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Terrorism

Turn – Labeling and condemning the term “terrorism” is vital to stigmatizing terrorist legitimacy and to eliminating violence against civilians as a means to attain political goals


Ganor, 01 (Boaz, Director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, “Defining Terrorism”, http://www.ict.org.il/articles/define.htm)

The prevalent definitions of terrorism entail difficulties, both conceptual and syntactical. It is thus not surprising that alternative concepts with more positive connotations—guerrilla movements, underground movements, national liberation movements, commandos, etc.—are often used to describe and characterize the activities of terrorist organizations. Generally these concepts are used without undue attention to the implications, but at times the use of these definitions is tendentious, grounded in a particular political viewpoint. By resorting to such tendentious definitions of terrorism, terrorist organizations and their supporters seek to gloss over the realities of terrorism, thus establishing their activities on more positive and legitimate foundations. Naturally, terms not opposed to the basic values of liberal democracies, such as “revolutionary violence,” “national liberation,” etc., carry fewer negative connotations than the term, “terrorism.” Terrorism or Revolutionary Violence? Salah Khalef (Abu Iyad) was Yasser Arafat’s deputy and one of the leaders of Fatah and Black September. He was responsible for a number of lethal attacks, including the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In order to rationalize such actions, he used the tactic of confounding “terrorism” with “political violence,” stating, “By nature, and even on ideological grounds, I am firmly opposed to political murder and, more generally, to terrorism. Nevertheless, unlike many others, I do not confuse revolutionary violence with terrorism, or operations that constitute political acts with others that do not.”[4] Abu Iyad tries to present terrorism and political violence as two different and unconnected phenomena. The implication of this statement is that a political motive makes the activity respectable, and the end justifies the means. I will examine this point below. Terrorism or National Liberation? A rather widespread attempt to make all definitions of terrorism meaningless is to lump together terrorist activities and the struggle to achieve national liberation. Thus, for instance, the recurrently stated Syrian official position is that Syria does not assist terrorist organizations; rather, it supports national liberation movements. President Hafez el-Assad, in a November 1986 speech to the participants in the 21st Convention of Workers Unions in Syria, said the following: We have always opposed terrorism. But terrorism is one thing and a national struggle against occupation is another. We are against terrorism… Nevertheless, we support the struggle against occupation waged by national liberation movements.[5] The attempt to confound the concepts of “terrorism” and “national liberation” comes to the fore in various official pronouncements from the Arab world. For instance, the fifth Islamic summit meeting in Kuwait, at the beginning of 1987, stated in its resolutions that: The conference reiterates its absolute faith in the need to distinguish the brutal and unlawful terrorist activities perpetrated by individuals, by groups, or by states, from the legitimate struggle of oppressed and subjugated nations against foreign occupation of any kind. This struggle is sanctioned by heavenly law, by human values, and by international conventions.[6] The foreign and interior ministers of the Arab League reiterated this position at their April 1998 meeting in Cairo. In a document entitled “Arab Strategy in the Struggle against Terrorism,” they emphasized that belligerent activities aimed at “liberation and self determination” are not in the category of terrorism, whereas hostile activities against regimes or families of rulers will not be considered political attacks but rather criminal assaults.[7] Here again we notice an attempt to justify the “means” (terrorism) in terms of the “end” (national liberation). Regardless of the nature of the operation, when we speak of “liberation from the yoke of a foreign occupation” this will not be terrorism but a legitimate and justified activity. This is the source of the cliché, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” which stresses that all depends on the perspective and the worldview of the one doing the defining. The former President of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, made the following statement in April 1981, during the visit of the Libyan ruler, Muamar Qadhafi: “Imperialists have no regard either for the will of the people or the laws of history. Liberation struggles cause their indignation. They describe them as ‘terrorism’.”