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The word militant, which is both an adjective and a noun, essentially means 'to be open to using violence to achieve an end'. It comes from the 15th Century Latin "militare" meaning "to serve as a soldier". The related modern concept of the militia as a defensive organization against invaders grew out of the Anglo-Saxon "fyrd". In times of crisis, the militiaman left his civilian duties and became a soldier until the emergency was over, when he returned to his civilian occupation and life.

However, the current meaning of militant does not have to (and in fact usually does not) refer to a registered soldier; it can be anyone at all who subscribes, either in whole or in part, to the idea of using violence to achieve some larger objective, usually political. For example, when one is referred to as a "militant political activist," the term militant is meant there to contrast with a pacifist political activist whose political principles do not allow him or her to use violence to achieve any end.

Nor is it the case that a militant person must always use a violent tactic or tactics in pursuit of an aim, or that s/he unilaterally 'believes in violence' (in the pejorative sense) or is 'a violent person'. A militant in fact usually uses a range of tactics, including peaceful or semi-peaceful ones, when trying to achieve an end. The main difference between a militant and a non-militant is the militant's willingness to actively use violence when s/he considers it necessary.

Noun usage

Militant, as a noun, is used as a term for warriors who do not belong to an established government military organization. It can also be used as a euphemism for the word terrorist.[1] (For more on this, see mass media usage below.) In general usage, a militant person is a confrontational person, regardless of the use of physical violence or pacifistic methods. A militant can, but not necessarily, engage in violence as part of a claimed struggle against oppression. Militant can refer to an individual or to groups displaying the aggressive behavior or attitudes. (However, Merriam-Webster does not recognize the use of militant as a noun. It defines it only as a word which functions to describe an attitude, not the person or party exhibiting such attitude. See the adjective usage for more.)[2][3]

Militant is often used within some religious circles to denote the continuous battle of Christians (as church members) or the Christian Church in their struggle against sin. In particular, the Roman Catholic Church differentiates between Church militant and church triumphant.[4][5] Ellen G. White, a significant force in the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist church, also refers to the Church Militant. "Now the church is militant. Now we are confronted with a world in darkness, almost wholly given over to idolatry."[6]

Such religious meaning must not be confused with the belligerent meaning used to describe extremist religious behaviours found in some who, based on their extreme religious beliefs or ideologies, take up weapons and become involved in warfare, or who commit acts of violence or terrorism in an attempt to advance their extremist religious agendas. Such extremist groups can be Christian[7][8], Muslims[9][10][11], Jewish[12][13][14], or of any other religious subscription.

Adjective usage

Militant can mean "vigorously active and aggressive, especially in support of a cause" as in 'militant reformers'.[15] The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, defines militant as "Having a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause". The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines militant as "aggressively active (as in a cause)".[3] It says that the word militant might be typically be used in phrases such as 'militant conservationists' or 'a militant attitude'.[3]

An example of the adjective usages is demonstrated when The New York Times ran an article titled Militant Environmentalists Planning Summer Protests to Save Redwoods describing a group that believes in "confrontational demonstrations" and "nonviolent tactics" to get across their message of preserving the environment.[16] Another usage example includes 'a militant political activist',[17] drawing attention to behaviours typical of those engaged in intensive political activism. The political protests headed by the Reverend Al Sharpton have been described as militant in nature in The Washington Post.[18]

Characteristics of militancy

Militancy is the state of being militant. The term "militant state" colloquially refers to any individual which holds an aggressive posture in support of an ideology or cause.[19] More precisely, a person or group which is in a psychologically militant state is in a physically aggressive posture. A militant view can constitute an extremist's position or have an inherent implication of intolerance (although in the militant's view s/he is merely being consequential as a matter of principle).

The work and support of militants can under certain circumstances be allowed within the limits of international law and civil disobedience.

The various movements that seek to apply militancy as a solution, or who use militancy to rationalize their solutions for issues in the modern world seldom share common tactics. The characteristics of a militant who is aggressive and violent to promote a political philosophy in the name of a movement (and sometimes have an extreme solution for their goal) include the following shared traits:

  1. employing force or violence directly, either in offense or in defense
  2. justifying the use of force using the ideological rhetoric of their particular group

Persons described as militants — either individuals or groups (composed of multiple individuals) — have usually enrolled and trained to serve in a particular cause. Militants may fill their ranks either by volunteering, enlistment or by conscription.

Mass media usage

The mass media often uses the term "militant" in the context of terrorism.[1] Journalists often apply the term militant to movements using terrorism as a tactic. The mass media also has used the term militant groups or radical militants for terrorist organizations.[1][20][21][22] The terms serve to avoid usage of the term terrorists.

Newspapers, magazines, and other information sources may deem militant a neutral term,[23] whereas terrorist[24] or guerrilla[25] conventionally indicates disapproval of the behavior of the individual or organization so labeled, regardless of the motivations for such behavior. Militant, at other times, can refer to any non-military individual engaged in warfare or combat, or generally serving as a combatant.

Legal inferences

Those resisting a foreign military occupation can be seen as not meriting the label terrorists because their acts of political violence against military targets of a foreign occupier do not violate international law. Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions gives lawful combatant status to those engaging in armed conflicts against alien (or foreign) occupation, colonial domination and racist régimes. Non-uniformed guerrillas also gain combatant status if they carry arms openly during military operations. Protocol 1 does not legitimize attacks on civilians by militants who fall into these categories, however.

In the UN General Assembly Resolution on terrorism (42/159, December 7, 1987). which condemns international terrorism and outlines measures to combat the crime, with one proviso: "that nothing in the present resolution could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, of peoples forcibly deprived of that right [...], particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation or other forms of colonial domination, nor...the right of these peoples to struggle to this end and to seek and receive support [in accordance with the Charter and other principles of international law]."

