How to understand terrorism as opposed to other forms of extremism? Extremism is an overarching phenomenon. It comprises violent extremism, also known as terrorism, but also precursors of terrorism, i.e. ideas and acts falling short of terrorism. Hence, there is no strict dichotomy between terrorism and extremism.
Hate speech should be seen as a harmful act. It falls under the different emanations of extremism, however it is not one with direct physical consequences to the victim(s), as is, in contrast, terrorism. It can encourage terrorism.
While it holds true that extremism is always rooted in a state of mind, there are different degrees of extremism – beginning with discrimination (which can be passive), verbal acts such as hate speech etc. They can lead up to fully-fledged terrorism.
To sum up, terrorism is a form of extremism but one which is to be more narrowly defined – as an act causing physical harm. It requires either rage, intent (to cause societal fear), oftentimes, but not always preparation, and is rooted in extremism. As a note of caution, I abstain from providing a proper definition of terrorism, only laying out some preliminary thoughts.
Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip
1 November 2020