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The Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged (published in 1966) states that terrorism is “the systematic use of terror as a means of coercion <the opening stage of a well-planned campaign of political ~ --Heinz Eulan>” or “an atmosphere of threat or violence <study the effects on children of ~ in TV shows>.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's website FBI.gov states that international terrorism as defined by the 18 U.S.C. § 2331, pertain to the “following three characteristics:”
The activity must “involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law”. It must “appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence to policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping”. And it must “occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in the terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.”
Domestic terrorism on the other hand must “involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; appear to be intended (I) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence to policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”
Now, just to remove any prejudiced please note that neither definition says anything about race, religion, or ideology. No matter what your ethnicity, religion, or ideology (as ideology doesn't only pertain to religion) you have the same chance of being a terrorist as somebody in the Middle East (by definition). So if you are someone who believes someone must be a terrorist because they are a Muslim please just stop. That is an extremely terrible and racist way to label a terrorist.
By definition terrorism is, simply put, a way to influence a nation with fear while not going to war with said nation (though, as we can see now, war is a byproduct) Terrorism is used by political powers or large organizations to attain some political, religious, or ideological goal. In the case of modern terrorism the leaders of terrorist powers, such as ISIS, are rewording the Qur'an to their own purpose. Islam's holy book doesn't say “kill everyone who isn't Muslim.” In fact killing those who are not part of your religion works against what it does say. Under the Qur'an non-Muslims are lost or blinded. They follow false prophets and obey false holy books. It is the job of the “Muslim empire” to spread Islam to the lost faiths of the world. This involves taking over non-Muslim nations (or at the time empires). The non-Muslims that are incorporated into the empire must then pay a jizya tax for not being Muslim. This increases the empire treasury with money that would be lost if the non-believers were killed. The children of these Muslims are then allowed to serve as soldiers in the empires army to become half-Muslim (something along those lines). Then the children of the half-Muslims are supposed to become full fledged Muslims.
Anyway, I'm sure I got something wrong in there (I'm not Muslim) but that is the gist of what I learned about the Qur'an. Based on that, it is in Islam's best interest to absorb non-believers rather than killing them. So Islam is not terrorism. Extremest on the other hand are geniuses. These cruel people figured out how to use their fellow Muslims international feeling to bend them to their will. Nowhere in the Qur'an does it say “strap some bombs on yourself and blow up a crowd of people.” Extremist leaders in the 9/11 attacks using the preexisting feelings of Muslims and CIA training. America trained these people so they may be used to control the Middle East without large conflict. Unfortunately the American government has too many masks for its own good and these highly trained pawns became volatile weapons aimed at America. This led to 9/11, which gave the America government the reason it was looking for to to invade the Middle East. And we've been involved ever since then.
In the past few years more terrorist attacks have been orchestrated, such as Paris and Brussels. These, including 9/11 are terrible attacks and “cheap” war crimes, but are ingenious from a political/military point of view. Throughout history the main method of controlling another nation or colony was to invade the territory, topple its government, and set up a new puppet government. Terrorists have successfully gained control of nations all across the world with minimal loss of life (I'm looking at numbers here). In proportion to the total population of each nation 9/11, the Paris bombing, and the Brussels bombing claimed an insignificant amount of lives. Less than 10,000 each time in nations that have populations in the hundreds of millions. However these small attacks claimed the lives of noncombatants in their home territory. They were killed in a placer where they were supposed to be untouchable. And this is why terrorist attacks are ingenious. Through these attacks they instilled a lot of fear in there target nations, as well as nations around the world. This leads to governments incorporating more/new restrictions in security and sometimes restricting the rights of the nations citizens. The terrorists are able to influence our foreign policy, internal policy, and our ideology through numerous small attacks.
Then you get into the question of whether or not we are any better. It is estimated that over 4 million innocent Muslims have died in the war on terror. Most if not all of those deaths are the fault of American soldiers. I'm not blaming the soldiers here though. War is crazy and stressful. In World War 2 it was found that a large number of soldiers couldn't fire upon enemy troops. That number is probably considerably smaller due to Americas campaign of dehumanizing terrorists, but it is still hard to kill another human being. So the blame really falls upon who issues the orders. Who decides where to strike and when. The life of innocents falls on men and women who never even cross the ocean: the government. Now, I'm not trying to go all conspiracy theory on you, but it is the truth. Those in the government ultimately give the orders. They set the deadlines and provide ordinance. In fact they recently employed B-52 Stratofortress bombers to perform precision bomb strikes. Not a small jet that can carry a single bomb for precision one shot strikes faster than the speed of sound but a massive eight engine carpet bomber that is capable of carrying a massive nuclear warhead (not that they do, but they can). The bombs used in such craft would be extremely expensive and seems like overkill for a group of people who drive around repurposed pickup trucks. Whether we win or loose this war we ultimately loose it considering the cost of resources and the cost of life we've put into it compared to what they have.
Now, I am sorry if I have insulted anyone but I wanted people to know that organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda aren't/weren't the largest terrorist organizations in the world. The largest true terrorist organization in the world is our very own United States. We can still win the war on terror but we must extend the olive branch rather than the cluster of arrows. Focus on the improvement of humanity rather than war. We are quickly approaching our planets population limit (when measuring resources not land). Why not research terraforming and fusion technologies rather than a new gun that can kill more people with one shot.
If I have gotten any information wrong above feel free to correct me below in the comments, especially pertaining to the Qur'an. If you don't agree with my view point I'd be glad to hear you out and take your view into consideration. I've tried to use as much fact as I can to support my belief but as always the definition I provided is ultimately my opinion. Thanks for reading.