes de cet acte, c) l’acte terroriste est entrepris par des groupes n’ayant aucune reconnaissance en terme de souveraineté nationale.

Leur définition ne s’arrête pourtant pas là et intègre aussi la définition originale du terrorisme donnée par Omar Malik dans un petit ouvrage paru en 2000, Enough of the Definition of Terrorism (The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2000, 66p.). De ses propres mots, « Conflict is an immutable part of human nature and terrorism is its present method » – « Terrorism is now established as a method of violence against liberal states ». Il part du principe selon lequel le terrorisme n’atteint jamais ses objectifs, car, dès lors qu’il le fait, il cesse d’être du terrorisme. Ceux qui combattent pour la liberté de leur pays ne sont reconnus comme tels qu’à partir du moment où ils gagnent leur combat: les terroristes sont ceux qui perdent.
Voilà donc l’approche de Mirza et Verdier:

« We amend that definition* by two additional conditions to qualify an incident as ”transnational terrorism”. Focusing first on the term terrorism, we follow Omar Malik (2000) from the Royal Institute of International Affairs who claims that only those incidents that are perpetrated against or within liberal states should be qualified as terrorist attacks. A country is said to be liberal when it safeguards human rights in its laws and practices. Qualifying terrorism acts the rest of the incidents against non-liberal countries is usually more controversial. For some observers, these actions might be viewed as terrorism but for others, they might be rather qualified as acts of resistance against a totalitarian country. To avoid getting into the controversy, we decided to withdraw the corresponding observations from the dataset… (…) Second, Mickolus et al treat some incidents perpetrated by separatist groups like ETA in the basque country, IRA in Northern Ireland or FLNC in Corsica as transnationals, leaving the choice for the users of the dataset to decide whether or not to include them in the data. We define instead a terrorism incident as ”transnational” when it is directed by a group that emanates from an internationally recognized nation against or within an internationally recognized other nation and thus withdraw above observations from our study. For instance, when the ETA group from Spain perpetrates an incident in Spain, it shall not be considered as ’transnational’ and thus shall be withdrawn from the data at hand. However, when the same ETA group attacks a Spanish authority, one of its representations or Spanish civilians within another country, say France, then the observation is kept in the dataset. That is because that type of act has some implications for security measures on the Franco-Spanish borders. »

* Il s’agit de la définition utilisée par Mickolus, Sandler, Murdock and Flemming (2003) pour la base de données ITERATE (International Terrorism: Attributes of Terrorist Events), i.e. « the use, or threat of use, of anxiety-inducing, extra-normal violence for political purposes by any individual or group, whether acting for or in opposition to established governmental authority, when such action is intended to influence the attitudes and behavior of a target group wider than the immediate victims and when, through the nationality or foreign ties of its perpetrators, its location, the nature of its institutional or human victims, or the mechanics of its resolution, its ramifications transcend national boundaries”.


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