AN ANALYSIS OF GOVERNMENT AND NON-GOVERNMENT TERRORISM AND THE UNDERLYING FACTORS INVOLVED.
As a word and concept, “terrorism” has acquired an extraordinary status in American public discourse, especially following the tragedy of September 11. The elevation of terrorism to the status of a national security threat (though more Americans drown in their bathtubs or die in traffic accidents) has sidetracked careful scrutiny of the government’s domestic and foreign policies. Edward Said commented in a 1989 interview: “Whether the deflection will be longstanding or temporary remains to be seen, but given the almost unconditional assent of the media, intellectuals, and policy-makers to the terrorist vogue, the prospects for a return to semblance of sanity are not encouraging,” and this still holds for today.
Prior to discussing the existence of terrorism, several terms need to be properly defined. The first term is terrorism. The definition which may be most useful for our purposes is the one used by the former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in his overtly biased book, Terrorism: How the West Can Win. Terrorism according to his definition is the “deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends.” Netanyahu expands on the definition by explaining that the word “deliberate” necessarily excludes accidental civilian war casualties; that “systematic” implies a “methodical campaign of repeated outrages” (and not isolated occurrences) from guerillas (who wage war on regular military forces). Terrorists according to the definition are sparked and guided by political considerations. Netanyahu’s definition is useful for separating the “common criminal” from the terrorist, for it infers that the terrorists are invariably concerned with items other than material goals or personal benefits. Terrorists, according to the definition, are sparked and guided by political considerations. An important point to note here is that “motivated by political considerations” is not synonymous with “espouses a particular political philosophy”.
The second term requiring proper definition is the word ideology. A common definition is “the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class or culture”.
By combining the above two definitions, one would come to the conclusion that a terrorist ideology according to the American Heritage Dictionary is “a body of ideas which involves the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends, and which is a reflection of the needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class or culture”.
SIZE & STRUCTURE
An important comment which needs to be made regarding the above definition is that those individuals or groups which engage in terrorism are not limited to a certain size or structure. Furthermore, the definition does not infer that a terrorist party must profess a particular set of political beliefs. One can therefore conclude that any size group, which is motivated by political considerations and which engages in a systematic and deliberate campaign of violence against innocent civilians, has a “terrorist ideology”. What must be examined is the possible nature of such groups.
It must be realized is that most terrorist incidents are not committed by individuals who follow specific ideologies such as those mentioned above. Rather, most terrorist incidents stem from:
- GOVERNMENTS: which often are ideologically motivated
- NON-GOVERNMENTAL GROUPS: which often are not ideologically motivated to commit terrorist acts
Contrary to what we are often led to believe, most governments do indeed engage in terrorism. Unfortunately, a number of governments (many of which we just happen to support) have attempted to justify their violent acts and have applied innocuous sounding euphemisms to what is, by definition, classic examples of terrorism.
An interesting illustration of the concept of dual definitions involves a story told many centuries ago by St. Augustine. According to the story as retold by Noam Chomsky in his book Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World, Alexander the Great captures and confronts a pirate by asking him, “How dare you molest the seas?” The pirate responds by saying, “How dare you molest the whole world. Because I do it with a little ship I am called a thief; you doing it with a great navy are called an emperor”.
The fact of the matter is that a large number of countries have or continue to engage in terrorism. The question as to whether or not these acts are the main strategy of a government (which is sometimes the case) is irrelevant. What matters is that such states deliberately and systematically attack innocent individuals. Although this fact will always be denied by the attackers, the evidence seems to support the victims.
Even by definition, government terrorism should be recognized as such. In fact, most sources agree that terrorism originated with governments with totalitarian policies such as the Soviet Union under Stalin and Nazi Germany. Nowadays, Israel has clearly taken this title (having held it since its inception).
STATE SPONSORED & STATE SUPPORTED TERRORISM
The terrorism which stems from governments may take two forms. State sponsored terrorism in which the state engages in terrorist acts, or state supported terrorism in which the government uses some group as an instrument to achieve its goals. For this type of terrorism, a government could either create a new organization or can attempt to co-opt an existing organization. Israel has been successful in both forms.
A major question not yet asked is why governments engage in terrorism. More specifically is whether governments are motivated by some ideology. It would seem that the main reason that governments engage in terrorism is so as to weaken, demoralize or sap the energies of their adversaries, or so as to impose their political systems on adversarial states or peoples within their borders. In both cases, a government aspires to see the creation of other states which share with it a common political ideology or a society willing to succumb to its rule however discriminatory it may be.
Of all the forms of terrorism, government terrorism has always been incomparably greater in scale and damage that that conducted by any other group. Furthermore, such terrorism is especially unethical since it rarely involves a reaction to a legitimate situation, although this is usually the justification. Rather, the terrorism is a result of a government’s pursuit of a certain policy. Unlike individuals who act without direction and guidance of others, governments create policies involving a collective effort on the part of many people. Put more precisely, terrorism becomes a government policy. Referring to such a policy as “exporting a revolution” or “fostering freedom and democracy” does nothing to hide the true nature of the policy.
A number of non-governmental groups have engaged in a variety of terrorist acts in the past few decades or so. Because of the spectacular nature of some of these acts and the government and media’s preoccupation with them, terrorism (as practiced by these individuals and/or groups) has been elevated to the position of national security threat.
