Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Defining Terrorism

The term "terrorism" and in particular "Islamic terrorism" has become one of the most used and abused of the English language, especially since the 9/11 WTC atrocities. But the lumping together of so many different factions of perpetrators of acts of extreme violence aimed at innocent civilians has a serious downside and is also due to a form of linguistic erosion that is often used by cynical world leaders to justify anti-terrorism knee-jerk reactions that appear popular with a largely ignorant but vengeful electorate.

At the UN summit the members remained incapable of coming up with a definition that was acceptable to all, and instead resigned itself to condemning terrorism in the broadest possible of ways.

Mr Bush said that terrorism, fed by anger and despair, passed easily across oceans and borders.

"There can be no safety in looking away or seeking the quiet life by ignoring the hardship... of others," he said.

Is this the Bush that's going to "smoke out and hunt down" the "evil-doers"? Or does this man actually have a grain of common sense?

Palestinians fighting Israel in the first Arab-Israeli war of '48 were considered soldiers at war, as were their Israeli counterparts. After losing the war, these same Palestinian fighters were considered resistance fighters or freedom fighters, fighting the occupation of what is still widely regarded as their territory. Today, Palestinian resistance to the occupation is seen as "Palestinian terrorism" and can be easily and conveniently lumped together with "Islamic terrorism" and Al-Qaeda.

And what do all terrorists have in common? The main common denominator is the targeting of innocent civilians. But targeting innocent civilians is nothing new in warfare. The German Luftwaffe used it extensively during the Blitz of London. Allied bombers raided German cities, culminating in the attack on Dresden which cost 320,000 civilian lives, almost as many as the nuclear Hiroshima and Nagasaki raids put together. The latter targeted of course also almost exclusively civilians as well.

Technically speaking the differences between massive bombing raids on civilian areas and today's suicide bombers are:


  1. The aerial bombing raids claimed far, far more casualties than any suicide bombing attack has ever claimed

  2. The bomber squads did everything they could to return home safely, rather than blow themselves up.



Others will argue that there exists no state of war between e.g. the London bombers and the UK, but the bombers do not really see it that way. And in the case of the Palestinian resistance, a state of war with the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory at the core, does effectively exist.

Do I condone the use of extreme violence against civilians? Of course not. The German and Allied bombing raids have in any case shown that such tactics usually cause the opposition to become even more resolved. This can also be seen in Israel, which has gradually turned itself into a walled and fortified security bunker. But whether an often called for unilateral cessation of violence by the Palestinians will have the desired effect on Israeli actions regarding withdrawal, also remains to be seen.

It is this clumping together of all those who resort to violence, in particular those of Islamic denomination, that leads to further contempt for the Palestinian cause. In particular in the eyes of many poorly informed Americans, to whom Palestinian violence is just another manifestation of Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden has in the past shown nothing but contempt for the PLO, whom he sees as too prone to compromise and unwilling to see things in the greater context. The PLO has also indicated that Bin Laden has never been willing to offer any help at all.

There are other examples of how the spin doctors have managed to control public opinion, simply by renaming things.

The Israeli Occupied Territories are now a "security zone", essential for the "survival of Israel". A security zone full of fortified settlements...

And since there is no "occupation", there can be no "withdrawal", instead there is going to be a "disengagement"...

A fellow blogger, in a private communication, also suggested that we don't call the Palestinian refugee camps, well... "refugee camps" any more. He didn't suggest what they should be called in New Speak but I bet it'll be something nice and cosy. "Resettlement areas", perhaps?

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