Span of militancy

Militants occur across the political spectrum, including white supremacists, separatists, abortion opponents and proponents, and environmentalists. Examples of left-wing, right-wing, and advocacy group militants include militant reformers, militant feminists, militant animal rights advocates, and militant anarchists. The phrase militant Islam can suggest violent and aggressive political activity by Islamic individuals, groups, movements, or governments. The phrase militant atheist is usually used confrontationally when discussing those people who are more outspoken than the general population on subjects which explicitly or implicitly promote atheism[26], but is also used in a non-contentious manner to describe those who persecute religion in general. Various secret societies that have been known to be militarists are known as militant.

Compare and contrast

Compare and contrast these related articles:

  • Activist - individuals in intentional action to bring about social or political change.
  • Belligerent - one of a contracting parties in a conflict.
  • Church militant (Ecclesia Militans) - Christians who are living.
  • combat or fighting- purposeful conflict between one or more persons, often involving violence and intended to establish dominance over the opposition.
  • combatant - a soldier or guerrilla member who is waging war.
  • crusader - Christian warriors in a series of several military campaigns—usually sanctioned by the Papacy—that took place during the 11th through 13th century. Used contemporarily to describe people that attack Islam, whether perceived or real.
  • demonstrator - An individual who is publicly displaying the common opinion of an activist group, often economically, political, or socially, by gathering in a crowd, usually at a symbolic place or date, associated with that opinion.
  • extremist - term used to describe either ideas or actions thought by critics to be hyperbolic and unwarranted.
  • fundamentalism - anti-modernist movements in various religions.
  • guerrilla - small combat groups and the individual members of such groups operating with small, mobile and flexible combat groups called cells, without a front line.
  • insurgent - an armed rebellion by any irregular armed force that rises up against an established authority, government, administration or occupation.
  • jihadist - political neologism used to describe violent persons and movements in contemporary Islam.
  • man-at-arms - medieval term for a soldier, almost always a professional.
  • mercenary - soldier who fights, or engages in warfare primarily for private gain, usually with little regard for ideological, national or political considerations.
  • military - any armed force, it generally refers to a permanent, professional force of soldiers or guerrillas.
  • Militant Islam - Used by mass media news[27] to describe the ideologies of groups viewed as participating in Islamic terrorism.
  • Militant tendency - Trotskyist group within the UK Labour Party, accused of entryist tactics. They were most powerful during the 1970s and 1980s.
  • mujahideen - Muslim fighters; literally means "strugglers" or "people doing jihad". The correct term for a "jihadist".
  • partisan - member of a lightly-equipped irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation.
  • protester - expresses relatively overt reaction to events or situations: sometimes in favour, more often opposed.
  • rebel - individuals who participate in rebellions
  • Reform Movement - kind of social movement that aims to make gradual change, or change in certain aspects of the society rather than rapid or fundamental changes.
  • rioter - people in crowds committing crimes or acts of violence
  • soldier - person who has enlisted with, or has been conscripted into, the armed forces of a sovereign country and has undergone training and received equipment to defend that country or its interests.
  • vigilante - any individual(s) who establish their own form of justice or forms a collaboration with law enforcement to fight against criminal activities. Usually militant and armed.
  • war - state of widespread conflict between states, organisations, or relatively large groups of people, which is characterised by the use of violent, physical force between combatants or upon civilians.
  • warrior - person habitually engaged in combat. In tribal societies, warriors often form a caste or class of their own.
  • zealot - An individual that is zealous on behalf of God.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Sanders, Clinton. Marginal Conventions: Popular Culture, Mass Media, and Social Deviance. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1990. Decoding the Mass Media and Terrorism Connection. Page 98.
  2. American Heritage
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Merriam-Webster
  4. Catholic View of Church Militant - Theology
  5. Catholic View of Church Militant - Teachings
  6. The Ministry of Healing, page 504
  7. Terrorism by Christians
  8. Third Article on Terrorism by Christians
  9. Terrorism by Muslim
  10. More Terorrism by Muslims
  11. Third Article on Terrorism by Muslims
  12. Jewish Terrorism Against the British
  13. More Terrorism by Jews
  14. Third Article on Terrorism by Jews
  15. Dictionary
  16. The New York Times
  17. American Heritage Dictionary
  18. The Washington Post, by Howard Kurtz, March 30, 1990.
  19. This should not be confused with a political state or nation that is armed and aggressive.
  20. Paul Wilkinson, Homeland security in the UK: future preparedness for terrorist attack since 9/11. Taylor & Francis, 2007. Page 55.
  21. Savitch, H. V. Cities in a Time of Terror: Space, Territory, and Local Resilience. Cities and contemporary society. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2008. Page 45.
  22. Terrorist or Militant?
  23. Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Comparative studies in religion and society, 13. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Page 9.
  24. Richard Jackson, Jeroen Gunning, Marie Breen Smyth, Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda. Taylor & Francis, 2009. Page 162.
  25. Peloso, Vincent C. Work, Protest, and Identity in Twentieth-Century Latin America. Jaguar books on Latin America, no. 26. Wilmington, Del: Scholarly Resources, 2003. Page 238.
  26. See The Twentieth-Century Darwin by Mark Steyn published in The Atlantic Monthly October 2004.
  27. A simple Google News search for Militant Islam

da:Militans de:Militanz fr:Militant id:Militan it:Militante ms:Militan nl:Militant ja:過激派 sr:Милитантан sv:Militans ur:عسکریت پسند

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