You hate terrorism. I hate terrorism. We all hate terrorism. Fine.
So just what the hell is terrorism, this thing we hate?
According to Wikipedia, terrorism
is a term used to describe unlawful violence or other unlawful harmful acts committed (or threatened) against civilians by groups or persons for political or other ideological goals.
OK, great. Wikipedia goes on to say
include only those acts which are intended to create fear or "terror", are perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack), and deliberately target non-combatants.
Excellent. So, if I get this right, terrorism is any act which tries – by means of intimidation and the threat of violence – to influence decision making and bow people or governments to the will of the people doing the coercing.
So, just where does that get us?
Let’s take a couple of scenarios.
A far and distant land, called Upotia (yes, that’s what I wrote, not Utopia) is under occupation by a race of foreigners, the Freedominans. These Freedominans, under the pretext of bringing freedom, have occupied Upotia. They have done this after threatening the Upotias with destruction, starving and bombing them indiscriminately, trying to terrify them into changing their government into one which the Freedominans would like, because that government would allow Freedominans to exploit the natural resources of Upotia for their own profit. They have done this after an invasion that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Upotian deaths and where entire defiant Upotian cities have been razed to the ground to prevent others from rebelling. Telling them, in effect, “Y’all stay in line or we’ll do to you what we did to Fallujah”…oops, I meant Falafel. Whatever. You get the idea.
Meanwhile, another ally of the Freedominans, the Victimians, have occupied the lands of another people, the Pastelnians. The Victimians, who claim the right to do anything they want because they are historical victims, chased the Pastelnians out of their own land by means of massacres and evictions at gunpoint and keep them confined in ghettos which they, the Victimians, regularly bomb and shell.
Fine, that’s scenario number one, and according to current definition, the Freedominans and Victimians aren’t terrorists. They may officially threaten or use violence to coerce others to achieve their goals, but they aren’t terrorists.
Now, scenario number two: enraged by the actions of the Freedominans and their allies, some young men decide to strap bombs to their bodies and blow themselves up in Freedominan cities, thereby hoping to coerce the Freedominans – by the threat of more such attacks – to cease and desist, and withdraw their troops.
All right, the second lot are terrorists. They may have killed fewer in all their attacks put together than the Freedominans kill each day, but they are the terrorists. And the Freedominans are victims of terrorism!
Got it so far?
Right, time to cut the sarcasm…
Terror, used as a tactic, is so old that it must be as old as war. Even the Mongol hordes devastated cities that resisted simply so other cities would be terrorised into submission. That was terrorism on a grand scale, of course, as was displaying the heads of executed prisoners to keep restive populations in line. All present and correct. Of course, they didn’t call it terrorism. There was no such word.
Back in the nineteenth century, there were the “anarchists” who threw bombs and assassinated Tsars. Now those weren’t exactly targeting non-combatants, but for the purpose of this discussion we might take them to be terrorists as well, because they may have intended the successors of the murdered men to get the message and make essential changes of course. So far so good.
Then during the Indian freedom struggle – the real Indian freedom struggle, not the Gandhian sham of the official history books – the armed rebellions that broke out all over the country, small scale as they were, got called “terrorism” although they targeted British officials and Indian collaborators of the occupiers, not “non-combatants”. If you’ve seen the film Gandhi, you may remember Ben Kingsley (in the title role) referring to the “brave terrorists…for doing what was wrong.” Men like Bhagat Singh and Khudiram Bose, who fought the British, were called terrorists and cheerfully accepted the title. Maybe they did terrify the Brits at that. But the odd thing is that modern India, which officially subscribes to the Gandhi myth, also refers to them increasingly as terrorists – in the modern sense. Which, given that our self-styled Prime Minister chose to sermonise on the alleged benefits of colonisation, isn’t so odd after all…
I’ll get to my point.
First, terrorism is a tactic. It’s not an absolute evil, it’s not an ideology, it’s nothing more than a tactic and like all tactics is applied to certain circumstances. This means that it’s meaningless to talk of a “War on Terror”. One might as well call for a war on bombs.
Then, if terrorism is the targeting of non-combatants, then the resistance in Iraq is certainly not a terrorist movement (I’m not talking of the death squads and Al Qaeda here, I’m talking of the nationalist resistance groups which are very effectively fighting the Americans and their collaborators). Also, the resistance in Palestine is not terrorist – most so because “Israelis” are all trained in weapon use and all are armed to the teeth, whether in uniform or out of it. Except for children, there is no “Israeli” who is a non-combatant.
And, by logical extension, if terrorism is the inflicting of force on civilians, the US – as well as its appendage “Israel” - is the biggest terrorist entity of all. And our own dear nation isn’t lagging behind either. If you say states can’t be terrorist, why, then, there can’t be any such thing as “terrorist states” as the US likes to pretend.
Fine, condemn London bus bombs and the abduction and murder of recalcitrant editors in Baghdad. But while you’re doing it, don’t forget the shelling of Palestinian civilians and the decade long sanctions and current genocidal war against Iraq, and – Indians - don’t forget the deliberate human rights abuses in North East India at the hands of our beloved security forces.
All that is terrorism, too.