Defining Terrorism

Paddy: Broken bodies, bloody walls and burnt beds. Paris? No, this is Kunduz.

Kunduz. See: www.doctorswithoutborders.org

It’s not often history treats us with a social experiment but recently we were fortunate enough to find two atrocities, comparable in bloodshed, on our newsfeeds and as a result given an insight into how the world thinks.

Kunduz General Hospital was bombed on 3rd October, killing at least 30 patients and staff, leaving that same number lost and dozens injured. CNN barely mentioned it and, when it did, saw no reason to mention who caused it.
In Paris, this month, 130 people were killed on the streets of Paris. CNN sent several correspondents to the scene where one of their number urged harsh military reprisal.

The difference between these two events (and the reason you’re unlikely to have heard of one of them) is Westerners were the victim in the latter and the perpetrator of the other. President Obama, following weeks of evasion, finally admitted, unconvincingly, his forces’ “mistake” in the bombing – over several hours – of a well-known medical facility run by Médecins sans Frontières. (Some were half-expecting a justification, one offered in the past, that the Americans were merely neutralizing a “propaganda” centre, whose inhabitants were committing the heinous crime of releasing casualty figures.)

New York Times reports on US Marines shutting down Falluja General Hospital

The definition of terrorism is violence committed for political ends. Only it isn’t. Only when They carry out such attacks do we employ the word, and only when We do it do we pretend nothing happened at all.

 

Pole: You have simplified the definition of terrorism by omitting “the unofficial, unauthorized use of violence for political reasons/needs”. Here lies the origin of the whole problem. This definition is the underlying reason why we classify what the U.S. and its allies are doing as an act of war, and what ISIS is doing as acts of terrorism. The issue of legitimate authority and official use of violence is very problematic. What is classified as a legitimate or official use of violence?

The bombing of the hospital in Kunduz would be seen as a justified act, properly authorized by the legitimate power of the President of the United States (The Good Guys). The Paris attack is seen as an act of barbarism committed by an organization whose legitimacy is denied by the international community. Therefore, anything that ISIS does cannot be properly authorized and justified.

Now try to look at it from the perspective of the other side. For ISIS, the U.S. doesn’t hold any legitimate power, while they see themselves as the only right authority. Do you see where I’m going with this? From our side, we’re the good guys and they’re the terrorists; from their side we’re the terrorists and they’re the good guys.

The term terrorism holds no value, outside its propagandist use. Opposing sides have always sought to demonize the enemy. Thus during World War I, stories of German soldiers raping nuns or crucifying Allied soldiers were spread in the trenches. Ancients Romans portrayed Carthaginians, their ultimate enemies, as savages who kill babies and sacrifice them to their dark gods. They also coined the term barbarians to describe ‘uncivilized’ peoples (which pretty much included everyone non-Roman).

Fighting the Barbarians

Nowadays we do the same thing. When ISIS kills civilians, it’s called barbarism or terrorism. When a drone strike kills some civilians, it’s called a legitimate use of force in war against terrorism. Both instances are a war crime, but only one of them is disguised as just.

Now, calling ISIS the barbarians is not wrong, they are barbaric. But we have to see that so are we, because I would argue that any war in any shape or form is an act of barbarism. No matter who’s fighting or why.

Paddy: And off our boys set to shower more Arabs with Amatex in solidarity with its old imperial rival…

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