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What is a Militant?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

A militant is someone who is not afraid to use verbal or physical violence to further a cause. Militants have been closely associated with extremism and sometimes even terrorism historically, due to the fact that they are closely linked with violent activities. A number of organizations and people self-identify as militant, with the goal of projecting a very characteristic image of themselves.

Just like “military,” the word “militant” comes from a Latin word which means “to serve as a soldier,” but militants are not directly associated with a particular military, and they often work alone or in small groups. Many view themselves as martyrs for a cause, willing to go to great lengths to achieve a desired goal, whether it be the liberation of a nation or the promotion of veganism. One's stance on militants tends to vary, depending on who the militants are and what cause they are supporting.

Although you may link the concept of militancy with armed ruffians agitating for social and political change, you may also have heard it used in rhetoric simply to refer to someone with very strong and clearly stated views. These militants may or may not actively engage in physical violence, but they are certainly very aggressive verbally, sometimes alienating other people in their movement, and many do justify acts of violence with rhetoric from their causes, even if they do not personally engage in violence. Militant activists are often a source of frustration for people who agree with their cause but do not support extremism, because radical activists can give an entire movement a bad name.

In the sense of someone who does engage in violence, a militant typically has at least some training with weapons and in military tactics, although the degree of skills varies. Militants are often led by charismatic leaders who demand absolute loyalty and cohesiveness in their groups, and they can be found in a wide variety of locations. In some cases, militants are actively supported as they attempt to overthrow governments or enact regime change, because other governments believe that their cause is worthy, while in other instances, militants are treated as terrorists who undermine safety and security.

Some militants have become famous as icons for their causes, and sometimes as martyrs as well. For people who do not come from cultures with a long-established militant tradition, the idea of becoming a militant may seem a bit odd, but for people with a history of cultural oppression and frustration, many militants are glorified, because they are perceived as heroes.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Dec 15, 2014

@bluedolphin-- I completely agree with you. Gandhi is a great example. He liberated India through a completely non-violent movement. He ought to be inspiration for everyone who wants to make a change. Violence is not the way.

By fify — On Dec 14, 2014

There is a saying that "one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter."

I personally don't know what to think about this issue. I am against violence but then I hear about conflicts around the world where people are oppressed and harmed in such ways that it really seem like they have no option but to be aggressive against their oppressor. So who's right? Or who's the worst among them?

Other times, it's difficult to tell who is a "good" militant trying to fight oppression and who is a "bad" militant who just wants to spread corruption in the world and harm others. It's not a black and white issue at all, there are a lot of gray areas.

By bluedolphin — On Dec 14, 2014

I personally don't understand why people resort to violence to further a goal that they believe in. If the goal is a just one that deserves to be reached, then I think it is possible to make it happen through other ways. Violence is not the solution and it actually undermines the entire movement. Even if the movement has a right cause and even if society support it, it will lose support if it uses violence.

We can't justify unethical means for an ethical cause. So if we are truly struggling to change something that's unfair and unjust, we have to find other ways to do it without hurting others in the process.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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