Who is a "terrorist"?
September 26, 2001 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Who is a "terrorist"? Is the US, in an effort to build a coalition all too willing to break bread with states that sponsor it? I scoffed at the notion that "terrorism" is a subjective word until this article pointed out that one of our prospective coalition partners is attempting to define the "separatists" in Taiwan and Tibet as such. "Are you willing to look the other way while Iran funds Hezbollah?"
posted by phatboy (16 comments total)
First post, please be gentle with me.
posted by phatboy at 6:14 PM on September 26, 2001

Good job, phat.
posted by rushmc at 6:30 PM on September 26, 2001

The response of those Limbaugh inspired callers to Jennings are the reason people are concerned about protection of civil liberties (we saw the vitriol of right wing protestors in Florida too). Terrorism is absolutley a subjective and political word. We used to fund terrorists in Nicaragua among other places. Terrorism is also a method not a motive.
posted by chrismc at 7:04 PM on September 26, 2001

Freedom fighter=terrorist=freedom fighter=terrorist etc., etc., etc... Round and round she goes, where she lands, nobody knows.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:22 PM on September 26, 2001

The generally accepted definitions in the security and intelligence community are a bit more clear - [paraphrased] the use of indiscriminate violence to incapacitate an entire population through panic. (This is why it's called "terrorism" and not "targeted assassination.")
posted by lizs at 7:58 PM on September 26, 2001

I agree with this definition, but am puzzled by the face that Reuters has refused to call the WTC terrorists "terrorists". This has been ridiculed, with some good reason I think, by the conservative press.

The word "terrorist" should not become so malleable that it can be used solely for political purposes (e.g. China calling Taiwan "terrorist"). By building a coalition in the way we have with demonstrably fascist states, it devalues the concept of "freedom" and "liberty" which we are ostensibly fighting for.

The essay linked argues (convincingly I think) that this sort of thinking, used against communism, got us to support "terrorists/freedom fighters" in the past. This contributed to the present mess in the Middle East.
posted by phatboy at 8:10 PM on September 26, 2001

An important distinction is that the Taiwanese and Tibetan "terrorists" aren't carrying out any conventional acts of terrorism, like hijacking planes, blowing up embassies, killing innocent bystanders, etc. The term shouldn't be used carelessly. I approve of Reuters' restraint, although if the WTC attacks don't constitute terrorism, I'm not sure what does.
posted by Loudmax at 10:55 PM on September 26, 2001

very off topic, but has anyone seen this yet?

(link courtesy of slashdot.)
posted by Aleph Yin at 1:01 AM on September 27, 2001

Are you willing to look the other way while Iran funds Hezbollah?

Are you willing to look the other way while the US funds Palestinian oppression?

What was it Jack Straw said the other day? Something like, “We condemn the use of terrorism for political purposes. We condemn it when it’s Jews suffering around the world or Palestinians.”
posted by raaka at 1:49 AM on September 27, 2001

most terrorism is performed on behalf of the oligarchy, by their agents upon 'their' citizens. far more people are terrorised in this way than any other. totalitarian government is NOT GOOD for the human race IMHO.

i would be pleased if the co-alition against terrorism were to attend to this evil. i fear their motives may not be to erradicate terrorism, rather to ensure that they are the ones who get to define what terrorism means. would you trust them with this task?

the reuters decision is the antitheses of the co-alition. they reccognise that the definition is subjective.

check out these worldwide reactions to the attack.

similar argument in cartoon format.
posted by asok at 6:54 AM on September 27, 2001

Aleph Yin - using hackers to combat terrorists...

will be difficult if hacking is illegal.

but i suppose nothing that the government defines as anti-terrorist could be illegal...
posted by asok at 7:06 AM on September 27, 2001

How about this - terrorism is the use of murderous violence to achieve a political goal, when all non-violent means of achieving the same goal have not been utilized. This definition does not count as terorism acts of violent protest against tyrannical governments. It does count as terrorism abortion clinic bombings, head-of-state assassinations, etc.
posted by yesster at 8:11 AM on September 27, 2001

the point is not simply to achieve a political goal; but to achieve a political goal by creating panic. the bombing of a military installation is not necessarily considered terrorism if taking out the target is the primary objective. Terrorists don't act to take out a specific target; they act to scare the hell out of a designated population. Terrorists don't want a lot of people dead; they want a lot of people watching.
posted by lizs at 8:52 AM on September 27, 2001

"Terrorists don't want a lot of people dead; they want a lot of people watching."

I disagree
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2001 [1 favorite]

Bin Laden is really more like a cult leader than a terrorist. He has a fundamentalist, US-obsessed cult which plucks vulnerable people from places of worship and indoctrinates them at special centers. It really is a lot like the cults we have in the US, except instead of killing themselves, or trying to clone people, etc, they are involved in violence and murder.

There doesn't seem to be any real political aim, or at least not one distinguishable outside of the cult.
posted by cell divide at 9:56 AM on September 27, 2001

Perhaps I phrased that badly - they do often want people dead, but more importantly, they want panic. If they just wanted mass casualties, there are easier ways to do it.
posted by lizs at 10:17 AM on September 27, 2001

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