Iheb Achek: Researcher in political science and international relations, interested in African political and social affairs


The concept of terrorism has dominated international relations since the late twentieth century and has become the main determinant of it at the beginning of the 21st century. The events of 9/11 are among the most important determinants of international politics during the current century, and whoever controls all of this is the United States of America, which is marketing itself internationally as the biggest enemy and a fighter against terrorism. and his biggest victim.  The American definition of terrorism caused the invasion of many countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq with the displacement of millions and the killing of thousands. American political decision-makers are formulating the concept of terrorism according to their strategic goals with the influence of thinkers and with the cooperation of the press and the media to create a local and international public opinion that adopts the same concept.

Keywords: Terrorism concept, 11/9 events, Media, Thinkers, Black list.


The concept of terrorism is very flexible and there is no clear definition of it. It is a concept with historical roots going back to Roman times, but it crystallized with the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century with the massacres committed by Robes-Pierre. However, the actual dominance of this concept on international relations emerged during the Cold War in the American discourse and became the main actor and determinant of international relations with the events of September 11.

The concept of terrorism is considered one of the most prominent concepts that dominate and control politics and international relations since the beginning of the twenty-first century.

It is also an intellectual and theoretical subject that contains a set of values, ideas, beliefs, and ideologies that define the act and classify it as a crime or terrorism.

This concept is of great interest to scholars and experts on 9/11 and in light of previous writings that predicted the emergence of ideological and ideological currents that would shape a world order based on a culture clash, most notably Huntington’s book. “The Clash of Civilizations” and the theories of the orientalist Bernard Lewis, who has long talked about a clash between the West and the world. Even after the events of 9/11, Islam stated that Osama bin Laden made him a messenger for the truth of his predictions about this conflict.

Even the American media and press play an important role in formulating and marketing this concept in American society to create a public opinion that is consistent with the concept formulated about terrorism.

The United States of America is considered the leader in the war on terrorism over the world, and its control over international organizations and its dominance over the world, in general, makes it the determinant of this concept, by obligating all parties to adopt their position on the groups they classify as terrorist organizations.

Therefore, in this article, we will try to understand how this concept is made within American circles and the parties involved in its formulation, and how America embodies this on the ground, and Lewis raised this issue in his article entitled “The Crisis of Islam” to turn after a year into a book with the same title, and it was a reference for American decision-makers in their war on terrorism.

?How did the United States use the concept of terrorism to serve its agenda

?What is the concept of terrorism language and idiomatically

?Paradigm shifts terrorism in the American perspective

?How did the events of September 11th contribute to transforming the concept of terrorism for the USA

?What were the US standards in dealing with terrorist organizations

During this research, we will use the historical approach and the descriptive-analytical method

:Conceptual problem

There are many definitions of terrorism as the Oxford Dictionary defines it as the “unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”.([1])

In the French dictionary Le Petit Robert: “all the acts of violence (individual or collective attacks, destruction) that a political organization carries out to impress the population and create a climate of insecurity”. ([2])

The Arabic dictionaries agree in their definition of terrorism with the rest of the other dictionaries, where terrorism is defined as At Kayali: where the use of illegal violence or threats in its various forms such as assassination, mutilation, torture, vandalism, and bombing, to achieve a specific political goal”. ([3])

Because of these differences on the issue, the United Nations has not yet succeeded in giving a specific definition of terrorism ([4]), and the countries of the world have not agreed on a common mechanism for classifying terrorist groups.

As for the American conceptual definition of terrorism, which is the subject of our study “as politically motivated and organized violence perpetrated against hostile targets by subnational groups or secret agencies”. ([5])

Terrorism is not limited to groups or organizations only, but even states practice a type or form of terrorism, by adopting groups or financing them, or even against their people.

So in terms of the linguistic definition of terrorism, we notice a complete consensus among almost all Western and Arabic dictionaries, but when we move to the conceptual and practical level, we will find a great difference that governs many factors.

Conceptually, there is no agreement in the definition of terrorism, in that the views about it between states are influenced by national and national interests and political calculations.

It is determined according to the political criteria and the developments, changes, revolutions and other developments it is witnessing.

 The beginning of the concept of terrorism in the United States of America

The United States of America first used the term terrorism during the Cold War, specifically in the era of “Donald Reagan following a bombing attack carried out by North Korea in Myanmar in 1983, it targeted the South Korean Prime Minister during his visit to Burma. As a result of this operation, 21 people died, and the Korean Prime Minister survived it. Burmese police investigations stated that the perpetrators of the operations were officers in the Korean army”. ([6])

Reagan commented on the incident as being part of global terrorism and that its perpetrators were terrorists from the North Korean government.