Prior to examining a group’s motivation to carry out terrorist attacks, one must clear the difference between terrorism and armed struggle. The principle of armed struggle derives from the right of armed resistance accorded universally to all peoples suffering from national oppression. This principle is affirmed by the United Nations Charter allowing the right to armed struggle as referenced in Article 51 and the United Nations Resolution on the Right of Self-Determination for People of Palestine (Resolution 2649). The question over who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter is often blurred not by the individuals who engage in the violent actions, but rather, by the governments who do not seem to want to recognize that armed struggle exists, unless of course, that government is supporting a group engaged in violent actions.
By abiding to the definition created earlier, one could see that the majority of groups which are called terrorist groups do not have a policy of “deliberately and systematically targeting innocent individuals”. Rather, these groups are naturally responding to injustice, oppression and persecution. Unfortunately, certain misguided members of such groups do engage in terrorist acts.
One could even argue that if terrorism is the use of violence for a certain goal, then all military activities which involve the use of violence are terroristic. Furthermore, because war is declared by governments bound by certain laws, any violation of these laws is terrorism. Of course, individuals are not bound by such laws.
FACTORS WHICH LEAD TO TERRORISM
- Terrorism is a way of expressing long felt collective grievances. When legal and political means fail over a long period, a minority of the aggrieved community acts out violently often eliciting the sympathy of the majority. Another way of putting it is that frustrated groups who are confronted with a system that they do not approve of (due to its brutality or discrimination for example) and which they cannot resist, resort to terrorism.
- The fact that terrorism exist is an unfortunate one which should not be denied. And although one should not condone and/or justify such acts, one must look further into the matter past that which is publicized in the media. Many times acts of terrorism can be understood.
- The mix of anger and helplessness produces compulsions toward retributive violence.
- Experience of violence by a stronger party has historically turned victims into terrorists.
- When identifiable external targets become available, violence is internationalized.
- Example spreads terrorism. The more serious examples are set by governments. When practiced and supported by powerful countries, terrorism is legitimized as an instrument of attaining political objectives.
- Lack of revolutionary ideology enhances a group’s propensity towards international terrorism.
Another distinction which should be noted is that many of those who commit individual acts of terrorism openly acknowledge it, for they feel it is justified, whereas state sponsored terrorism has occurred unnoticed and unacknowledged. The reason for this is because it has been covered up, not only by the governments, but through a double standard in the media.
One must note an often ignored fact involving terrorism, namely, the increasing military police power of the state government which totally monopolizes power, giving the opposing side no other option but violence in fighting repressive or oppressive policies. It has been repeatedly emphasized that terrorism is a new phenomenon which requires measures to deal with it. This is true; however, the increasing oppressive power of modern governments is true also. The human attitude towards vengeance, personal or otherwise, can be replaced only by as assurance that justice will be maintained in any dispute between two parties through a certain authority.
Overall, it would seem that the groups which do engage in reprehensible acts of violence are not following specific ideological dogma, but rather, are acting in response to situations which they happen to be in.
Media. The role of the press in any country should ideally be to keep its public as best informed as it can, reporting the truth without fear or favor. The bias displayed by the United States media towards Israel is so overwhelming that a neutral observer could be forgiven for believing that American media was being paid by Israel to show pro-Israeli and pro-Zionist propaganda. The reasons for Israel’s uniquely favorable handling by the United States media are not hard to find. For a start, as Jewish historian Alfred Lilienthal has stated in his book The Zionist Connection, it is a simple fact that there are a disproportionate number of Jews in the American media, relative to the population.
The other major factor explaining the bias towards Israel is the formidable weight of pressure and influence exercised by Jewish pressure groups in the United States. The media has always shown an obvious bias. When an act of terrorism has been committed against Israel for example, it has been sensationalized tremendously involving weeks of media coverage. The Israeli attempt at genocide of the Palestinians is barely if ever covered. To go further, major media outlets have even tried to cover-up Israeli atrocities. To silence the media and stifle debate is to threaten the chances of peace in the Middle East.
U.S. Role. A great example of double standard is the preferential treatment of Israel and their blind support for a country that exists in violation of International Law. At a time when America boasts its support of countries respecting freedom and democracy, the blind support of a country that denies an entire people its basic human rights, restricts their freedom of movement, closes educational institutions, engages in collective punishment, mass arrests and torture, demolishes civilians homes to name a few things, is quite ironic. That we support a country that had leaders involved in terrorist organizations, leaders wanted by other governments, leaders guilty of unspeakable atrocities is beyond question. That we support a country responsible for bombing our military ships (USS Liberty) or employing spies (Jonathon Pollard) to steal sensitive information from our country is reprehensible. Yet the U.S. claims that democratically elected Hamas is a terrorist organization (because they are defending their allocated right to self-determination) sanctioning an entire population which chose their representation.
Current literature tries to discredit the factors involved in this analysis and some go as far as saying that terrorists have no rational basis for committing their violent acts and that their violence stems from certain ethnic or religious characteristics which somehow make them predisposed toward violence. These critics ignore history and present no evidence which would allow us to lend credence to their views.
Unfortunately, these critics are in pursuit of their own political objectives. Many systematically misinterpret facts and speak lengthily on undocumented allegations. It is quite unfortunate that such authors have decided not to distinguish between isolated and politically worthless acts of desperation and orchestrated attempts at genocide. It is hoped that in the future, more responsible authors will analyze the question of terrorists and their ideologies in a much more unbiased and scholarly manner.
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