Terrorism, Dare We Define It?

by Milo Clark

April 26, 2004   


In warring on terrorism, who are we fighting?

Going into American history, we find that the Red-Coated British mercenaries or Hessians fighting the ragtag American revolutionaries considered them to be terrorists in the present sense. By hiding behind trees and sniping more than confronting, they didn't fight fairly.

Then, by definition, is someone who doesn't fight fair a Terrorist? Who defines "fight fair"? Usually, such definitions are a benefit of winning the fight. Losers tend to be "terrorists" or "traitors" and winners come away "freedom fighters" and "patriots." You say that is an old cliché? It is.

Is terrorism, then, simply a matter of definition? Those in power call those out of power or hoping to take power "terrorists." Power carries with it the ability to define, to name.

Or is terrorism violence by someone of whom I don't approve?

Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, is an old man who, as a youth, was active in establishing the Jewish state in what was then the British-mandated territory of Palestine.

In the later years of World War II, the Zionists in Palestine were split politically. Some wanted to do direct violence to British interests there. Others wanted to hold off such aggressions until after the larger war was over. History shows that extreme violence such as blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, partially a British headquarters, took place. At the time, the British considered that act "terrorism" and behaved accordingly. Veterans of that act and their associates went on to become leaders of Israel. Their efforts were then redefined as acts of "freedom fighters."

Recent years in Israel, once Palestine, display Israeli forces doing violence to surviving and displaced Semites (a.k.a. Arabs) who hold grudges for losing their lands. The Palestinians organized in several ways such as Hamas, a group with a partiality toward violence similar to the Zionists who blew up the King David Hotel, are called "terrorists" by the Israeli government and those who support them such as President George W. Bush of the United States of America.

Those who object to the Israeli acts of violence are labeled "Anti-Semites." As the Arab Palestinians tend to be, if anything, more racially Semitic than the majority of Jews in Israel, are the Israelis the genuine anti-Semites in this situation? More definitions and control of definitions may be noticed.

Someone pointed out that people who wrap themselves with explosives and blow themselves up to kill a few enemies are "terrorists" by definition. Those who ride in F-16s, Apache helicopters, Humvees, APCs, tanks and other very expensive weapons systems with the objective of killing Hamas leaders or other Palestinians are not terrorists. Is this because those so equipped control definitions? Or, if not definitions, per se, then control the media through which reports are broadcast?

By extension to Iraq, with some people resisting American military efforts to control their conquest, to occupy and to establish authority, definitions are again called into play. The "Coalition" forces (meaning 90% American military) are being attacked by "insurgents" and "terrorists." Killing Iraqis who oppose them is killing people who are against American efforts to establish "democracy." In this case, latter-day Americans are like the British mercenaries or Hessians of the American Revolution. The Iraqi insurgents, remnant Baathists, al Qaeda imports and local terrorists don't fight fair.

Lacking in the American Revolution was an overt association with religion, per se. Virtually all colonists were Protestant Christians so virtually the same God was on every side.

Iraq, however, sits at the intersections of very ancient societies and civilizations. Over the sands of Iraq, crossing and re-crossing the waters of Tigris and Euphrates, etched on ruins on top of ruins overlaid with ruins are the names of encyclopedias of religions. Prominent today are the sects of Islam.

Long before governments in the sense of nation states were imposed mostly by outsiders, order and civil society in these lands tended to center within the religions then in dominance. During the years of Islamic times, a critical force for civil society in Mid-East and Central Asia rested and rests with sects called "Sufi" by those with little knowledge.

American ignorance or arrogance since occupying Iraq has alienated key elements of both Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. Taking on both at once, as in Sunni Fallujah and Shia southern Iraq, borders on insanity. Adding, as recent days reveal, key leaders of several Sufi sects taking positions questioning American acts of violence carries arrogance to some extreme most likely to be measured by body bags sent home in the dark, and uncounted more Iraqi deaths. Sufi influence extends far beyond Iraq's borders and deeply within Islam as a whole. Sufi sects are the glue of Islamic societies world-wide.

Islam, as a religion sharing roots with Christianity and Judaism, shares other characteristics, too. There are, if anything, more sects, divisions, schisms and other rifts within Islam.

A driving political force of Israel, for example, are the ultra-orthodox sects of Judaism. The fortified settlements being erected on lands once Palestinian or Syrian seized in 1967 and in other of the wars fought since 1948's imposition of Israel tend to be peopled by Jewish fundamentalists advocating very strict and very limited interpretations of Torah and other sacred books of Judaism.

Interestingly, largely American Christian sects aligning themselves with these Judaic sects in terms of apocalyptic interpretations of scripture also take very strict and very limited interpretations as their guidance. The American president, George W. Bush, calls himself a "born again" Christian. Those who share his views also hold to very strict interpretations of scripture alleged to be the incontrovertible Word of God.

Within Islam, as within Judaism and Christianity, there are long traditions attached to people who may be called "fundamentalists." In Islam, major groups so-called have been or are named Khawarij, Salafi and Wahabi. They claim to hark back to their visions or versions of early Islam, maybe its first four hundred years. Their claims are not widely shared elsewhere in Islam.

We are becoming somewhat familiar with Wahabi as a fundamentalist sect of Islam due to its integration with the Saudi monarchy. Wahabi is the official state religion of Saudi Arabia. The Taliban of Afghanistan were and are tightly aligned with the Wahabi of Saudi Arabia.

Many allege that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are primarily aligned with Wahabi Islam. There is no doubt that there is some, perhaps a great deal of overlap. Yet, bin Laden has looked elsewhere for much of his inspiration. The Brotherhood of Egypt, in terms of modern history, has shaped more of bin Laden's stated ideologies than Wahabi views, per se. No hairs need be spilt much finer. Differences appear to come down to action choices.

Much like the Zionists of pre-Israel Palestine, some prefer direct violence, others prefer to allow events and time to act in their behalf. After all, when one believes in God, gives uncompromising faith to God, God will deliver.

Over history and over time, that sentiment has been a characteristic of fundamentalists of every persuasion.

George W. Bush sees no reason to apologize for what others may believe to be arrogance or ignorance related to his choices for his Wars of Terror. Whoops, should I say "Wars on Terror"?

Asked if he consults with this father, George H. W. Bush, he says, "No," God is the Father to whom he turns for guidance.

May heaven (however defined) have mercy on us all!

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Published April 26, 2004
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