The Terrorism Paradox

The Terrorism Paradox

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What is the exact definition of terrorism?

Cambridge dictionary defines the noun as such:

"(threats of) violent action for political purposes."

The United States Department of Defense narrows it down to:

"the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."

Its linguistic definition is to a large extent contaminated and manipulated though, especially since 9-11 when it became one of the most widely used and abused nouns in our political arena and the media spectacle surrounding it. From a neoconservative perspective, a typical terrorist is irrational, Arab, religious and with an inextinguishable appetite for Israeli, American and British blood. Why? Well, just because he feels like it, hates freedom loving people, hates our democracy etc etc. Personally I never accepted this as a satisfactory explanation.

In political debates the term is often used to assert that the political violence of an enemy is immoral and unjustified. However, it's worth mentioning that those accused of being terrorists rarely identify themselves as such, instead they prefer using terms that refer to their ideological or ethnic struggle, such examples include: separatist, freedom fighter or liberator. By now, dozens of written manifests containing the thoughts of terrorist leaders and actual terrorists have demonstrated this clearly. This is the first sign of the relative meaning of the word which (as most will agree) depends largely on ones perspective. In one of his columns republican commentator Patrick J. Buchanan made the correct observation that "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." To a large extent we view violence against civilians for political purposes justified or unjustified based on our political affiliation and personal relationship with the terrorist group and its cause. Leftists tend to sympathize with the underdogs, the suppressed, the poor and their historic struggle against the capitalists, the strong, the establishment. This explains the fact that they generally support the Palestinian struggle and hence are less vocal in their denunciations of the Palestinian "acts of terror" compared to more right-wing oriented people, who in turn have their own quiet admiration for certain bona fide terrorists such as Menachem Begin.

The next question is establishing what the motives of those so-called terrorists are and how irrational their violent actions really are. I think most of us can agree on the fact that terrorists kill because they want to break the will of a government and/or its people and further their political interests, whether these political interests are just or unjust, reasonable or unreasonable, is a separate issue which depends largely on ones political orientation.

By bombing the London Subway the homegrown terrorists wanted to send out a message to the (democratically elected) British government: "Get out of Iraq or else." In an Al Jazeera broadcasted video message which was aired after the attacks had taken place, the alleged mastermind behind the attacks said: "I'm sure by now the media's painted a suitable picture of me. It's predictable propaganda machine, it's natural they try and point a spin on things to suit the Government and to scare the masses into conformity to their power and wealth obsessed agendas, and our words have no impact upon you, therefore I'm going to talk to you in a language that you understand.Your democratically elected Governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world, and your support of them makes you directly responsible. Until we feel security, you will be our targets and until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I'm a soldier, now you too will taste the reality of this situation."

A clear example of politically motivated violence intended to put pressure on a government and its people, but let's move on to our second example, by bombing trains in Madrid terrorists had a similar politically motivated goal: put pressure on the Spanish government to cease its support for war efforts. The Spanish socialist government eventually gave in to the pressure, no terrorist attack has occurred in Spain ever since.

The attacks in Palestine serve a similar purpose, pressure the Israeli government and its democratic power base (the Israeli people) to withdraw from the West Bank, release child-prisoners, stop the occupation of historical Palestine (in their eyes) etc. The list goes on and on, all of them are political goals. Generally speaking these attacks are portrayed as an Islamic duty, but Islam is merely used as a way to recruit, the rest is politicized. In a September 2005 interview with Newsweek Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar made the following remark:

-Newsweek: Does Hamas still stand by the tactic of suicide bombing?

-Mahmoud Zahar: [i]We were forced to do so [in the past]. When we reached the conclusion that nothing could be achieved by peaceful [means], we were forced to do [it]. Believe me, if it is not [/i]

Let's return to the US Ministry of Defense's definition of terrorism. "the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological." Of course, the first thing which is noteworthy is the word "unlawful" which stands out at first glance and attracts attention from careful readers. It makes one wonder what exactly constitutes "lawful" violence intended to inculcate fear and coerce and intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political. As it turns out the only criterion for making the distinction between lawful and the unlawful political violence is the source of the violence, in other words: we only refer to it as terrorism if others do it.

If terrorism is "violent action for political purposes" than surely the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which killed many tens of thousands of Japanese women, children and elderly were among the biggest terrorist attacks of the century. For these attacks were specially planned to break emperor Hirohito's will and force him to capitulate. Neither attack had much militarily value, since neither Nagasaki nor Hiroshima had any real militarily significance. They were simply a necessity to break the will of the people and the emperor. To break his will the enormous and scandalous "nuclear collateral damage" was tolerated. Needless to say the tactic was successful and indeed the emperor-God Hirohito signed a ceasefire shortly after the attacks. It's noteworthy to state that emperor Hirohito remained emperor until his death in 1992, although he did lost his "God Title." Let this sink in, we are talking about rivers of blood, yet we generally refer to this act with pride and without remorse, whereas we usually strongly condemn comparable acts on a much much smaller scale (for instance a minor suicide bombing) for being scandalous acts of terrorism.

