print logo

Of ‘good’ terrorists and ‘bad’ terrorists

 InDepth News 14 May 2019

Terrorism and terrorists are two of the most widely and largely used terms nowadays. But what is the definition of terrorism? Is it possible to plan and implement detailed anti-terrorism strategies and specific, well-defined actions to combat terrorism, while a major planner – U.S. State Department clearly states that no one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance? Fareed Mahdy takes a look at the ambiguity at an issue which dominates the headlines and the world’s conscience. Is it possible that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists?  - By Fareed Mahdy

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Terrorism and terrorists are two of the most widely and largely used terms nowadays. But what is the definition of terrorism?

According to the U.S. State Department, no one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. However, an often used one is the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute offers the following definitions:

"The term 'terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant, targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."

"The term 'international terrorism' means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country."

"The term 'terrorist group' means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism."

For its part, the U.S. Department of Defence Dictionary of Military Terms defines terrorism as:

"The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."

The United Kingdom's Terrorism Act 2000 says that "terrorism" means "the use or threat of action where the action falls within subsection 2,73 the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public and the use or threat of action is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause."

Meanwhile, since 1994, the UN General Assembly has condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism:

"Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."

In the light of the above definitions of terrorism, seven major questions impose themselves necessarily and urgently:


QUESTION 1:

Is it possible to plan and implement detailed anti-terrorism strategies and specific, well-defined actions to combat terrorism, while a major planner - U.S. State Department clearly states that no one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance?

The same question applies to the contents of major UK reports on terrorism - no precise, unequivocal definition.

In other words, is it possible to set up and carry out specific, defined actions against an unspecific, undefined subject or phenomenon?


QUESTION 2:

Why a definition such as the one of the U.S. Defense Department's ("The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.") has been exclusively applied to certain groups only?

Isn't it true that some big powers have been acting within the exact term of this definition, through the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological?

Wasn't this the case of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia?

Weren't these actions intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of political or ideological goals?

Wasn't this the case of the U.S. and allies' invasion of Afghanistan? And Iraq? Weren't these invasions meant to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of political or ideological goals?

One can perfectly argue that most official definitions of terrorism talk about the use of calculated and "unlawful" violence.

But then, aren't the U.S. and allies' using "… calculated violence intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological"?

Or is the use of calculated violence 'lawful' just because the U.S. and the UK, among other Western powers, managed to strap from the UN a 'legal coverage' based on fake information and lies?

Didn't the U.S. president and the UK prime minister admit, publicly, that Iraq did no have such weapons?

Any scientific evidence about the alleged close terrorism-related-ties between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan?


QUESTION 3:

Does the UN definition, which was adopted with the consent of the U.S., UK and other Western powers, justify the use of chemical weapons?

How to judge the case of the U.S. use of Agent Orange in Vietnam to which 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects? And the deployment of Napalm by the U.S. - was that "lawful"?

And how to categorize the Israeli bombing with white phosphor on Gaza?

Don't these activities fall under the definition of "unlawful"? Aren't these "criminal acts"?

The UN definition of terrorism is: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."


QUESTION 4:

Weren't the U.S. nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a "... calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological," according to the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms definition?

Can't the U.S. use of drone strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan be defined as calculated use of unlawful violence? They kill hundreds of unarmed civilians.


QUESTION 5:

Don't the Western threats to impose more and tougher sanctions against Iran to punish it for a potential, not-based on any scientific evidence, probable and eventual intention to produce nuclear heads in an unspecified future... don't they fit in the U.S. Defense Department definition:

"The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."


QUESTION 6:

Doesn't the reported possession by Israel of 200 nuclear weapons constitute "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."?

How to characterize that in the light of all the above definitions of terrorism? Is it enough to declare the aim of such weapons as 'deterrent' instead of using the definition of "inculcate fear"?


QUESTION 7:

The final statement by an unprecedented 47-nation nuclear security summit in Washington promised greater efforts to block "non-state actors" from obtaining the building blocks for nuclear weapons for "malicious purposes".

Is such a last-minute differentiation between "state actors" and "non-state actors" enough to legalize Israeli, Indian and Pakistan's refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?

Isn't refusing to sign the NPT an act of unlawful action by a state?

Isn't it state terrorism, the use of military force and violence against unarmed demilitarized populations, of occupying their lands, demolishing their houses, installing colonies in their place, building separation walls, annexing territories, imposing hermetic siege, showing irreverence toward places of worship, and more - expelling natives from their lands?


A FINAL POINT

All said, there is an aspect that has not been specified in any of the above definitions but that could possibly fit in one or another definition.

It is about that fact that quite often - with or without any solid, scientific evidence - terrorism and terrorists are both tagged with the adjective 'Islamist', a singular word designed to define Islam only.

In fact, no terrorist organization in a 'Christian' European country (Spanish ETA, the German Baader-Meinhof or the Irish Republic Army, among others) has ever been branded as "Christianist".

Nor has the Haganah - the paramilitary organization active during the British Mandate for Palestine period 1920 to 1948 - which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces - ever been called "Hebrewist" or "Jewishist".

Could it be that there are 'good' terrorists and 'bad' terrorists?

recently added

test