In the same month, nearly two weeks later, “a group of buildings belonging to the US Marines was blown up in Beirut, and America accused Syria and Iran of standing behind them and demanded that the Ministry of Defense expand the concept of terrorism more to include countries”. ([7])

Reagan completed the description of terrorism according to the American perspective in 1985 when he named the so-called confederates sponsoring terrorism in his speech as follows: “(Libya, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Nicaragua, South Yemen), these countries are international killing companies that are united by their hostility and hatred of the United States of America.” ([8])

The American press played an important role during this stage, “as it did not transfer the discussions of the United Nations General Assembly on terrorism to the American public opinion, as the United States refused to define the concept of state terrorism during the deliberations of the General Assembly”. ([9])

Even in the sixties and seventies, “American experts and analysts presented many documents to Congress showing that many groups and countries allied with America in Central America and Asia were practicing terrorist acts”, ([10]) but this was overlooked because it did not conform to the directions and strategies of the United States.

Even America was not spared itself from being defined by member states of the United Nations as a terrorist state because of its actions in the eighties in Nicaragua, Libya, and Cuba and its support for Afghan fighters, Israeli crimes, and the Contras in Nicaragua, but the American press did not transfer all this to public opinion and it was kept secret, making it one of the most important contributors to the formulation of the concept of terrorism.

Here we can extract the concept of state terrorism according to Reagan, which he described as hostility and hatred for America, to make it clear to us that the concept is that America classifies everyone who opposes its policy as terrorism, as the whole of the countries mentioned by Reagan, It is hostile to the American project and countries with a leftist background, most of which were, during that era, following the eastern camp of the Soviet Union.

Also, one of the contradictions made by the United States of America is to support a country that is considered a sponsor of terrorism, which is Iran, in its war against Iraq, with an arms deal in the so-called Iran Contra-Gate, despite the laws that America legislated in preventing the sale of arms to Iran.

It also included national liberation organizations and revolutionary personalities such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and one of the most important revolutionary symbols during that period called for the liberation of peoples from American imperialism, Ernesto Guevara.

Therefore, the concept of terrorism in America during the Cold War period was directed against the countries that were within the eastern camp and the communist regimes. This confirms that the concept from the American perspective is subject to American political interests.

World Trade Center and Congress events

The attack of September 11, 2001, turned into an important turning point in politics and international relations due to the development of the concept of terrorism. The strike contributed to a qualitative transfer in many fields, either the military industry or technology, especially in the field of espionage and violation of privacy for citizens all over the world.

After this blow, and others that preceded it in the late nineties, carried out by the organization “that was founded in 1997 in the mountains of Afghanistan by a Saudi billionaire under the name of the Global Front to Fight Jews and Christians, and then it became called Al-Qaeda”, ([11]) led by Osama bin Laden and tow Egyptians Abu Hamza Al Mesri and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and its goal was to strike the interests of the USA.

“This organization has inflicted many strikes on the Americans in the Middle East and Africa”,  ([12])but the most important strikes that were directed against America were the September 11 bombings that targeted the World Trade Center and the Congress building.

After this strike, George Bush Jr., the President of the United States, announced what he called the war on terrorism, and a new list was drawn up of states sponsoring terrorism and terrorist organizations, but this time the list turned to countries with an Islamic background and put the so-called blacklist, as it included “Iraq, Syria, Sudan, the Philippines, Libya, and North Korea and Cuba.” ([13])

The concept of terrorism in the United States of America shifted from leftist movements to Islamic movements, but the American regulations for terrorism included many leftist organizations, as more than 20 revolutionary organizations around the world supported the September 11 attacks and considered them a blow to American capitalism.

Under the leadership of Bush, the United States was able to garner international and domestic support in its war on terrorism under the concept that it developed about it.

Among the most important determinants of terrorism concept in the Bush administration is the orientalist Bernard lewis. As he stated after the September attacks Ibn Laden made me famous. ([14]).

After the events of 9/11, the writings of Huntington and Bernard lewis were transformed into neo-conservative constitutions, these theories warm the danger of the East to the West of a close clash between them, especially the danger of the Islamic world and China, according to Huntington. ([15])

As for Lewis, Islam is the greatest threat to the world and western values, therefore, Lewis calls for fighting the Islamic World since the eighties, and after the events of September 11, he became the most important architect of the war on terrorism within the Bush administration and the owner of the idea of invading Iraq.

Iraq was invaded in 2003, under the pretext that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction and that it is one of the largest state sponsors of terrorism in the world.

However, this invasion contributed to the creation of the fourth generation of jihadist groups and created more excuses for America to expand the concept of terrorism and its war on terrorism. Al-Qaeda was born in Mesopotamia, which in turn later spawned the Islamic State.

American double standards

The United States of America supported the waves of the Arab Spring at its inception, but the events of the burning of American embassies in Tunisia and Yemen and the assassination of the American consul in Benghazi in Libya in 2012([16]), such a defining moment in the history of the Arab spring, where the Obama administration adopted a position hostile to the Arab spring countries, considering as a breeding ground for the terrorist group.

This wave also produced the fourth generation of jihadist groups, represented by the so-called Islamic State, it is a generation more bloody and violent than its predecessors Al-Qaeda and other groups.  The waves of the Arab Spring coincided with the rise of Islamic currents and their dominance on the political scene in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and, to a lesser extent, Egypt.

But the rise of Islamic currents rejecting political action has become annoying to both America and even European countries with interests in North Africa (France), and Al-Qaeda has been able to actively operate freely in the Arab Spring countries under a new name, “Ansar al-Sharia”, especially in Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen.