Click here for a picture of one of the many Hiroshima victims.

There's an abundance of such examples in US history. For instance the mass starvation of Iraqi civilians to break he will of the Saddam Hussein after he attacked Kuwait. This became even harder to bear after the harsh stance of the otherwise extremely diplomatic secretary of State Madeline Albright during a CBS interview with Leslie Stahl in 1996, in which the following exchange was made:

-Lesley Stahl: "speaking of US sanctions against Iraq: "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And -- and you know, is the price worth it?"

-Madeline Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it."

Note that this the mass death toll had not reached its peak in 1996, the final death toll is estimated to be somewhere around 1.000.000, of which most were infants. Once again, the killing (either directly or indirectly) of civilians to break the will of its rulers is justified. Albright did not even have the courtesy to mask her intentions.

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Above: One of the million victims of the Iraq embargo.

Although some critics might protest by bringing up the fact that the US was not directly responsible for the deaths and that this was due to Saddam's irresponsible use of the "Oil for Food" program, I'd like to assert that even I (who was a high school student at that time) knew perfectly well that if we deprived Saddam (or any other dictator for that matter) of income, the next step was going to be that he would claim a bigger piece of the shrunken GDP, leaving less for the rest, since it's naive to assume that the ruler himself will lead a more sober life once income shrinks. Surely our experienced diplomats and politicians were capable of the same basic thought process a teenager was capable of?

Purely based on logic, these citizens were much more innocent than the citizens who died in the London Subway terror attacks.Contrary to the British, neither Iraqis, nor Japanese had any saying in their government's policies, the policy of emperor Hirohito or Saddam Hussein was not by definition the will of their citizens, nor did these despots hold a mandate from their subordinates. But the subordinates had to pay and we delivered the payload and we did it on a massive scale and we were successful. Others trying to do the same, on a much much smaller scale are branded terrorist. Note I'm not changing the definition of terrorism to suit my own taste, on the contrary, I'm just being consistent instead of using the word randomly based on arbitrary criteria. The one thing which today’s terrorists can be accused of is their incompetence and lack of effectiveness, since your average terrorist takes out only a handful of people with every attack at best, save nine eleven which was a remarkable exception. State-sponsored terrorism such as the attacks on Hiroshima, Iraq claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

But nowhere in the world is the definition of terrorist so randomly tossed around as in the birthplace of modern terrorism: Israel. According to the Old Testament ancient Israel was born by the sword, the area was ethnically cleansed in a gruesome fashion, I will not abuse this to discredit today's Israelis since such practices were rule rather than exception in those barbaric days. What is troubling however is the fact that modern Israel too was born by the sword although in a less bloody way than its ancient version. At the start of the last century Israel was known as the Mandate Palestine which was under British rule, it housed a majority of Christian and Muslim Arabs and a minority of Jews, some of the latter were so-called Sabra Jews who were born in the Mandate Palestine and some of them Zionist immigrants who had escaped the surge in antisemitic acts in Europe and Asia. Noteworthy is that by 1948 the Mandate Palestine ceased to exist and the nation of Israel was born and the non-Jewish majority had evolved into a minority.

More than nature's course and healthy Jewish immigration lead to this remarkable demographic shift. A string of terror attacks by Zionist organizations such as IRGUN against British and Palestinians finally broke the will of the British and Palestinians and so Israel was born. One of the most notorious and bloody terrorist attacks by Jewish groups was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which killed around 100 people and seriously wounded many more. The King David Hotel bombing was not the first attack, dozens more preceded it. King David Hotel was the beginning of the end for British rule in the Mandate Palestine. Noteworthy is the fact that the attack was ordered by Menachem Begin, who later went on to become the Prime Minister of Israel and even received the Nobel Peace Prize, dealing a huge blow to the Nobel Prize committee's reputation. It is ironic, but Israel was perhaps the first and most successful product of successful tactical terrorism, but they paid a price since their own success became a source of inspiration for the Palestinians to adapt similar methods starting in the late 1960's. Of course by then, terrorism was no longer a justified resistance struggle tactic like it was during Menachem Begin's days, but had become an act of barbarism. Too bad for the Palestinians.

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Above: The King David Hotel bombing.

Indeed, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.




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