Monday, 21 January 2013


1. Is there a universally agreed definition of terrorism? NO because different governments, and various groups from academic to journalistic use their own criteria as it suits them politically, ideologically and emotionally. Is it possible that a mainstream Western Liberal or conservative can agree on the definition and characterization of terrorism, let alone a non-Western Muslim intellectual or activist agree with an American mainstream politician? In short, 'terrorism' is not subject to absolute laws of physics, but very subjective and subject to ideological, political, religious, cultural and geographic considerations. Nevertheless, those who enjoy dominant power on a world scale, namely the US, have defined the term for much of the Western World, and have institutionalized the legal, military, political, and economic mechanisms to isolate what constitutes 'terrorism'.

2. Does 'terrorism' mean the same thing today as it did during the Roman Empire confronting Jewish rebels seeking autonomy from the imperial rule? "The Reign of Terror" during the French Revolution under Maximilien Robespierre1793-94 provides another twist in the birth of the term 'terrorism', although those carrying it out argue they were seeking justice.19th century Tsarist Russia confronting Anarchists seeking social justice provides another glimpse of 'terrorism', according to the Tsarist regime representing the landowning class. IRA rebels fighting against British imperial rule and Indian and African freedom fighters trying to secure national sovereignty were 'terrorists'? In each case the status quo regime demonized the opposition seeking social justice and/or power as 'terrorist', although in each case the state enjoyed overwhelming power and its devastating force demolished the minority opposition.The only case where the state itself was the overt instrument of terror was during the French Revolution, when in essence the state has always had the massive means to crush rebel opposition using unconventional methods of war.

3. Do the G-20, especially Russia, India China, US, UK, Brazil, France, Japan, etc. - define terrorism in the same sense and do they agree on what groups are 'terrorist' and what groups are simply freedom fighters? Their voting record on the UN regrading Iran, Palestinian question and other controversial issues indicates that the G-20 disagree on what is terrorism.

4. Has the 'loaded' use of the term 'terrorism' replaced the old Cold War term "International Communism" intended to put everyone who questions the Liberal political philosophy and capitalist economic system in one basket? If one is a critic of the status quo, then one must be part of the larger amorphous enemy. This Cold War logic is used today to lump together every possible group and individual, from national freedom fighters to vandals for the purpose of forcing the rest of society to accept the status quo.

Each country defines it in the manner that best suits what it deems its 'national security interests'. This has always been the case, considering that the American revolutionaries were indeed patriots as their fellow nationalists called them, or terrorists, as the British insisted. The same goes for all colonial resistance movements from China and India in the 19th century to Africa in the 20th. As far as 'killing of civilians' by 'terrorists', let us consider that throughout modern history, especially in the 20th century, most of the victims of 'conventional war' have been civilians! In fact, conventional wars have killed a tremendously high percentage of people in comparison with those killed by those employing non-conventional means, namely 'terrorists'. This for the simple reason that conventional war is on a well organized and massive scale, as compared with unconventional war.

Have things changed in the last 200 hundred years with governments relying on 'statehood legitimacy' to label terrorists select targeted enemies using force, especially 'unconventional military (guerrilla) tactics'? Let us take two cases in the 20th century, the Kurdish question in Turkey and the Palestinian one in Israel.

As far as the Turkish government is concerned, the Kurdish freedom fighters are terrorists, especially if they are associated with the PPK, (Kurdistan Workers' Party) that is in essence a national liberation movement that engages in 'non-conventional warfare tactics'. The term 'non-conventional warfare tactics' is what allows the government in Ankara to label PPK 'terrorist'. However, the French President recently met with a high-level PPK official, thus affording legitimacy to PPK, as far as the Turkish government is concerned.

As far as PPK is concerned, the Turkish government has been terrorizing the Kurdish minority by violating their human rights and denying them national self-determination. The really strange thing here is that the US in the last half century had to choose between 'good Kurdish' populations and bad ones, depending on its foreign policy in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey - all countries with the minority population that has no country of its own. This contradiction continues to this day amid the Syrian civil war.

Another example of how subjectively and politically the term 'terrorist' is used concerns the Palestinian FATAH and HAMAS groups that have been fighting for the freedom of Palestinians. The situation with the Palestinians is well known and as far as the people of Gaza and the West Bank are concerned, as well as their defenders, they are under an apartheid regime that has been terrorizing them for the past sixty years. Hamas is a terrorist movement, argue the Israelis, while Hamas accuses Israel of all kinds of crimes against humanity. 

Modern warfare really causes more widespread and indiscriminate damage to civilians than people may assume, simply because they accept conventional war as 'legitimate'! That is also well documented and holds true for the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) as the great historian Thucydides writes in his monumental history, especially regarding the "Melian Dialogue" where it is revealed the Athenians killed every adult male on the island while they enslaved the women and children. It is even worse during the Punic Wars, especially the Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.) when the Romans burned the city of Carthage (for 17 days) and the population was slaughtered. 
People respond so emotionally to 'terrorism' because they fear for their own lives, for their sense of safety and security that the state presumably provides. But what if the state is the source of instability and the root cause for the rise of groups that it then labels terrorists? This is the case in Mali. The issue in Mali is not democracy, for if that were the case, why doesn't the US and NATO go after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states? The issue here is geopolitical, with NATO feeling that it may be losing ground to rebel groups, especially Islamists, in Africa that is one of the richest continents in raw materials with the lowest labor costs. Containment is at the core of the Mali situation, and no one should be surprised that even China is nervous, given that Beijing has been expanding its operations across much of Africa.

Let us not forget that Western covert activity, overt aid, political support, and NATO operations for rebel groups in Muslim countries (Arab Spring) has not exactly resulted in resounding successes of democratic rule. From Algeria to Egypt what we have is at best a situation that ought to concern everyone who believes that stability emanates from sociopolitical harmony.

Finally, the use of the term 'terrorism' will eventually work itself out of the daily political-journalistic dictionary, and eventually relegated to more specific instances instead of the generic meaning that people around the world attribute to just about any group and/or activity that they oppose. I have seen articles describe what would otherwise be acts of vandalism as 'terrorism'. This is not to say that the term has no place in the political dictionary, but some judicious use at last is needed, otherwise it becomes meaningless. That politicians, journalists, and commentators of various types have been using the term 'terrorism' to describe opponents from extreme right wing fanatics to ultra left-winger, from trade unionists engaged in labor strikes to unemployed youth protesters, from minority groups seeking social justice to minority political parties seeking to express dissenting voices is indicative that 'terrorism' is already devoid of meaning other than the one the speaker/writer wishes to ascribe to it.

No comments: