LATELY, the use of the words militants and terrorists has become very common and people are sometimes confused as to whether an act of violence has been committed by terrorists or militants.
In Malaysia, the two words are often used interchangeably whereas in strict media practice and proper nomenclature, there is a difference between the two.
It was reported that one foreign media had warned their employees to be extra careful on the terms extremist, militant and terrorist in their news coverage to avoid characterising people.
It is good for our local media to follow these footsteps and avoid using wrong words which can be very sensitive and inappropriate.
In this regard, naturally those who are familiar with the subject of “Organised Crime and Terrorism” would able be to differentiate between the two terms.
Militants and terrorists both have their own agendas and mostly, these agendas have political, religious or ideological goals. The difference lies in the means with which they seek to achieve their desired goals.
Either way it is clear that usually both the terrorists and militants are extremists (in the sense of holding a view at the extreme end of a spectrum on a particular subject matter) who indulge in unlawful activities and therefore become a threat to the nation.
Some of the differences between militants and terrorists are:
- All terrorists are militants, but not all militants are terrorists;
- Terrorism is carried out by non-governmental groups that do not wear uniforms. However, members of militants usually wear uniforms, identifying insignia or militia – coloured clothes;
- Terrorists resort to physical violence. They utilise terror as a means of coercion and use violence as a necessary means of attaining their political, religious or ideological goals, thereby causing harm and death to innocent people and maximum damage to property. Militants may or may not actively engage in physical violence, but they are certainly very aggressive verbally or use verbal violence to achieve their desired goals, as undoubtedly, they feel themselves in “war mode”;
- Terrorists have no regard for humankind and, usually target civilians, instil fear and psychological effect on them in order to gain the attention of the authorities. As terrorist organisations, they will commit violent acts by murdering civilians, scholars, religious leaders and sanctioning of extortion and demanding ransom.
On the contrary, militants usually do not resort to harming civilians to champion their cause but instead use confrontational or violent methods against the establishment in support of a political or social cause. For example militants may choose to rebel and use armed aggression for a country’s liberation; and
- Where both terms converge is when militants find they have no recourse to achieve their goals and then they resort to terrorism if their needs are not met, thereby transforming themselves into a terrorist group.
By DATUK AKHBAR SATAR Director, Institute of Crime & Criminology HELP University