[8] Surprisingly, many in the Western world have accepted the mistaken assumption that terrorism and national liberation are two extremes in the scale of legitimate use of violence. The struggle for “national liberation” would appear to be the positive and justified end of this sequence, whereas terrorism is the negative and odious one. It is impossible, according to this approach, for any organization to be both a terrorist group and a movement for national liberation at the same time. In failing to understand the difference between these two concepts, many have, in effect, been caught in a semantic trap laid by the terrorist organizations and their allies. They have attempted to contend with the clichés of national liberation by resorting to odd arguments, instead of stating that when a group or organization chooses terrorism as a means, the aim of their struggle cannot be used to justify their actions (see below). Thus, for instance, Senator Jackson was quoted in Benyamin Netanyahu’s book Terrorism: How the West Can Win as saying, The idea that one person’s ‘terrorist’ is another’s ‘freedom fighter’ cannot be sanctioned. Freedom fighters or revolutionaries don’t blow up buses containing non-combatants; terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don’t set out to capture and slaughter schoolchildren; terrorist murderers do . . . It is a disgrace that democracies would allow the treasured word ‘freedom’ to be associated with acts of terrorists.[9] Professor Benzion Netanyahu also assumed, a priori, that freedom fighters are incapable of perpetrating terrorist acts: For in contrast to the terrorist, no freedom fighter has ever deliberately attacked innocents. He has never deliberately killed small children, or passersby in the street, or foreign visitors, or other civilians who happen to reside in the area of conflict or are merely associated ethnically or religiously with the people of that area… The conclusion we must draw from all this is evident. Far from being a bearer of freedom, the terrorist is the carrier of oppression and enslavement . . .[10] This approach strengthens the attempt by terrorist organizations to present terrorism and the struggle for liberation as two contradictory concepts. It thus plays into the terrorists’ hands by supporting their claim that, since they are struggling to remove someone they consider a foreign occupier, they cannot be considered terrorists. The claim that a freedom fighter cannot be involved in terrorism, murder and indiscriminate killing is, of course, groundless. A terrorist organization can also be a movement of national liberation, and the concepts of “terrorist” and “freedom fighter” are not mutually contradictory. Targeting “the innocent”? Not only terrorists and their allies use the definition of terrorism to promote their own goals and needs. Politicians in countries affected by terrorism at times make political use of the definition of terrorism by attempting to emphasize its brutality. One of the prevalent ways of illustrating the cruelty and inhumanity of terrorists is to present them as harming “the innocent.” Thus, in Terrorism: How the West Can Win, Binyamin Netanyahu states that terrorism is “the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends.”[11] This definition was changed in Netanyahu’s third book, Fighting Terrorism, when the phrase “the innocent” was replaced by the term “civilians”: “Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic assault on civilians to inspire fear for political ends.”[12] “Innocent” (as opposed to “civilian”) is a subjective concept, influenced by the definer’s viewpoint, and therefore must not be the basis for a definition of terrorism. The use of the concept “innocent” in defining terrorism makes the definition meaningless and turns it into a tool in the political game. The dilemma entailed by the use of the term “innocent” is amply illustrated in the following statement by Abu Iyad: As much as we repudiate any activity that endangers innocent lives, that is, against civilians in countries that are not directly involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we feel no remorse concerning attacks against Israeli military and political elements who wage war against the Palestinian people . . . Israeli acts of vengeance usually result in high casualties among Palestinian civilians—particularly when the Israeli Air Force blindly and savagely bombs refugee camps—and it is only natural that we should respond in appropriate ways to deter the enemy from continuing its slaughter of innocent victims.”[13] Abu Iyad here clarifies that innocent victims are civilians in countries that are not directly involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict (implying that civilians in Israel, even children and old people, are not innocent), while he describes Palestinian civilians as innocent victims. Proposing a Definition of Terrorism The question is whether it is at all possible to arrive at an exhaustive and objective definition of terrorism, which could constitute an accepted and agreed-upon foundation for academic research, as well as facilitating operations on an international scale against the perpetrators of terrorist activities. The definition proposed here states that terrorism is the intentional use of, or threat to use violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims. Continues… This distinction between the target of the attack and its aims shows that the discrepancy between “terrorism” and “freedom fighting” is not a subjective difference reflecting the personal viewpoint of the