Terrorism or not?

Terrorism is a term being used a lot lately. It’s being used inappropriately in many cases.

Terrorism is “the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.” The primary thing though is violence used to achieve political ends. It differs from war, I suspect, because most people consider the right of one country to wage war against another country as lawful, although I personally don’t.

Osama bin Laden is a terrorist. Little doubt about that. Saddam Hussein? The issue is a bit murkier. He did use violence against his own people to kill and oppress Kurds, other minorities and those who don’t like him. He has apparently used unlawful biological or chemical weapons, but I don’t know if Iraq ever signed that particular treaty. Mass murderer: most likely. Terrorist: dunno about that rap. Doubtless though we will hear Bush call him a terrorist in his State of the Union speech tomorrow. He may fill his own people with terror, but that is not the definition of a terrorist. He has been involved in no act of terrorism against the United States that we know about.

Yassir Arafat, terrorist or not? The difference between terrorist and freedom fighter gets very murky. His aims are certainly political, but his aim is a Palestinian state. Is everyone who takes arm to create a state for their own people a terrorist? If Israel is to lay this rap on him, why weren’t the founding fathers of Israel also terrorists for having done pretty much the same thing to the Palestinian inhabitants of what was then Palestine?

Drug dealers are often called terrorists when they kill people. Murderers yes. Mass murderers: sometimes. Terrorists, no, unless you count the thugs in Columbia who basically want an anarchy to run the country as one big narcotics manufacturing facility. By in large though drug dealers and narcotics distributors just want the large sums of money. Running a country doesn’t interest them.

This discussion hopefully raises another issue: what is so special about terrorism anyhow, as opposed to say, mass murder? For example what makes what happened in Oklahoma City worse than say, what Jim Jones did to his followers in French Guinea in 1978? The key difference is the act is political, but does that really warrant a more severe form of punishment and admonition? The big nasty sin seems to be to want to change a system of government through means of force of arms outside of a declared war.

But there are plenty of inflexible governments out there, such as, well Saddam Hussein’s where if a group if insurgents tried to use terrorism as a means to bring down his government we’d be calling them “freedom fighters”. So it seems the issue is the kind of government. If it is something like the United States then this sort of activity is terrorism. Otherwise maybe it’s okay and it’s freedom fighting.

I hope I’m not the only one disturbed by the sloppy and inappropriate use of the term “terrorist”.

One response to “Terrorism or not?”

  1. Mark, you raise a lot of interesting points, I’m also disturbed by the misuse of the term. Excellent piece. I’ll comment more thoroughly on some of your posts when I have more time/energy tomorrow


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