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Neha Chauhan asked: What is the difference between a terrorist, a militant and a radical?

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  • Adil Rasheed replies: The words terrorist, militant and radical are not identical in meaning and should not be used interchangeably. Although there may not be consensus over a common definition, there is a great deal of consensus over the conceptual and essential constituents of the term.

    According to India’s The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, a terrorist refers to

    “Whoever does any act with intent to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security, [economic security,] or sovereignty of India or with intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country”.

    Writing for Encyclopaedia Britannica, John Philip Jenkins calls terrorism “the calculated use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” According to the US Federal Bureau of Invetigation (FBI), terrorism refers to “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”

    On the other hand, a ‘militant’ is a more generic term used to describe any person who resorts to violent methods in support of a political or social cause, irrespective of whether those violent methods seek to create a climate of terror or fear in the general population or among adversaries for achieving desired political objectives.

    When it comes to radicals, the Oxford Dictionary presents them as people “in favour of extreme and complete political or social change”. The etymological origin of the word ‘radical’ lies in the Latin word ‘radix’, which means ‘the root’. In the domain of politics and international relations, radicals refer to those groups of people who seek to bring deep-rooted and fundamental changes to the existing socio-political institutions and system. Thus, radicals wish to bring about a new socio-political order by uprooting the existing one, either by violent means (by resorting to militancy or terrorism) or even through non-violent propagation of their ideas, i.e. through propaganda, peaceful protests or other forms of public relation campaigns.

    Posted on December 22, 2023

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.