Archive for January, 2006

Defining and Understanding Terrorism

January 28, 2006 Leave a comment

Recently Noam Chomsky noted that:

“Terror” is a term that rightly arouses strong emotions and deep concerns. The primary concern should, naturally, be to take measures to alleviate the threat, which has been severe in the past, and will be even more so in the future… Let’s turn to the third background issue: defining “terror” and distinguishing it from aggression and legitimate resistance. I have been writing about terror for 25 years, ever since the Reagan administration declared its War on Terror. I’ve been using definitions that seem to be doubly appropriate: first, they make sense; and second, they are the official definitions of those waging the war. To take one of these official definitions, terrorism is “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature…through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear,” typically targeting civilians. The British government’s definition is about the same: “Terrorism is the use, or threat, of action which is violent, damaging or disrupting, and is intended to influence the government or intimidate the public and is for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause.” These definitions seem fairly clear and close to ordinary usage. There also seems to be general agreement that they are appropriate when discussing the terrorism of enemies.

Defining the abstract noun has turned difficult recently not because the word offers so much complexities that it is impossible to provide one definition, but rather the word is used so selectively that if a general definition is given most states and armed resistance groups will fall into the category as “terrorists.”

Brian Whitaker wrote in the Guardian UK that:

Denying that states can commit terrorism is generally useful, because it gets the US and its allies off the hook in a variety of situations. The disadvantage is that it might also get hostile states off the hook – which is why there has to be a list of states that are said to “sponsor” terrorism while not actually committing it themselves.

Interestingly, the American definition of terrorism is a reversal of the word’s original meaning, given in the Oxford English Dictionary as “government by intimidation”. Today it usually refers to intimidation of governments.

The first recorded use of “terrorism” and “terrorist” was in 1795, relating to the Reign of Terror instituted by the French government. Of course, the Jacobins, who led the government at the time, were also revolutionaries and gradually “terrorism” came to be applied to violent revolutionary activity in general. But the use of “terrorist” in an anti-government sense is not recorded until 1866 (referring to Ireland) and 1883 (referring to Russia).

[A] simpler – and perhaps more honest – definition: terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of.

We must acknowledge that terrorism is not a particular group or person, it is a tactic. In late November 2002, a retired U.S. Army general, William Odom, told C-SPAN viewers:

Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It’s a tactic. It’s about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we’re going to win that war. We’re not going to win the war on terrorism. And it does whip up fear. Acts of terror have never brought down liberal democracies. Acts of parliament have closed a few.

For arguments sake lets adopt the most general definition that can be found: the use or threat to use violence against people or property for political, religious and/or ideological purposes.

This definition incriminates the US and many states for their use of violence or threat to use such violence. On many levels and many instances the US can be correctly charged with utilizing terrorism as a tactic against Iraq. Regime change was the political context. When Bush told Palestinian PM Abbas that God said to attack Iraq, that was the religious context and Bush routinely admits in his speeches that his use of violence is ideological in nature as well.

At the same time the fractioned Iraqi resistance groups use violence against people or property for political, religious and/or ideological purposes, thus making many of their tactics terrorism by definition.

So how do we separate the two? How do we pull them into context? I feel Chomsky was right when he said we should look into “defining ‘terror’ and distinguishing it from aggression and legitimate resistance.”

It is clear that in Iraq we are the aggressors and the resistance is well, the resisters. This much is elementary.

The basic concept that armed resistance is legitimate can be found in the UN Charter:

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.

At the same time aggression is internationally recognized as illegitimate. US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson served as a judge for the Nuremberg Trials and had this to say about acts of aggression:

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole… launching a war of aggression is a crime that no political or economic situation can justify.

So what am I getting at here? Though, terrorism is something to be concerned about and alleviated it should also be understood that like everything else it has multiple purposes. It can be a legitimate tactic by “inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” or it can be the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

And if we want to alleviate the threat of terrorism we must first deal with both by getting to the roots. In the case of Iraq it is the US occupation.

Here is the solution I feel is appropriate:

The US must leave ASAP. We should impeach our leaders and hold them accountable via a war crimes tribunal. We should officially apologize to Iraq and pay reparations. We, the people, should encourage Iraqis to make concessions in order to end the violence; offering the resistance movement immunity if they end the attacks, disband, disarm, disburse and/or join a non-violent political dispute process that seeks equitable and fair resolutions for their political and ethnic conflicts would be a concession worth attempting.

Some argue that if we pull out things will get worse. The possibility is there but we should remember that the resistance is overwhelmingly targeting the US and as the recent MoD poll shows, 80% of Iraqis polled want the US out and nearly 50% support blowing us up. The manner in which we leave, the hopes we give the people of Iraq and the possibility that if external security can be provided by states not currently or previously involved in Iraqs destabilization could help facilitate a positive change for the people of Iraq.

I personally would like to see human rights monitors, peace-keeping forces and electoral monitors sent into Iraq (under clearly defined and acceptable terms to the people of Iraq) to ensure rights and security are protected. I also feel that if the transition was open, accepting and transparent so that journalists, human rights groups and other relevant NGO’s could witness and/or pariticipate that this would aide such a transition.

The problem is that such a rational and fair solution is not being discussed because of the balance of power in geo-politics; in other words, the US government and the parrot media is not acknowledging such a solution could even be possible.

What we Americans should be doing is making such a solution possible by reigning in our government and holding them accountable and providing the people of Iraq a new chance to decide their own fate.

Anyway, I am done for now. G’night.

Categories: Uncategorized