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Nature of Terror and Terrorism

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Nature of Terror and Terrorism
Contradictions
Evoking and amplifying terror

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Part 4 of 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way from Binary Thinking (2001)


Ubiquity of "terrorism" and definitional game-playing

Is it not the tragedy of modern civilization that no fundamental transformation of socio-political reality - including the independence of USA, Israel and many developing countries -- has been achieved in history without attacks that could be labelled by those in power as "terrorism" and "evil"?

How many modern states have been headed by people who could be legitimately described as having engaged in terrorist activity? What then is the nature of the "entire western world" of which "terrorists" are the "enemies" (Tony Blair, 14 September 2001)

An act of resistance is very different from an act of terrism. Would key nation-builders such as George Washington (USA), Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Oliver Cromwell (UK), and Charles de Gaulle (France) not be labelled as "terrorists" according to current criteria? Can President Charles de Gaulle, who fought for the liberation of France, be accused of being a terrorist? Should those people resisting occupation be defined as terrorists? (Syrian President to Tony Blair, 30 October 2001)

From the British point of view in the 1770s, were independence fighters in America terrorists? From the Yankee point of view in the 1860s, were Confederate soldiers guerrillas engaged in acts of terrorism?

How is a "terrorist" to be distinguished from a "freedom fighter"?

How many modern states, including the USA, have sanctioned or supported terrorism in one form or another -- at least in the eyes of others?

How is it that all members of the United Nations condemn "terrorism" unequivocally and yet there is no universal agreement on what it is they condemn as "terrorism"? Does this in fact parallel, in reverse, the situation with regard to support for the pursuit of "peace", "health", "sustainability", "security", "education" and other such goals?

Should military attacks by armed forces of any state be deemed acts of terrorism when civilians are killed?

To what extent were NATO bombings of the former Yugoslavia acts of terrorism and violations of the national sovereignty of a UN member state? Is not the assassination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to be considered as acts of state terrorism?

How is the USA to provide a satisfactory legal definition of "terrorism" to cover its intended targets -- but which will avoid including official US support for state violence and extra-judicial assassination (even by its closest allies), or US assistance to IRA terrorists (including failure to extradite duly convicted terrorists as requested by one of its closest allies), or its training of Contra terrorists for action in Nicaragua?

As a key feature of the definition of "terrorism", will it not be difficult to characterize "violence or the threat of violence against civilian populations" in a way that will avoid including some aspects of past, present and currently planned US-led operations in the Middle East?

Given that there is as yet no universally accepted definition of "terrorism" (even within Europe), will those disagreeing with the USA's definition be necessarily considered as antagonistic to the USA in its "war on terrorism"? Will traditionally neutral countries, such as Switzerland, be considered as pro-terrorist if they fail to participate in the US-led coalition?

Why do efforts to define "terrorism" exclude the terror experienced by vulnerable people exposed daily to violence and threats of violence in their own neighbourhoods? Would such "terrorism" become "international" if the perpetrators carried foreign passports or if they belonged to "international networks"?

If "violence is as American as apple pie" (H. Rap Brown), then what of "terrorism"?

If no policy that the USA has ever pursued can be construed as "terrorism" -- or support for "terrorism" -- what universal agreement is possible on the meaning of "terrorism"?

Is it not curious that the US-led "war on terrorism" has been qualified by George Bush (18 September 2001) as a war against those forms of "terrorism" that affect the interests of the USA? How is it possible to form a worldwide coalition against terrorism which fails to take account of forms of "terrorism" which do not affect American interests -- even though their supporters may have bases and networks within the USA, or within the coalition countries (Tamil Tigers, IRA, ETA, etc)?

Is war not terrorism? Is a warrior a terrorist?

Depending on the time, the place and the cause in which it is comitted, is "terrorism" an expression of the absence of dialogue, the failure of negoitation or a determination of a few to undermine the popular will -- or a mixture of all three? (Gary Younge, Guardian, 15 October 2001)

How is it that violent movements with only local ambitions are "on a different list" (as Colin Powell puts it)?

Is the USA's definition of "terrorism" designed to exclude people and actions which would require it to proceed against citizens of the USA whom others would perceive as acting in support of "terrorism"? Is this why it has withdrawn its support of the International Criminal Court?

