The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the United States marked a major era in the efforts to deal with terrorism. The Al Qaeda terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack that claimed many lives, caused injuries, and massive destruction of property. Over the recent past, terrorist activities have intensified in different parts of the world, including Nigeria, East Africa, Iraq, Syria, and Libya among others. The current terrorism wave is linked to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Taliban among others. While the concept of terrorism appears to be universally understood, the reality is that terrorism is a vague and subjective concept.
In the field of sociology, terrorism has had multiple definitions and conceptions. Different schools of though have emerged with regard to the concept of terrorism (Silke, 2008: 100). This has complicated the concept of terrorism further. As Jorgan notes,
“Any serious student of terrorism will quickly realize not only that the issue of definition is a major obstacle to conceptual development within the area, but that, nevertheless, the extent to which researchers embrace the perceived need to fully resolve the issue of definition reflects an inefficient use of time and energy” (2014: 31).
The statement above captures the reality of the ambiguity and subjectivity in understanding and defining terrorism. Different scholars will provide different definitions of terrorism based on their personal or social biases. Ultimately, we now have a plethora of definitions and conceptualizations of terrorism. Luckily, the plethora of research studies and scholarly work on terrorism provides broader insights that can help resolve the same problem that they cause, ambiguity.
However, for the purpose of this sociological critique of the psychology of