We have all heard the saying that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” The purpose of this saying is to remind us that it all depends on our perspective, on which side we agree with, whether we believe that a person is a terrorist or a freedom fighter. But, as students of foreign affairs, shouldn’t we be able to identify ways o differentiate terrorists and freedom fighters other than whose side they are on?
At what point does insurgency become terrorism? Or should we ask the question the other way around? At what point does terrorism become insurgency? “Insurgency” lends more credence and legitimacy to a groups actions than “terrorism” does. Both have a political goal, and they use violence as a means to work toward that goal. In our minds, we would like to think that insurgents only fight against the military forces of whatever regime they are rebelling against. Terrorists, on the other hand, are willing to use violence against civilians to make their points. Or is the difference more on the level of organization? Insurgents have a strategy and a plan to carry out that strategy, but terrorists lack organization and instead rely on operational whims?
Looking at ISIS as an example of terrorism vs. insurgency, we find that they have really muddied the waters between the two monikers. We call them a terrorist group, but they at least fit the organizational and strategic criteria to be considered an insurgency. So, is it really true that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter?” Does it all depend on perspective? Or are there still more way to differentiate that we should search for and use?