Friday, 1 July 2011
TERRORISM, US POLICY and the UN
A clear definition of terrorism and its multifaceted causes was notably absent from any political and media discourse before and since 9/11. Noam Chomsky pointed out that only the Wall Street Journal, to its great credit, took the time and effort immediately after 9/11 to find out why there is such militant opposition to U.S. policy in the Muslim world.
One of the State Department's responses was to hire a PR person from New York to intensify "public diplomacy" (U.S. propaganda) as a means of lessening opposition toward U.S. policies around the world. That person left her job within a relatively short period, after realizing the impossibility of the task. Not only had the Bush administration obfuscated the term "terrorism" to the degree that it is very broad and generic encompassing all unconventional forms of opposition to U.S. policies, but the administration allowed authoritarian regimes around the world to define "terrorism" as they see fit, as long as they back the U.S.
Does this sound like the Cold War when we backed dictators in the name of "fighting Communism?" Before the Democrat convention, former president Jimmy Carter held an international conference in Atlanta GA on this issue, and he explained to the press after the conference that he was stunned to hear from activists of various countries that human rights workers, UN personnel, intellectuals questioning tyrannical methods used by the state against its citizens, and any opponent of a regime can and has been labeled "terrorist" in some countries.
Such a maximalist definition that encompasses all opposition to a regime trivializes the issue. This is especially important in the light of the bloodbath that took place in Russia with the Chechnya rebels and hostages. Do people who strive for self-determination and face the conventional forces of a powerful government have the right to fight back, or do they submit to tyranny? Just as the UN decided on a definition of Human Rights, Racism, Genocide, Apartheid, Ethnic Cleansing, etc. it is time that the UN revisit the issue of "terrorism" and provide the appropriate mechanism by which such a discussion must take place and then voted on by the General Assembly.
Input from leading scholars with varying views, NGOs, politicians, church leaders, etc. will be significant in providing input to the UN's definition of the term, after outlining its complex root causes. Then the UN has agreed to a set of resolutions and sanctions. This does not mean that "terrorism" will be defeated as long as the state remains an instrument of oppression. But short of a multilateral UN-sanctioned approach, every authoritarian regime around the world, and even pluralistic societies like the U.S., will use the pretext of "terrorism" to unleash repression against their citizens who demand certain legitimate rights for minorities, workers, women, political opponents, etc. While people want safety and security, they also want to have their rights protected and do not wish to live in garrison states. US citizens and in each country will have to decide the degree to which they are willing to sacrifice their rights to live in an open society and willing to tolerate a Leviathan state.
Many people in the Middle East believe that state terrorism is the real threat to national sovereignty. Most in the US and Europe believe that 'independent group terrorism' (Islamic terrorism) constitutes a threat to the status quo and legitimate institutions. Both of these views are based on subjective political criteria. Iran and the US may not be as different as their apologists and detractors believe after all when it comes to conducting 'unconventional warfare'. Do most people around the world see the US or Iran as a threat to global political, military and economic stability? That is the real issue, namely, is Iran elevated into a monster far beyond its ability to do harm regionally or globally, and is the US presented as the status quo power engendering stability in the world when historical evidence does not exactly support the hypothesis?