Saturday, September 30, 2006

Terrorism: What Is it?

author - September 2003
by Martin Hunt

Most of us agree that terrorists are murderous bastards. But there are many sorts of murderous bastards. Are all murderous bastards terrorist? The Beltway snipers from a few years ago sure did spread terror - but should they be placed in the same category as suicide bombers motivated by bad religion and oppression?

Nobody doubts that the attack on 9/11 was a terrorist attack. The attack on Baghdad in the spring of 2003 was a terrorist attack too. The very term used to describe the strategy by the Pentagon; "Shock and Awe", refers to the terror that the US leaders hoped to create among Iraqis in order to minimize their resistance to invasion. The "Shock and Awe" image is particularly disturbing, because for a long time the Western democracies had tried to not be terrorists - UN peacekeeping missions were the opposite of terrorism - people risking their lives in very difficult situations to try and make populations feel safe enough to resume normal life.

Nobody doubts that suicide bombers are terrorist weapons. The point of terror is to make people scared that they will be killed or mutilated as they innocently go about their daily business. This fear is supposed to generate a political instability that will cause old power structures to collapse and new ones to arise. In this view the Beltway Snipers, terrifying as they were, were not terrorists - they were extortionists - guys out for a quick buck.

We forget that terror, as a weapon, has a long history. Israel wouldn't exist without the terrorist atrocities committed by Zionists led by Menachim Begin 50 years ago. The British were driven from Palestine by terror. A friend of mine's father was there at the time, as a British soldier. He tells of Zionists murdering people, and then booby trapping their bodies with bombs to also get the ambulance crew. My point here isn't to vilify Israel -- its only to point out that terrorism isn't only a vile tactic used against us by outsiders. Terrorism is a weapon that has been used by the ruthless through the ages - and all peoples and nations have their fair share of ruthless and violent people clawing after power, for whatever reason.

There is another aspect of terrorism that we often forget. The American people were understandably traumatized by the events of 9/11. Much of the world was traumatized by that. But surely it must be acknowledged that a large proportion of the trauma grew out of the presentation of those terrible events on TV. Hour after hour, day after day, people saw those planes slamming into those towers. Hour after hour we saw photos of the victims in the tower hurtling to the ground. I still have an image in my mind of a bald guy in mid air - head pointed to the ground, his body curled into a fetal position. My point here is that that kind of coverage magnifies the terror generated by the events tremendously.

So, in the contemporary world, some governments are using terrorist acts done by others to terrorize its own population into passive obedience. Even now, five years down the road we live in a situation where governments use terrorist acts as an excuse to do whatever they want. According to recent reports, Donald Rumsfield was agitating for an attack on Iraq the day after 9/11. He'd been wanting to do that for years, and here was his excuse. My view is that a government that uses terror in this way is itself using terror as a tool - my definition of terrorism above covers this situation very neatly.

On 9/11 al Quaeda carried out a terrorist action against the USA, and more broadly against all of the open societies in the world. I'm not particularly clear about what al Quaeda hoped to accomplish with such an act. But it is clear that many people have seized upon that attack as an excuse to transform democracy. I think that its not unreasonable to say that these people are actually trying to destroy democracy as we know it by instituing such a severe regime of security and secrecy that the citizens will not be well enough informed about their society to be able to make rational decisions.

For me, terrorism is a weapon. Weapons are used in war. I don't think that terrorism, as a weapon, is any worse than cruise missiles, atomic bombs, invasion forces or any of the other military capabilities possessed by the governments of the world. It would be nice to say that terror is too inhumane to be used because it kills so many non-combatants. All warfare kills non-combatants, and all warfare terrorizes non-combatants. It's a bit too cute to single out terrorism as intolerable while we think of the rest as being honorably military.

I have an extreme abhorrence for terrorists. For me though, George Bush is the biggest terrorist in the world. Ariel Sharon is a terrorist too. Just this summer, in Lebanon, we witnessed a war where both sides were obviously terrorsts - attacking each other's civilian populations to try and force political change. Osama Bin Laden is a terrorist also, but a minor one - one created in fact by the US in Afghanistan in the 1980's. Bin Laden is a traitor of course in that he has turned against his sponsors. But he's not the big guy.

I sure hope that this will not be construed as an anti-American rant. It's not my intention. My intention is merely to point out that if we are to resist the anti-democratic direction that our society is going that a lot of people will have to realize that they are being emotionally manipulated to have a "knee-jerk" reaction to whatever the government chooses to label "terrorist". We need to resist this manipulation and regain our perspective. If we allow democracy to be destroyed, then we will have thrown away something of tremendous value in a futile effort to be "safe". Our biggest protection is our democratic values. If we throw away our liberty then we will not be safe.

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