This opportunity enabled al-Qaeda in the Maghreb to intensify its activities and succeeded in forming an entity for it in 2012 called the Emirate of Mali, as it was dominant in the eastern region of Libya. As for Yemen, the organization managed to seize several provinces in the south of the country.

In Tunisia, the situation was a little different. The organization was not armed, but for example, it was a reservoir to attract and recruit fighters and send them to conflict areas, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Mali.

Although these groups, especially in Libya and Tunisia, have struck US interests since 2012, the American classification of them as terrorist groups came years late in 2014, while the organization was classified in Yemen as a terrorist organization in October 2012. ([17])

This is explained by American interests not by standards, in American interests more in the Arabian Sea and the Arabian Peninsula than its interests in North Africa, so it left the fight against the Emirate of Mali to France ([18]), which explains how it deals with terrorism.

Because of these groups, America returned to the Arab Spring and contributed to its demise, after the return of counter-revolutions in Tunisia and Libya and the military coup in Egypt with the support of its Arab allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

As for ISIS, during America’s war on alliances with terrorist organizations listed as an international terrorist in this war, it provided support and training to groups such as the “Popular Mobilization” branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Iraq Guards and Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq through armament and air cover, which angered Many countries are allied in the region with the United States of America, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Even the number one man in the fight against ISIS in the region, Qassem Soleimani, who was traveling from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, was under US air protection and special military support in Iraq, despite his name being on the US terrorism list. ([19])

In November 2017, Qassem Soleimani announced the end of the war with ISIS, but he was killed only three years later in Baghdad by a drone under the direct order of Trump([20]), and it comes within the framework of the United States closeness to the princes of Saudi Arabia.

This was done during the time of Trump, who was known for his hostility with Iran and his closeness to the rulers of the Gulf, to the extent that he classified many other groups affiliated with Iran in the region as terrorists, such as the “Ansar Allah al-Houthi” ([21]) group in Iran. Their orientation calling for rapprochement with Iran confirms the double standards of the USA in their classification of groups and the formulation of the term itself according to their strategic interests.

So, the classification of “terrorists” in the Arab and Islamic worlds is not based on a minimum level of objectivity, and aims to secure American interests in the region, foremost of which are protecting oil sources and supplies, ensuring Isreal’s security and supremacy, and maintaining the legitimacy of dictatorial regimes. Thus, all Palestinian, Arab and Islamic resistance movements, regardless of their ideologies against the Zionist settlement, are placed on the lists of “terror”, and all groups that threaten the oil-authoritarian regimes face the same stigmatization and labeling of terrorism.

However, the fingers of accusation are also directed at the American administration for creating terrorist groups to implement their projects in the middle east and disrupting revolutions and transformations in the region.


From the perspective of the United States of America, the term terrorism is a variable and unstable term, as it is formulated according to the directions of the state, and the overlapping parties in its formulation, such as the press and media, adhere to the policies and directions of the American administration, and the Orientalists such as Huntington and Bernard Lewis had a basic and main role in formulating the concept during the century 21.

In addition, the United States uses the term “states sponsor of terrorism” against political entities that oppose American trends, and the identity of the terrorist is linked to naming strategies and not the nature of the act. Within a rhetorical context determined by national interests.  So identified with these ideological and political uses of the term terrorism are imperial and authoritarian regimes, as states have long attributed the label “terrorist” to their opponents to delegitimize them.

There is a duality of the United States of America in a shift from hostility to an alliance with terrorist groups according to its strategic interests. Therefore, the USA does not develop a clear concept of terrorism but rather leaves it identifiable according to what is planned by its political decision-makers and what is consistent with its international partners


  1. Remi Burlin, Constructing ‘Terrorism’: Contradictory Discourses of the Reagan Years :

  1. United Nations Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism annex to UN General Assembly resolution 49/60, “Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism”, of December 9, 1994.

UN Doc. A/Res/60/49

  1. Abdelwahab Kayyali. (1990), Encyclopedia of Politics. (C 1), Beirut: The Arab Foundation for Studies and Publishing: 153.
  2. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2010). Oxford University Press, 8 the edition.
  3. Le petit Robert Dictionnaire De La Langue Français (1993), Paris.

6- Steve, Nocella. (2004). « Defining Terrorism ». Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy journal. V2 (No1.

7- State Departement, Country Reports on Terrorism, code, section 2656f, link:

8 An article in Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, dated February 23, 1998, the text of the statement of the Global Front for the Jihad of the Jews and Christians, link:

9- US. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, link:

10- Achek Iheb, Turkey in the clash of civilizations and reshaping the world order, SassaPost, link:

11-   Arefi armin, Libye: pourquoi l’ambassadeur américain a été assassiné, Le Point, link :


12- Riché Pascal, Pourquoi la France entre en guerre au Mali, L’OBS avec Rue89,  link :

13- United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747, link:

14- BBC News, Qasem Soleimani: the US kills top Iranian general in Baghdad air strike, link:

15-   ALJAZEERA, Rights groups warn Biden against re-blacklisting Yemen’s Houthis, link:


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