In a country that refuses to pay reparations for slavery, the FBI spent the equivalent of $500 million to "neutralize" black leaders -- with frightening success. At a time when the FBI is arresting everyone whose first name rhymes with Osama, the Klu Klux Klan is operating openly and legally in 50 states of the USA. Would black Americans have strong justification for perceiving the KKK as being America's own al-Qaida? (Jonathan D Farley, Guardian, 17 November 2001)

Is it in the interests of the USA to avoid a definition of the term since any definition will only serve to curtail the legitimization of their own resort to terrorism in the future -- at least in the eyes of the world at large? Or are such actions to be sanitized under some definition of state-sponsored violence, permitting the continuation of resort to military means where other means have failed?

Condolezza Rice, George Bush's national security adviser declared (23 September 2001). "We are not going to declare that there are good terrorists and bad terrorists. There's terrorism. And if you sponsor terrorism, you are hostile to the United States." Does this deny any significance or legitimacy to the perception in many other countries that the USA has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism? Or does this imply that there are some people hostile to the USA within its administration?

Donald Rumsfeld (20 Sept 2001) declared: "There are a number of nations on the official public list of terrorist nations, nations that either have sponsored terrorism or been involved in it." Is that an international "official" list? How is "terrorism" defined for inclusion on that list? Have not some credible international groups argued that the USA itself has "either sponsored terrorism or been involved in it"?

For Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense: "Terrorism, of course, has a lot of definitions and people have different views as to what it means precisely. For myself, I think of the word as meaning an act whereby innocent people are involved and killed. (Interview with Al Jazeera, 20 October 2001). What does that include in practice?

Less than 24 hours before the USA came under terrorist attack, the United Nations was celebrating the fact that 83 of its 189 member states had ratified some 12 existing UN conventions against international terrorism. Why has the USA signed 11, but refused to ratify any of these treaties -- adopting a "sign yes, ratify no" policy?

The 1996 Declaration of Lima To Prevent, Combat and Eliminate Terrorism refers to terrorism as "a serious form of organized and systematic violence, which is intended to generate chaos and fear among the population, results in death and destruction and is a reprehensible criminal activity." The 1998 Commitment of Mar del Plata calls terrorist acts "serious common crimes that erode peaceful and civilized coexistence, affect the rule of law and the exercise of democracy, and endanger the stability of democratically elected constitutional governments and the socio-economic development of our countries." What acts are carefully excluded from such definitions?

Addressing the UN's Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism (February 2001), US delegate Robert Rosenstock said the proposed major international conference to combat terrorism would have no practical benefits. He raised the question whether the issues suggested as possible subjects at such a conference had historically confounded a practical solution?

In extending definitions of involvement in "terrorism" to include those who recommend violence, or who express their hatred and radical opposition to governments in power, how are those acting against "terrorism" to exclude their own military advisors and instructors, directors of military academies, and those who articulate strategies to overthrow governments (cf the Henry Kissinger case)? Can such people be subsequently held responsible for the application of these lessons by their students in "terrorist" activities (cf US responsibility in the Noriega case)? Or is deniability of involvement in "terrorism" to be considered plausible by one class of policy advisor but inadmissible by another?

Is it not the case that any group that feels excluded will find a way to punish those who have left it behind? For those with no other options, is terrorism not one of the few acts in which they can engage in a hostile modern civilization -- especially when they have nothing to lose but their lives?

Given the unambiguous manner in which George Bush has defined his opposition to terrorism and those associated with it, how is it that his choice for a major diplomatic role -- as under secretary state for the western hemisphere -- was a Cuban exile found by the Comptroller General in 1987, during his previous government role, to have "engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities" on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras then engaged in a guerilla war against an elected government? (Duncan Campbell, Guardian, 28 November 2001)

Following attacks on students by paramilitary police, Zimbabwean students have circulated a petition declaring that the "Zimbabwe national army is now a terrorist organization" which has effectively declared war against students (Michael Hartnack, Guardian, 28 November 2001). What other national armies might be labelled as "terrorist" from this perspective?

Evidence of American intelligence agency involvement in "terrorism" is widely reported, documented and rumoured -- as well as being extensively fictionalized. Former CIA directors and operatives freely admist to having hired terrorists as part of their operations in Latin America -- notably prior to the 1995 "scrub order"? How should the different degrees of such involvement, purportedly in defence of national security, be distinguished from the forms of involvement that are currently subject to extreme sanction by the Bush administration through executive orders and new legislation? Is the distinction to be made on the same basis as that between possession of weapons of mass destruction (by the USA) and possession of such weapons by other countries (such as Iraq)?


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