What is terrorism? In the wake of the atrocities, the world has witnessed in the past two decades or so, posing such a question should seem bizarre to most people. After all, we all know what terrorism is, having either suffered its consequences directly or learned about its deadly impact on people’s lives through the media.
Yet the United Nations’ legal committee, which has been wrangling with the question for decades, appears to have failed, once again, to offer an answer. This, in turn, could mean that the forthcoming United Nations’ General Assembly will, once again, try to dodge the issue, despite the fact that half of the member states have suffered some form of terrorism in the past three decades.
All this means that Britain, using its rotating presidency of both the European Union and the G-8 would have a tougher time promoting its vision of a “no excuses” law on terrorism as a step towards a genuinely international effort to fight the evil.
The committee’s failure is caused by the old cliché that “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom-fighter” which would allow some to claim that terrorists should be divided into good ones and evil ones. The truth, however, is that all terrorism is evil and that one man’s terrorist should be regarded as every man’s terrorist.
Part of the blame for the UN’s failure to develop a comprehensive position on terrorism is put on Arab and other Muslim states that insist that the killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian suicide-bombers should not be regarded as terrorism. The argument is that because the Palestinians lack the sophisticated arms that Israel has, they have the right to use their bodies as weapons of war.
The same argument, however, could be applied to acts of terror against any state anywhere in the world. The Egyptian terrorists who blow up people in Sharm el-Sheikh also lack the fighter-bombers, the tanks and the laser-guided missiles of the Egyptian state. And the suicide-bombers who attacked London on 7/7 certainly did not have the Polaris nuclear submarines and supersonic-bombers that the British state has in its arsenal.
Another argument, popular especially in Western liberal circles, is that if you have a just cause you have an automatic right to kill anyone you designate as foe. The problem is that there is no authority to decide which cause is just and which isn’t.
The terrorists who attacked the United States on 9/11 and those who struck in London on 7/7 believed that they had a just cause. The same is true of terrorists who are killing people on an almost daily basis in Iraq.
Take any “cause” you like, including the most murderous, and you are sure to find some people who regard it as “just.”
The Animal Liberation Front which has caused the death of quite a few people is one example. The Japanese Aoun sect that gassed large numbers of people to death in the Tokyo underground is another. There are people who kill because they are against abortion and people who kill because they want a separate Basque state in Spain. All regard their causes as just.
History is full of instances of terrorism being used in the service of just causes. The difference in this age of political correctness is that, unlike in the past when a spade was called a spade, the elites shy away from describing terrorism as terrorism. The French revolutionaries had no qualms about describing their activities as terror. Their anthem, La Marseillaise, is full of incitement to murder. Lenin expressed pride in his “Red Terror”, and Mao Zedong committed poems in praise of “terrorizing the enemies of the people.”
The refusal of the elites, both in the West and in the Muslim world, to recognize terrorism for what it is could lead to many an absurd situation.
As an example let us examine the case of the British media.
The way they cover terrorism means that a person’s death at the hands of terrorists could be presented in many different ways.
For example, if you are killed by Abu-Mussab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, the BBC will say that you have fallen victim to “Iraqi resistance”. If you die in a terror attack in Sharm el-Sheikh you will be a victim of “Islamic militants”. If you are killed in Haifa you will be said to have fallen at the hands of “radical Palestinians.” Those killed in Spain are victims of “Basques separatists”, and if you die in Colombia you would be a victim of “leftist guerrillas”. In Kashmir anyone who dies would be a victim of “Muslim independence fighters.” Only if you die in Britain or the United States the BBC will describe you as a victim of terrorism.
The BBC is not alone in its posture. Several major British and American news agencies and quite a few reputable newspapers have banned the word “terrorist” except when Britain and the United States are attacked.
The belief that some terrorists are good and others bad can lead to other absurd situations.
Each year, the Islamic Republic in Tehran celebrates the anniversary of the seizure of the American hostages as “a glorious day” in its history, although, under the Iranian Penal Code, taking hostages is a crime, punishable by 15 years imprisonment.
In August 1978 Khomeinist terrorists set the Cinema Rex in Abadan on fire, killing almost 600 people. The apologists of the regime regard the incident as “an historic moment when the true believers showed their just anger at a symbol of Western corruption.”
The claim that terrorism could be good in certain circumstances is based on the dictum: the ends justify the means.
The dictum amounts to a zoological definition of politics in which there is no room for ethics and law. All that you need to do is to claim that your cause is just and then grant yourself a license to kill as you please.
Yussuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based preacher, says that one can kill unborn Israeli babies because they could, if allowed to be born, grow up and join the army. But that could apply to unborn children anywhere in the world. All you need to do is claim a just cause against the state that you hate and its army. Couldn’t an unborn Pakistani or Egyptian baby, if allowed to come to this world, grow up to join the army?
Qaradawi’s disciples have extended his logic to justify random killings in the West. The argument is put starkly in a pro-Qaradawi website: “The Western nations claim to be democracies, which means their governments are the same as their people. Thus those who vote for a government are also responsible for its deeds and equally open to punishment.”
Don’t be surprised if the argument is taken further to allow the killing of unborn babies in Western democracies. After all, they could, if allowed to be born, grow up and vote for governments that the terrorists do not like.