Two days ago Abu Muqawama asked whether piracy is terrorism:
Are pirates a species of terrorist? In short, yes. The same definition of pirates as hostis humani generis could also be applied to international organized terrorism. Both crimes involve bands of brigands that divorce themselves from their nation-states and form extraterritorial enclaves; both aim at civilians; both involve acts of homicide and destruction, as the United Nations Convention on the High Seas stipulates, “for private ends.”
Here, meanwhile, is Bard O’Neill’s definition of terrorism:
[T]he threat or use of physical coercion, primarily against noncombatants, especially civilians, to create fear in order to achieve various political objectives.
If you can think of an alternate or better definition for terrorism, chime in. But I don’t think you’re going to find any reputable terror scholar who would say piracy is necessarily a form of terror. (Unless he or she is a ninja.) Just because the two groups have things in common — or that piracy could be used as a terror tactic — doesn’t mean piracy equals terror.
I really hate it when people throw the "terror" label around to serve their purposes. It confuses the public. If you want to make an argument that piracy should be outlawed under international law, great — knock yourself out. But don’t start confusing terms. . . .
That post generated a lot of comments arguing that yes, piracy is terrorism. There were some arguments that because piracy funds terrorism it is terrorism. That’s a lot like saying “I breathe when I sleep is the same as I sleep when I breathe.”
Let’s get something straight here: piracy is not terrorism. Recall what is the critical component of terrorism: knowledge of the act. Remember the old saying that “media is the oxygen of the terrorist.” If you don’t know an act was terrorism it isn’t and it’s simply an accident or a criminal act. Imagine if no one knew the Earth Liberation Front was behind the burning of a Hummer dealership (could have been regular ole’ arsonists) or mansions in the forest (electrical spark)?
Terrorism requires knowledge of the purpose lest no fear or concern is generated (besides mandating better fire prevention, for example). In contrast, piracy doesn’t benefit from increased knowledge of the act. Pirates would prefer what they do not become public knowledge lest navies get mobilized, shippers chart different courses, or become harder targets. Generating fear and awareness of who they are and of their activities is bad for business.
To be sure, piracy could be many things, depending on the perspective. American privateers sent against English shipping during the Revolution intended to cause fear in civilians, namely rich people involved in trade, and take the fight to the British homeland. That fear was manifested in higher insurance and pressure on the Crown to do something. The English (probably) called it terrorism be we would definitely classify it as insurgency, but the activities were in support of a political act (as well as providing financial support to several New England towns).
Lastly, piracy is already illegal. Read The Abolition of Privateering and the Declaration of Paris for a historical perspective (that’s directly related to mercenaries). For more interesting reads on the subject, see Ben Little’s books.