How Vulnerable To Attack Is Malaysia Criminology Essay

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The object of this essay is to compare the elements of various definitions of the term terrorism in an attempt to understand it as a concept, a weapon and method of influence. In doing so, this essay will also review terrorism against national security and Malaysia's vulnerability.


The word terror comes from the Latin word terrÄ“re which means 'frighten', thus a terrorist is someone who favours or uses terror inspiring methods of governing or coercing government or community [1] . From this simple definition, using such a technique of influence is defined as terrorism. Unfortunately it is not that simple and numerous definitions have been postulated by various dictionaries, authors, organisations, and governments that expand the simple definition to include methods, purpose, timeframes and definitions of the victims, targets and perpetrators. A quick on-line search can locate dozens of definitions which build upon the basic structure of the simple definition above. Alex Schmid, in his 1988 review of terrorism, details over one hundred different definitions of the term.

The simple definitions of terrorism stand at one end of the spectrum. Walter Laqueur's simple definition has three constituent parts; the use of force, against innocent victims and for political purpose. Laqueur adds that any desire to qualify the term beyond this simple definition is pointless as the term 'terrorism' is so controversial [2] . He also adds that further definition will not aid understanding of the topic and promotes retaining a simple definition because the meaning changes constantly as the social context of its use changes and evolves.

Unfortunately such pragmatism has gone unheeded and many long and detailed definitions have evolved at the other end of the spectrum; the most complex of which exist as governmental and non-governmental definitions. The 'academic consensus definition' developed by Schmid on the basis of his work in 'Political Terrorism' uses thirteen of the twenty two constituent parts he found in common definitions of terrorism. Schmid's definition is notably used by the United Nations and it states [3] :

Terrorism is an anxiety inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat-and-violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought.

The significance of this definition and other longer definitions is that the expansion allows the definition to encompass a greater range of relativity in defining the actors, victims, methods and purposes.

The realisation that terrorism is a tactic, not a goal, aids to the understanding of the term. While some victims and populations may see terrorism as mindless bloodshed, scholars generally agree that there is nearly always a purpose behind each action [4] . This tactic is similar to any deterrence or coercive method, whereby the goal is to increase the cost of a government or non-state policy in order to force change to a different policy. Generally, terrorism is a tactic of the weak that would not stand a chance against a government in conventional conflict. Additionally, it must be noted that terrorism cannot govern or hold territory; hence its use is limited and employment of terrorism as a tactic requires a change in stance if the purpose is met.

Violence, or its threat, is a mainstay of the terrorist, but not all violence can be labelled terrorism. Actions during war between states, even the use of weapons of mass destruction, are generally not considered terrorism, despite the abhorrence place on such tactics by modern society. However, when non-state actors use bombs to kill civilian personnel, this behaviour is generally called terrorism. Therefore in defining what terrorism is, it is important to detail who carries out the action as well as how and to whom [5] . While seemingly hypocritical, the difference is important as this distinguishes between legitimate actors carrying out public violence for public purposes and terrorists who are private actors using violence for public goals [6] .

In using their violent acts, terrorism creates two types of victim; the immediate victim and the intended target population. The immediate victim is the one who is injured, maimed or killed and the intended target population is the recipient of the message the act contains. Generally, terrorist care little for the selection of the immediate victims, who are merely symbolic targets [7] , and concentrate more on the method employed to dramatically convey their message to gain the most exposure or coverage. In doing so terrorists create a fear of the way in which people are killed rather than increasing the actual statistical chance of it happening [8] . This fear is the prime concern to states as it is this fear that drives the purpose of the terrorist and provides the greatest threat to the national security of a state.


Terrorism has long been recognised as a serious threat to national security in both foreign and domestic spheres. The changing nature and adaptability of terrorism and terrorists, aided by the effects of globalisation have ensured that state efforts to eradicate or reduce the likelihood of terrorist attacks remain high on national security agendas. Terrorism threatens national security on multiple levels such subversion against government and its policy; the negative effects on the economy by reducing tourism and trade; slowing development; and reducing economic and civil liberties.

The present terrorist threat to Malaysia is ambiguous. The Malaysia government states that there is currently no terrorist threat to Malaysia [9] yet the American Embassy in Malaysia issued a warning in January 2010 of possible terrorist attacks against tourists in eastern Sabah [10] and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade acknowledges [11] the input of Malaysia as training and meeting location for terrorists; a thoroughfare for terrorists and equipment; and the location of groups such as Kumpulan Militan Malaysia and Abu Sayyaf Group.

Despite the fact that there has been no demonstrable terrorist event in Malaysia for a significant period, the Malaysian government commits significant resources and effort in ensuring this terrorist act free status remains. In 2003 the Malaysia established the South-East Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT), which focuses on regional training and counter-terrorism capacity-building. Additionally, the Malaysian government retains a significant number of policies that were initially passed into law to counter the communist insurgency during the Malayan Emergency. These laws have been retained and are beneficial in countering terrorist activities when discovered, such as the 2003 discovery of four tonnes of ammonium nitrate explosives [12] . Additionally, Malaysia has been forthright in the support of neighbouring nations in their efforts to counter terrorism, such as in Thailand and Indonesia. Unfortunately, a number of Malaysian nationals have been involved with both successful and unsuccessful terrorist plots, demonstrating the hidden activities occurring within Malaysia that Malaysian authorities have been unable to counter.

In light of the relatively high level of conflict in the South East Asian region and in near-by countries, Malaysia's porous borders and the availability of munitions within the region, one could say that the precursor factors to enable terrorism exist in Malaysia. Add the multi-ethnic and multi-religious aspects of Malaysian society, ruled by a paternal democracy that is dominated by a race based government with a non-secular constitution, and then the risk heightens even more.

In reviewing Malaysia's vulnerability to attack, a review of attacks on unlikely targets such as Bali and the Twin Towers have shown that no country is immune, regardless of preparation, hence Malaysia can be assessed as no different. With the precursor status discussed above in place, Malaysia's vulnerability is directly related to the motivation levels of existing or new groups within the country. The nature of asymmetric terrorist warfare is to find a way around all and any defences to press home their desired message and the while currently no attacks have occurred in urban Malaysian cities, the possibility cannot be discounted. A future and currently unforeseen trigger that inflames pre-existing and underlying racial, religious or ethnic tensions could possibly trigger a shift to active terrorism in Malaysia. A possible trigger could be an unexpected election result causing the government to resist releasing power to a new election winner wishing to create its own government.


In summary, it can be seen that terrorism is a term that creates much emotion and imagery due to the influence of its target audience by fear and the violence imposed on its immediate victims to achieve a purpose. It is a term that is dynamic in meaning, having changed through time as society has changed, and by being relative in its use when describing an act of violence as either war or terrorism. Scholars accept that the word and concept is near impossible to define accurately due to these factors and that to try and do so is relatively futile.

In reviewing Malaysia's vulnerability to terrorist attack, one can conclude that Malaysia is no less vulnerable than any other nation in South East Asia. Underlying precursor conditions exist that could enable terrorists to act if the motivation to do so was provided or discovered. What such a trigger could be is indeterminable, but Malaysia's current racial, ethnic and political state could be a seedbed for the disenfranchised if sufficient change occurs in the future. Until then, the Malaysian government's current laws, police and armed forces are constantly working hard to keep this country safe.