definer. Rather it constitutes an essential difference, involving a clear distinction between the perpetrators’ aims and their mode of operation. As noted, an organization is defined as “terrorist” because of its mode of operation and its target of attack, whereas calling something a “struggle for liberation” has to do with the aim that the organization seeks to attain. Diagram 2 illustrates that non-conventional war (between a state and an organization), may include both terrorism and guerrilla activities on the background of different and unrelated aims. Hiding behind the guise of national liberation does not release terrorists from responsibility for their actions. Not only is it untrue that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” but it is also untrue that “the end justifies the means.” The end of national liberation may, in some cases, justify recourse to violence, in an attempt to solve the problem that led to the emergence of a particular organization in the first place. Nevertheless, the organization must still act according to the rules of war, directing its activities toward the conquest of military and security targets; in short, it must confine itself to guerrilla activities. When the organization breaks these rules and intentionally targets civilians, it becomes a terrorist organization, according to objective measures, and not according to the subjective perception of the definer. It may be difficult at times to determine whether the victim of an attack was indeed a civilian, or whether the attack was intentional. These cases could be placed under the rubric of a “gray area,” to be decided in line with the evidence and through the exercise of judicial discretion. The proposed definition may therefore be useful in the legal realm as a criterion for defining and categorizing the perpetrators’ activities. In any event, adopting the proposed definition of terrorism will considerably reduce the “gray area” to a few marginal cases. Defining States’ Involvement in Terrorism Continues… supporting terrorism – terrorist organizations often rely on the assistance of a sympathetic civilian population. An effective instrument in the limitation of terrorist activity is to undermine the ability of the organization to obtain support, assistance, and aid from this population. A definition of terrorism could be helpful here too by determining new rules of the game in both the local and the international sphere. Any organization contemplating the use of terrorism to attain its political aims will have to risk losing its legitimacy, even with the population that supports its aims. Public relations – a definition that separates terrorism out from other violent actions will enable the initiation of an international campaign designed to undermine the legitimacy of terrorist organizations, curtail support for them, and galvanize a united international front against them. In order to undermine the legitimacy of terrorist activity (usually stemming from the tendency of various countries to identify with some of the aims of terrorist organizations), terrorist activity must be distinguished from guerrilla activity, as two forms of violent struggle reflecting different levels of illegitimacy. The Attitude of Terrorist Organizations Toward the Definition The definition of terrorism does not require that the terrorist organizations themselves accept it as such. Nevertheless, reaching international agreement will be easier the more objective the definition, and the more the definition takes into account the demands and viewpoints of terrorist organizations and their supporters. The proposed definition, as noted, draws a distinction between terrorism and guerrilla warfare at both the conceptual and moral levels. If properly applied, it could challenge organizations that are presently involved in terrorism to abandon it so as to engage exclusively in guerrilla warfare. As noted, most organizations active today in the national and international arena engage in both terrorist activities and guerrilla warfare; after all, international convention makes no distinction between the two. Hence, there are no rules defining what is forbidden and what is allowed in non-conventional war, and equal punishments are imposed on both terrorists and guerrilla fighters. People perpetrating terrorist attacks or engaging in guerrilla warfare know they can expect the same punishment, whether they attack a military installation or take over a kindergarten. The terrorist attack may be more heavily censored because it involves children, but the legitimacy of these actions will be inferred from their political aims. In these circumstances, why not prefer a terrorist attack that will have far more impact, and will be easier to accomplish, with much less risk? The international adoption of the proposed definition, with its distinction between terrorism and guerrilla warfare—and its concomitant separation from political aims—could motivate the perpetrators to reconsider their intentions, choosing military targets over civilian targets—guerrilla warfare over terrorism–both because of moral considerations and because of “cost-benefit” considerations. The moral consideration – many terrorist organizations are troubled by the moral question bearing on their right to harm civilians, and this concern is reflected in their literature and in interviews with terrorists. Thus, for instance, an activist of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Walid Salam, argued in December 1996 that “among activists of the Popular Front, more and more are opposed to military activities against civilians, as the one near Ramallah on Wednesday. They do not say so publicly because of internal discipline and to preserve unity.”