The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The word militant can refer to any individual engaged in warfare, a fight, combat, or generally serving as a soldier. Journalists often use militant as a purportedly neutral term for violent actors who do not belong to an established military. Typically, a militant engages in violence as part of a claimed struggle for achievement of a political goal.

Popular usage often sees "militants" as synonymous with terrorists, though perhaps charcterised with a slightly less loaded term.

The term "militant state" colloquially refers to a state which holds an aggressive posture in support of an ideology or cause.


Characteristics of militancy

Persons described as militants -- either individuals or groups (composed of citizens) -- have usually enrolled and trained for service in a particular cause. Militants may fill their ranks either by enlistment or by conscription. The term usually implies aggressive and vigorous support of a cause, as in the phrases militant protest or Church militant. Some militant views have an inherent implication of intolerance. The work and support of militants commonly occur within the limits of international law, humanity, and civil disobedience. Some militants, though, operate outside the framework of international law, humanity, and democracy.

The term militant can describe those who aggressively and violently promote a political philosophy in the name of a movement (and sometimes have an extreme solution for their goal). Sample goals of modern militants may include establishing dictatorships or establishing a single world government. 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. Traits shared by many militants include:

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

A militant view sometimes constitutes an extremist's position. A person or group in a psychologically militant state expresses a physically aggressive posture while in support of an ideology or of a cause.

Potential legal restrictions

One could argue that those resisting a foreign military occupation do not merit the label terrorists because their acts of political violence against the 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 legitimise attacks on civilians by militants who fall into these categories, however.

Etymology of the word

The word militant 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 status.

Mass media usage of the word

The mass media often uses the term "militant" in the context of terrorism. Journalists often apply the term militant to movements using terrorism as a tactic. The mass media also has repeatedly called terrorist organizations militant groups or radical militants. The terms often serve to avoid placing the label terrorism on individuals or groups who have not actually committed violent acts.

Newspapers, magazines, and other information sources may deem militant a neutral term, whereas terrorist conventionally indicates disapproval of the behavior of the individual or organization so labelled, regardless of the motivations for such behavior. Militant, othertimes, can refer to any individual engaged in warfare, a fight, combat, or generally serving as a soldier.


Militants occur across the political spectrum, including white supremacists, separatists, abortion opponents, and environmentalists. Examples of left-wing, right-wing, and special interest militants include militant reformers, militant feminists, militant animal rights advocates, and anarchists. Fundamendalist Christian militants engage in constant warfare against the Christian church's enemies (though fundamentalism itself does not, by definition, class as militant). The phrase militant Islam can suggest (excessively) violent and aggressive political activity by Islamic individuals, groups, movements, or governments.

The label militant often becomes attached to Palestinians who express the intention of committing or supporting violent actions. Such actions may include attacks on Israeli soldiers and Israeli civilians on behalf of Palestinian nationalism and of Palestinian statehood; or in attempts to annihilate Israel. Also, there is militant activity to protest the occupation by Israeli forces. The term guerrilla may serve a similar purpose. In the opinion of many Israelis, some media groups use the term militant (in the context of Israel) to describe people whom those same groups would call terrorists in the context of any other country. Such Israelis may hold the opinion that those media groups do this out of bias, to downplay the severity of attacks on Israelis.


"I'm a militant when I say I'll pick up a rifle and protect the Constitution." - Anonymous

See also

Compare and contrast these related articles:

Activist, Anarchists, Black Muslim, belligerent, Black Panther Party, Church militant, combat, combatant, crusader, demonstrator, extremist, fighting, fundamentalism, Insurgent, Islamofascist, Malcolm X, man-at-arms, mercenary, military, Militant Islam, Militant Tendency, partisan, protester, reformer, rioter, soldier, war, warrior, zealot


The Militant, a United States socialist newsweekly, carries extensive coverage of labor issues and events. Its publisher, the United States Socialist Workers Party, describes its contents as in the interests of working people. The paper is also available on line.

In Britain, the Revolutionary Socialist League began publishing Militant named after the American newspaper in 1964. The RSL soon became known as the Militant Tendency after the name of the newspaper. In the early 1990s the Militant Tendency changed its name to the Socialist Party with Militant changing its name to the Socialist in 1997.

Last updated: 09-02-2005 09:32:46