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From owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu Tue Dec 18 08:00:30 2001
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 20:05:03 -0600 (CST)
From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
Subject: DAILY STAR : 'Terrorism': the word itself is dangerous
Article: 132341
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

'Terrorism': the word itself is dangerous

‘Terrorism’: The word itself is dangerous

By John V. Whitbeck, Daily Star (Lebanon), 12 July 2001

The greatest threat to world peace today is clearly terrorism - not the behavior to which the word is applied but the word itself. For years, people have recited the truisms that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and that terrorism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. However, with the world's sole superpower declaring an open-ended, worldwide war on terrorism, the notorious subjectivity of this word is no longer a joke. It is no accident there is no agreed definition of terrorism, since the word is so subjective as to be devoid of meaning. At the same time, the word is extremely dangerous, because people tend to believe that it does have meaning and to use and abuse the word by applying it to whatever they hate as a way of avoiding rational thought and discussion and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral behavior.

There is no shortage of precise verbal formulations for the diverse acts to which the word terrorism is often applied. Mass murder, assassination, and sabotage are available (to which the phrase politically motivated can be added if appropriate), and such crimes are already on the statute books, rendering specific criminal legislation for terrorism unnecessary. However, such precise formulations do not carry the overwhelming, demonizing and thought-deadening impact of the word terrorism, which is precisely the charm of the word for its more cynical and unprincipled users and abusers. If someone commits politically motivated mass murder, people might be curious as to the cause or grievances which inspired such a crime, but no cause or grievance can justify (or even explain) terrorism, which, all right-thinking people agree, is the ultimate evil.

Most acts to which terrorism is applied (at least in the West) are tactics of the weak, usually (although not always) against the strong. Such acts are not a tactic of choice but of last resort. To cite one example, the Palestinians would prefer to fight for their freedom by respectable means, using F-16s, Apache attack helicopters and laser-guided missiles such as those the United States provides to Israel. If the United States provided such weapons to Palestine as well, the problem of suicide bombers would be solved. Until it does, and for so long as the Palestinians can see no hope for a decent future, no one should be surprised or shocked that Palestinians use the delivery systems available to them - their own bodies. Genuine hope for something better than a life worse than death is the only cure for the despair which inspires such gruesome violence.

In this regard, it is worth noting that the poor, the weak and the oppressed rarely complain about terrorism. The rich, the strong and the oppressors constantly do. While most of mankind has more reason to fear the high-technology violence of the strong than the low-technology violence of the weak, the fundamental mind-trick employed by the abusers of the epithet terrorism (no doubt, in some cases, unconsciously) is essentially this: The low-technology violence of the weak is such an abomination that there are no limits on the high-technology violence of the strong which can be deployed against it. Not surprisingly, since Sept. 11, virtually every recognized state confronting an insurgency or separatist movement has eagerly jumped on the war on terrorism bandwagon, branding its domestic opponents (if it had not already done so) terrorists and, at least implicitly, taking the position that, since no one dares to criticize the United States for doing whatever it deems necessary in its war on terrorism, no one should criticize whatever they now do to suppress their own terrorists.

Even while accepting that many people labeled terrorists are genuinely reprehensible, it should be recognized that neither respect for human rights nor the human condition are likely to be enhanced by this apparent carte blanche seized by the strong to crush the weak as they see fit. Writing in the Washington Post on Oct. 15, Post Deputy Editor Jackson Diehl cited two prominent examples of the abuse of the epithet terrorism: With their handshake in the Kremlin, Sharon and Putin exchanged a common falsehood about the wars their armies are fighting against rebels in Chechnya and the West Bank and Gaza. In both cases, the underlying conflict is about national self-determination: statehood for the Palestinians, self-rule for Chechnya. The world is inclined to believe that both causes are just -- Sharon and Putin both have tried to convince the world that all their opponents are terrorists, which implies that the solution need not involve political concessions but merely a vigorous counterterrorism campaign. Perhaps the only honest and globally workable definition of terrorism is an explicitly subjective one - violence which I don't support.

The Western press routinely characterizes as terrorism virtually all Palestinian violence against Israelis (even against Israeli occupation forces within Palestine), while the Arab press routinely characterizes as terrorism virtually all Israeli violence against Palestinians. Only this formulation would accommodate both characterizations, as well as most others. However, the word has been so devalued that even violence is no longer an essential prerequisite for its use. In recently announcing a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against 10 international tobacco companies, a Saudi Arabian lawyer told the press: We will demand tobacco firms be included on the lists of terrorists and those financing and sponsoring terrorism because of the large number of victims smoking has claimed the world over. If everyone recognized the word terrorism is fundamentally an epithet and a term of abuse, with no intrinsic meaning, there would be no more reason to worry about the word now than prior to Sept. 11. However, with the United States relying on the word to assert, apparently, an absolute right to attack any country it dislikes (for the most part, countries Israel dislikes) and with President Bush repeatedly menacing that either you're with us or you're with the terrorists (which effectively means, either you make our enemies your enemies or you'll be our enemy - and you know what we do to our enemies), many people around the world must feel a genuine sense of terror (dictionary definition: a state of intense fear) as to where the United States is taking the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, in America itself, the Bush Administration appears to be feeding the US Constitution and America's traditions of civil liberties, due process and the rule of law into a shredder - mostly to domestic applause or acquiescence. Who would have imagined that 19 angry men armed only with knives could accomplish so much, provoking a response, beyond their wildest dreams, which threatens to be vastly more damaging to their enemies even than their own appalling acts? If the world is to avoid a descent into anarchy, in which the only rule is might makes right, every retaliation provokes a counter-retaliation and a genuine war of civilizations is ignited, the world - and particularly the United States - must recognize that terrorism is simply a word, a subjective epithet, not an objective reality and certainly not an excuse to suspend all the rules of international law and domestic civil liberties which have, until now, made at least some parts of our planet decent places to live.