[27] We can also see something of this moral dilemma in Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the leader of Hamas: “According to our religion it is forbidden to kill a woman, a baby, or an old man, but when you kill my sister, and my daughter, and my son, it is my right to defend them.”[28] This concern might explain why, after attacks on civilian targets, organizations such as Hamas often make public statements proclaiming that they have attacked military targets. The moral dilemma does exist, and the opponents of terrorism must intensify it. When countries acknowledge the principle of relying on guerrilla warfare to attain legitimate political aims, and unite in their moral condemnation of terrorism, they increase the moral dilemma that is already prevalent in terrorist organizations. The utilitarian consideration – If the perpetrators know that attacking a kindergarten or other civilian target will never be acceptable; that these attacks will turn them into wanted and extraditable terrorists and will undermine the legitimacy of their political goals—and that, when apprehended, they will be punished much more harshly than would guerrilla fighters—they may think twice before choosing terrorism as their modus operandi. Adopting the proposed definition of terrorism, formulating rules of behavior, and setting appropriate punishments in line with the proposed definition will sharpen the “cost-benefit” considerations of terrorist organizations. One way of encouraging this trend among terrorist organizations is, as noted, to agree on different punishments for those convicted of terrorism and those convicted of guerrilla warfare. Thus, for instance, the possibility should be considered of bringing to criminal trial, under specific charges of terrorism, individuals involved in terrorist activities, while allotting prisoner of war status to those accused of involvement in guerrilla activities. The proposed definition of terrorism may indeed help in the struggle against terrorism at many and varied operative levels. An accepted definition, capable of serving as a basis for international counter-terrorist activity, could above all, bring terrorist organizations to reconsider their actions. They must face the question of whether they will persist in terrorist attacks and risk all that such persistence entails—loosing legitimacy, incurring harsh and specific punishments, facing a coordinated international opposition (including military activity), and suffering harm to sources of support and revenue. The international community must encourage the moral and utilitarian dilemmas of terrorist organizations, and establish a clear policy accompanied by adequate means of punishment on the basis of an accepted definition. Summary We face an essential need to reach a definition of terrorism that will enjoy wide international agreement, thus enabling international operations against terrorist organizations. A definition of this type must rely on the same principles already agreed upon regarding conventional wars (between states), and extrapolate from them regarding non-conventional wars (betweean organization and a state). The definition of terrorism will be the basis and the operational tool for expanding the international community’s ability to combat terrorism. It will enable legislation and specific punishments against those perpetrating, involved in, or supporting terrorism, and will allow the formulation of a codex of laws and international conventions against terrorism, terrorist organizations, states sponsoring terrorism, and economic firms trading with them. At the same time, the definition of terrorism will hamper the attempts of terrorist organizations to obtain public legitimacy, and will erode support among those segments of the population willing to assist them (as opposed to guerrilla activities). Finally, the operative use of the definition of terrorism could motivate terrorist organizations, due to moral or utilitarian considerations, to shift from terrorist activities to alternative courses (such as guerrilla warfare) in order to attain their aims, thus reducing the scope of international terrorism. The struggle to define terrorism is sometimes as hard as the struggle against terrorism itself. The present view, claiming it is unnecessary and well-nigh impossible to agree on an objective definition of terrorism, has long established itself as the “politically correct” one. It is the aim of this paper, however, to demonstrate that an objective, internationally accepted definition of terrorism is a feasible goal, and that an effective struggle against terrorism requires such a definition. The sooner the nations of the world come to this realization, the better.




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