With terrorism dominating the world's agenda, the definitions of terror, terrorist, and terrorism assume a whole new importance. Many countries define terrorism, draw up terrorist profiles, and publish lists of terrorist organizations in the light of their own national interests. "Terrorist organizations" to some countries are freedom fighters to others. What one country sees as "terrorist nations," another welcomes as "loyal allies." Therefore, who defines terrorism? Who decides—and how do they decide—what a terrorist is? To establish a criterion, one can point out two distinct characteristics of terrorism:
1) Targeting civilians: Any occupied country has the right to resist an army occupying its territory. But if that resistance includes attacks on civilian targets, any justification ceases to apply, and terrorism begins. As we'll see later on in this book, this definition is entirely in accord with Islamic rules on war. The Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him peace) commanded his followers to do battle against those who declared war on them. But he also ordered them to never regard civilians as targets. On the contrary, every Muslim was ordered — and still obliged — to take great care to ensure the safety of non-combatants.
2) Destroying Peace: If no state of war exists, then terrorism can also include attacks on military or official targets. Attacks intended to break down peaceful relations between countries or communities are acts of terrorism, even when aimed at military targets.
All attacks that threaten peace, or that are aimed at civilian targets, even in a state of war, are terrorism. There can be no question of defending, approving or justifying such attacks. There can be no question of defending, approving or justifying such attacks. However, such violence is very widespread in the modern world. That's why any war on terrorism needs to be wide-ranging. Its every stage should be carefully planned, with its final aim the total eradication of the entire concept. That, in turn, requires individuals in every nation to totally distance themselves from terrorism. Every form of terrorism must be unequivocally condemned—whatever its causes or aims, no matter what its targets, where it arises, or how it is carried out. Similarly, anyone sincerely opposed to terrorism should show the same empathy for the thousands of innocent victims it has slaughtered—not only at the World Trade Center, but in attacks in Japan and Spain, in East Turkestan and Indonesia, in the massacre of more than half a million Hutus in Rwanda, in the murder of defenseless people in Palestine, Israel, and all across the globe. Once every form of terrorism is fiercely condemned, then no longer will its perpetrators receive support from any country, or be allowed to seek shelter inside its borders. Quite literally, terrorists will have nowhere to hide.