Spaniards Get The Message

by Philip Greenspan

March 29, 2004   


Any group of kids can and often do vandalize. They can at times be quite destructive and occasionally cause the death of some innocent victim. Those random crazed acts are not terrorism.

Most definitions of terrorism distinguish it from violence by specifying "intent to further a cause" -- political, religious or ideological. (1)

Terrorism is a desperation tactic that is employed when a group's pleas have not been heeded. The carrot did not work -- it's time for the stick. The intent of various terrorist groups is usually quite evident.

The State Department has a list of terrorist organizations. (2) On reading it, one could surmise the objectives of each.

If the terrorists' only sought death and destruction they would engage in more numerous and more lethal terrorist acts. With the sizable organizations that some command they could randomly set off terrorist bombs on an almost daily basis.

Why don't they? Because each action entails more than the physical result. Its shock impact is intended to alert a target population to the group's plight by delivering a message.

It is not difficult to determine the terrorists' message. Invariably the response to that message is extremely significant. That response may ameliorate or augment the terror.

9/11 was a masterpiece of terrorism. It was an extremely well planned and coordinated action. Four jetliners hijacked at the same time crashed into three of America's most notable buildings -- the two towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What other symbols could highlight the wealth and power of the U.S. than those?

There are thousands of potential targets throughout the country -- bridges, tunnels, skyscrapers, shopping malls, stadia, power plants -- whose destruction would have brought similar shock value. But they skipped the easy. They demonstrated that the most prestigious assets of the world's only superpower are vulnerable targets!

And then they delivered their most important message: Get your presence out of Saudi Arabia; stop the sanctions on Iraq and get your puppet, Israel, out of the occupied Palestinian territories!

The puppets in Saudi Arabia, fearing that their precarious hold on power was now in jeopardy, took the message seriously. It told its patron in much more refined language "Get -- the asses of your troops and all their paraphernalia -- the hell out of here!" Those sheiks still remain in power.

An earlier terrorist attack that also shocked the country took place in downtown Oklahoma City. It targeted the Murrah Federal Building, a landmark of that city. The response of the government was to treat it as a crime, which it was. A perpetrator was found, tried under the law and executed.

The response to 9/11 was not treated as criminal acts calling for a trial of the culprits in a court of law. Those criminal acts became an act of war. Any country somehow connected to the perpetrators was now an enemy.

Why was this handled differently? Because with the public paralyzed in fear it gave the administration carte blanche to pursue any policy if it provided a cloak of plausibility and legitimacy to that policy.

Before 9/11 both Afghanistan and Iraq had been selected as countries that the US administration had hoped to crush. By doctoring facts to tie the "culprit countries" to the hated terrorists it was simple enough to justify their invasion to the frightened citizens.

Several foreign countries have had experience with government-labeled terrorist groups for many years -- Britain and the IRA; Spain and the ETA; France and the FLNC; Israel and the PLO; Colombia and the FARC, to name a few.

All have treated each hostile act as crimes deserving of punishment. But some have then sought to negotiate a compromise while the rest took punitive action against their opposition.

The British were one of the groups that sought accommodation. They have dealt with the IRA. Although Britain was the major player in the famous Munich compromise, they were willing partners to seek a peaceful solution with the IRA. Terrorism subsided whenever there appeared to be progress in negotiations. Other countries that followed that path had similar results.

The Israelis have taken the hard line. Theirs has been all out war. And although harsher and harsher measures have been invoked in response to suicide bombings, those bombings continue. Colombia's war policy has also escalated the violence.

Many foreign humanitarian organizations in Iraq have suffered from terrorist actions. In each instance those organizations were perceived as having taken hostile positions against Iraq. An example is the UN. It had approved of the US and Britain's imposition of sanctions.

Most terrorist organizations have legitimate complaints. Their earlier attempts to peacefully work out their problems were unsuccessful. It should never be too late to seriously consider their pleas.

The eleventh of March will be for Spain what the eleventh of September is for the U.S. A masterful simultaneous attack on four different trains, timed three days before the voters were to decide whether to reelect the party of war or the party of peace. The voters got the message. They threw out the party of war.

Britain and Italy are supporting the U.S. in Iraq. Like Spain, their citizens strongly oppose that policy. Do those leaders get the 3/11 message?

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Notes and Resources

1.  A few definitions:

Webster's University Dictionary: "Systematic use of violence, terror, and intimidation to achieve an end."

US Dept of Defense: "The calculated use of violence or the threat of 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."

US State Department: "International terrorism is terrorism conducted with the support of a foreign government or organization and/or directed against foreign nationals, institutions or governments."

FBI: "Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."  (back)

2.  Foreign Terrorist Organizations List Fact Sheet
Office of Counterterrorism
Washington, DC
October 23, 2002

1. Abu Nidal Organization (ANO)
2. Abu Sayyaf Group
3. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade
4. Armed Islamic Group (GIA)
5. Asbat al-Ansar
6. Aum Shinrikyo
7. Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA)
8. Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group)
9. HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)
10. Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM)
11. Hizballah (Party of God)
12. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
13. Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) (Army of Mohammed)
14. al-Jihad (Egyptian Islamic Jihad)
15. Kahane Chai (Kach)
16. Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) a.k.a. Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK)
17. Lashkar-e Tayyiba (LT) (Army of the Righteous)
18. Lashkar i Jhangvi
19. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
20. Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK)
21. National Liberation Army (ELN)
22. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)
23. Palestine Liberation Front (PLF)
24. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
25. PFLP-General Command (PFLP-GC)
26. al-Qa'ida
27. Real IRA
28. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
29. Revolutionary Nuclei (formerly ELA)
30. Revolutionary Organization 17 November
31. Revolutionary People's Liberation Army/Front (DHKP/C)
32. Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC)
33. Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, SL)
34. United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)
35. Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army (CPP/NPA)
36. Jemaah Islamiya organization (JI)  (back)

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Published March 29, 2004
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