Thursday, July 28, 2005

On defining terrorism

Isn’t it ironic that "terrorism", a word in everyone’s mouth now, and arguably the most debated issue over the last five years, has yet to be explicitly defined? Neither the United Nations, nor less prestigious institutions, - let alone individual nations- have ever dared to propose a concise definition of the word “terrorism”.

Owing to the recrudescence of terrorism in the recent weeks, Kofi Annan looks more eager to convince all the protagonists on a single and clear definition. According to this article, he seems to have convinced Amr Moussa the head of Arab League for accepting this definition: Terrorism is "any intentional maiming or killing of civilians as terrorism, regardless of cause". Amr Moussa’s reaction "This is a definition we can agree on", certainly under the pressure of the last bombings in London and Charm Sheikh, is not in line with that of the Arab states, who are not reluctant for condemning terrorism per se but do not want this definition to be applied to Palestinian suicide bombings, because, they say, this should be seen as a "right of national liberation movements to fight foreign occupation".

In my view, this attitude, in addition of being morally unacceptable, is defensive and counterproductive. If anything, it is only fueling the misunderstanding between Muslim and Western civilizations. What are Arab States expecting when they show reluctance to back such a clear statement as "intentional maiming or killing of civilians is terrorism, regardless of cause", other than a further alienation of Muslims and Arabs from the rest of the world? My guess is that Arab leaders fear the anger of the Arab “Street” that a condoning of Annan’s proposal might entail. They will be seen, they think, as “selling the Palestinian cause” and acting as a proxy of Western imperialism. This is nonsense and the kind of things, which are preventing us from moving ahead.

Instead of adopting a hardly defendable stance, Arab states should be much more offensive. They should condemn any Palestinian suicide bombings targeting civilians. They just can’t hide behind the eternal excuse of resistance. After all, Bin Laden and company, use this very argument to justify terrorism, which, they claim, is a response to injustices done to Palestine, Iraq and other Muslim lands. By offensive, I mean they should not only accept without questioning Annan’s proposal, but go beyond. They should say, that yes, Palestinian suicide bombings against Israeli civilians is terrorism. They should insist, moreover, that the definition of terrorism stated above should be as protective of civilians as possible. By this, I mean that any excuse by somebody (or some entity) killing civilians that he (it) intended to kill some “enemy” that happened to be close to them is unacceptable. In this case, any bombing of an enemy is some urban street or place should be considered as terrorism. Accordingly, Sheikh Yassine and Rantissi assassinations should be declared as terrorism because along with them many civilians were assassinated. Otherwise, the definition of terrorism above will be useless. Any suicide bomber might also claim that killing those civilians in Israel was intended to kill the military personnel that happened to be 30 meters away… The moral of the story is that, to effectively fight terrorism, we shouldn’t play games with coherence. Either we decide once for all to be coherent either we must admit that we are fooling ourselves and are acting irresponsibly.


Jawad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jawad said...

Have you noticed that the US government is now steering away from the phrase: "War on terrorism" in favor of a new thing they now call: "Struggle against Extremism". Political marketing or a paradigm shift in public policy? Where does that leave the Christian extremism of the electoral base of this very administration? Maybe there is nothing to it after all – but it is interesting nonetheless.

Jallal said...

Yeah, I saw a title of an article on the Internet but didn’t have a chance to read it. I am curious actually to know what was the reason behind such a decision, whether indeed it is marketing or a paradigm shift. As of Christian extremism, we are speaking here of 40 to 70 millions people. So the question is really worth it!

mehidou said...

Au delà des définitions et des terminologies, je ne vois pas comment on peut interdire a un peuple occupé, opprimé et humilié de combattre son occupant par tous les moyens que lui seul peut juger bons ou pas.
Car le but ultime de toute cette gymnastique linguistique c'est ça, empêcher les palestiniens de lutter contre l'occupant.
Et d'ailleurs je conteste la définition de Annan car elle s’écarte beaucoup du vrai sens du terme qui englobe la terreur et par conséquent je propose la définition : le terrorisme est tout acte dont le but est de créer un climat de terreur quels que soient les moyens utilisés pour le créer : 1000 têtes nucléaires, articles, discours, un mur,…
Mais le vrai problème n’est pas dans les définitions mais dans la crédibilité et le poids des instances qui émettent ces définitions, ça fait des années que les opprimés attendent des gestes concrets des organisations internationales pour aller au delà des condamnations pour prouver au monde entier que ce n’est pas la loi du plus fort qui régit notre planète et pour que le monde entier cesse de croire ou soupçonner que c’est le plus fort qui derriere les nouvelles définitions des termes aussi anciens que l’humanité tels que : le terrorisme, le bien et le mal.

Jallal said...

Tes préoccupations sont pertinentes mais saches qu’en Palestine même, il existe plein de gens contre les attentats suicides. Donc, ce ne sont pas seulement des personnes de l’extérieur qui les trouvent inacceptables.

Personnellement, je pense que l’injustice ne justifie pas l’injustice. Qu’elle que soit la cause.

Ce que j’ai dit dans mon post c’est que refuser une définition aussi claire de Annan, sera beaucoup plus préjudiciable aux Palestiniens et Arabes qu’à leurs adversaires. Au contraire, il faut être offensif, c’est à dire accepter la dite définition et en plus aller au-delà, en affirmant que le « terrorisme » doit inclure toute action ne tenant pas compte de la présence des civils. Une telle position obligera Annan, où bien à abandonner son projet de définition du terrorisme, où bien à se montrer courageux en acceptant de qualifier comme du terrorisme tout ce qui cause le meurtre de civils, ce qui veut dire que Israel sera jugé comme terroriste quand elle démolit des maisons, ou fait des incursions comme celle de Jenine. Une telle démarche mettra Annan et compagnie sur la défensive, et placera la balle dans leur camp au lieu qu’elle soit dans le camp des Arabes.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely.

I have seen this same request for a clear definition from several middle eastern writers, and had thought it was odd that such emphasis would be placed on a need for an agreed-on definition, until I read your explanation about Palestinian resistance. The other writers I have read were all from Lebanon, and they didn't mention Palestine, and in my dumb innocence, that didn't occur to me.

I can't agree with Annan that "any intentional maiming or killing of civilians is terrorism, regardless of cause". If I shoot my wife and her lover, Annan would say that is terrorism, but shooting my wife and her lover does not have the essential essence of terrorism, and that is that the action has a political component or is done to induce fear in those not killed . (Which would not fit my example unless my wife had more then one lover, of course!! [smile]) What happened in Casablanca or London or Madrid was certainly terrrorism and what happens when Israeli IDF kills innocent Palestinians (collateral damage) is certainly terrorism. When Palestinian suicide bombers explode themselves in an Israeli cafe, that is terrorism. There is NO need for an exact definition -- everyone KNOWS what terrorism is - they just might not want to acept it when it applies to themselves or causes they espouse. So lets accept a simple definition, such as Annans - even if it is limited - and move ahead. The important thing is that all this senseless killing just has to be stopped!!


Jallal said...

Hi Barney,

Yeah, beware, Annan is watching you!

That’s was a good one when you put in equation the “more than one lover” element. That’s too deep an analysis, my friend :-)

Actually, if we want to push the comparison ahead, and even if shouting the wife and the lover is not allowed by the law, the definition of terrorism above, in the case of this cheating, would be to go shooting the lover’s or the wife’s relatives, which were not part of the game! Because this is what terrorism is all about: taking the life of innocent civilian people.