Using the language of war in combating terrorism has been dramatically increased in the recent period. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in particular, the Bush administration identified combating terrorism as a war, even a “global war.” Not only in the US, but also in other countries, the term “war on terrorism” had often been used instead of “combating terrorism,” to gain the public support so as to employ security forces and to mobilize people and other sources more effectively. In this way, war terminology has begun to be used more often today than the past. Yet there are radical differences between war and terrorism. In the same vein, combating a terrorist and combating an enemy during war are completely different from each other. If these distinctions are not recognized and are confused with each other, one may draw the wrong conclusions.
The most important drawback of using war terminology while fighting terrorism is the risk of legitimizing terrorism. War is something that occurs between states. If one refers to combating terrorist as “war,” it puts the terrorist organization on the same level as a state. Secondly, in the case that combating terrorism is reflected as a war, the victims of the terrorist attacks may think that the state does not separate the ordinary people from the terrorists, and aims to exploit and punish them as a main objective just because of their ethnic, religious, or other differences. This is absolutely what the terrorists want to achieve. The terrorist organizations constantly claim and try to prove that they are not ordinary criminal offenders, and their actions against state security forces are not criminal acts. If states use war terminology instead of criminal terminology in combating terrorism, they remove terrorists from a criminal context and redefine them as a political enemy.
The states make the mistake of confusing combating terrorism with war, not only in terminology but also in practice. If the state uses weapons such as artillery, tanks, or jets to combat terrorism, even if they do not use war terminology, these actions create a war image, per se.
In this regard, deployment of the army to combat terrorism paves the way for the same serious problem. Since the army is not an institution formed to combat terrorism, it can only be successful if it fights against another standing army as they are. The army has been formed on the idea of total warfare. In other words, the capacity of an army to distinguish between civil people and militants is very weak. Furthermore, the terrorists are embedded in society, which makes it very difficult to identify and separate them from the ordinary people, despite the army’s special efforts to do so. Taking the army’s ‘total warfare’ mentality into consideration, combating terrorists at the expense of damaging the whole society is a kind of self-destruction. This means that the terrorists achieved one of their main goals. The terrorists constantly irritate the state and the society like a mosquito: They plague one organ of the state and, when targeted, reappear in another one. If the state does not use the proper weapons, tools, and methods in combating terrorism, it begins to damage its political, economic, and social structure. To continue the metaphor, it is not possible to kill a mosquito by using cannons. It is necessary for the security forces to be as sensitive as a brain surgeon in order not to fall into the trap of terrorists.
The basic aims of terrorists are to anger the state, disrupt its internal balance, and to provoke a knee-jerk response. In sum, terrorists attempt to bring the state down to their level. In so doing, the distinction between the state and the terrorist organization starts to erode in the eyes of the public, and then the state and terrorist organization seem as equal actors. The most significant feature of a state is that it is a legal entity based on the rule of law. The terrorists try to undermine the abovementioned legitimacy of the state and its security forces. Most of the time, however, the states are not aware of this trap and concentrate on terrorists rather than terrorism. But, it is not possible to compete against terrorists in terms of bloodshed and savagery, since terrorists do not have any concerns such as legal responsibility, moral and ethic values, or any other principles; the state is fated to lose such a battle every single time, no matter the conditions. If the state starts such a competition with the terrorists, it will dramatically and unavoidably lose.
In conclusion, the states should not focus on terrorists but terrorism itself. Combating terrorism is not an ordinary war, and use of war terminology and methods may cause more dramatic results.