Islamic nations dodge defining terrorism.
April 2, 2002 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Islamic nations dodge defining terrorism. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference is divided over whether Palestinian suicide bombers should be classified as terrorists. On the other hand, there's no question that Israel practises terror. Rather than stick their necks out and commit to something, they'll leave it to the good ole UN to decide who is a terrorist. That'll solve everything. More depth here.
posted by badstone (14 comments total)
I thought the same until I actually dedicated some time to the idea.

Think for a moment about the U.S. founding fathers. Were they terrorists? Perhaps, depending on which side of the pond you were on. Over in the U.S. though, they were revolutionary freedom fighters.

The OIC is struggling to define terrorism much as you would were you required to define it.

Is it when innocent lives are lost?
Is it when the people are fighting for their way of life, against the prevailing culture?
Is it when they're ousting a corrupt and unjust government?
Is it when they have no peaceable means of effecting change?

Do you think Nelson Mandela's a pretty good guy? He helped destroy apartheid, right? Well, when the ANC was left with no alternative, they too resorted to activities that were construed as terrorism by the incumbent government. I don't see it that way, but they sure did.

I am not an apologist for the perpetrators of violence against. I think that our real goal ought to be a palpable reduction in violence against all nations and peoples. We can't legislate and bomb our problems away. Everyone's foreign policy is soaked in blood, it's time to stop finger pointing and bury the hatchet.

I sincerely hope that our actions as a global community are dictated by a spirit of humanity rather than a short-lived definitions of terms.

Realizing the frailty of that concept, the OIC is looking to a world majority opinion on the definition of terrorists to avoid heated conflict over mere words.
posted by jgooden at 10:29 AM on April 2, 2002

I'm sure some precise definition will be drafted eventually. After all, the concept is clear - terrorism is when people use weapons to terrorize other people so that the first people I mentioned can get what they want from the second group of people I mentioned.

Oh wait.

This is a political battle, unfortunately, which means that the interests involved are inflexible and beholden to the appearance that a people want to have to the rest of the world. Fact is, terrorism is just a word we use to describe the actions of people who get the better of us by exploiting our massive vulnerabilities such as population density and complacency with frighteningly simple weapons - frightening becase they make us realize how easy we are to kill, and frightening because they often kill the attacker (which is frightening because it shows that we are dealing with people who believe in something they are willing and desperate enough to die for).

The terror, at least in the United States, is the terror we feel when we get a brief glimpse of the reality (that we are vulnerable, that people hate us, that our government can do only so much to protect us, that either we have been mislead by a competant government or endangered by an incompetant one, or more immediately and fleetingly, that we are in immediate danger) that we are unable to look at. If anything is doing this country in, it is the denial of reality, and the resulting shock, stasis, and inability to adapt to a possibly significant threat.

The definition holds true in Israel too, although both the Isreali and Palestinians (at least the ones who hate each other) are not so much in this elevated denial as they are in a state of very real confusion and desperation. They're not fighting for the sake of fighting, they aren't flailing and posturing; they are angry over territory, one half seeing justice in preservation and one half seeing it in dramatic change.

Maybe the OIC can just call up the offices of the kind people behind the OED. Of course, they'd only do that if they really believed an answer existed. It'd be interesting to get the staff of the OED's take on the world in general. I'll root around for a link...
posted by Settle at 10:43 AM on April 2, 2002

Good points. The thing is, there are people in the world that sign up to take a bullet (or a bomb, or a land mine, or whatever) for their government, and there are those (unarmed) masses who just want to take their kids out for ice cream or go to a club. When you specifically target the latter, despite the availability of targets of the former variety, it sure seems like something that deserves a classification like "terrorism" as opposed to "warfare."
posted by badstone at 10:45 AM on April 2, 2002

My exact thinking, badstone. However, hasn't the U.S. done that, thrown bombs at innocent people? Was it wrong?

September 11 was clearly terrorism, but I hesitate to define the word much further. Trying to peg the word down into one definite meaning allows certain behaviours to go unchecked because they don't specifically fit the definition. That's a situation I don't want to be in.
posted by jgooden at 11:05 AM on April 2, 2002

Sure - the U.S. has done some very, very bad things and should be called on it. However:

Trying to peg the word down into one definite meaning allows certain behaviours to go unchecked

If you don't peg the word down, we give Cheney and Dubya free reign to attack whomever they want, and all of Mr. Orwell's nightmares can come true.
posted by badstone at 11:23 AM on April 2, 2002

Oddly, no matter what problems the Arabs seem to be having defining what is and is not terrorism, a post a few posts down from this one indicates that Mr. Bush is also having problems in defining terrorism.
posted by Postroad at 11:56 AM on April 2, 2002

And what's most interesting is that they have the exact same problem. Why can't they just call a horse a horse and say:

A. The activitites of the Palestinians qualify as terrorism and, in theory, should be responded to as such.


B. There are more important issues issues that supercede that.

Oh wait, then that would mean that the world isn't black and white and is composed of things other than sound bites. Guess we'll just have to leave it to the CIA.
posted by badstone at 12:27 PM on April 2, 2002

badstone, do you really think that US policy is solely dictated by what Bush and Cheney personally feel like doing, or more preposterously, that some third party "pegging the word down" will matter one whit to US policy? Least of all any definition put forth by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Naturally, the UN has also struggled with this problem. Notably, this difficulty occurred prior to September 11 and thus cannot be laid as some sort of result of the Bush administration's line on terror.

Now, it would be exceptionally nice if we could de-link the issue of terrorism and the issue of a Palestinian state. That kind of hard-nosed leadership can only succeed if it comes from the Islamic community. Instead, alas, they seem to be making every effort (though of course this one did not succeed) to make the two issues one and the same, and obfuscate things by creating a definition that includes the Israeli occupation. I don't think they realize how angry this makes some Americans.
posted by dhartung at 12:29 PM on April 2, 2002

Oddly, no matter what problems the Arabs seem to be having defining what is and is not terrorism, a post a few posts down from this one indicates that Mr. Bush is also having problems in defining terrorism.

Or perhaps he's politically pragmatic where others are merely shrill.
posted by aaron at 12:31 PM on April 2, 2002

This is all subterfuge (aka BS). Most of the nations envolved are too morally depraved to be defining anything with a moral component. You want Iraq to define terrorism? Or a Sudan-membered UN to do so. No thanks.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:45 PM on April 2, 2002

I actually like badstone's original definition. Seemed to sum it up pretty clearly as to how I view it. But, what seems to be missing in this, and I believe dhartung caught is that just because something isn't terrorism doesn't mean that it is not also bad. Genocide against people in your own country might not fit the label of terrorism but it sure as hell fits the definition of evil. In terms of the Israeli / Palistinian conflict, the acts of Palistinians (Hamas, etc.) are acts of terrorism. What Israel is doing is not necessarily terrorism but that does not make it morally superior. The issue over whether or not the label of terrorism fits is something the Arab/Palistinian world is trying to muddy because they know that they're terrorists. They want Israel to be called a terrorist too so as to soften the meaning of the term.

It should be noted that while OIC could not come to an agreement on the definition of terrorism, it seemed to be mostly a divide between moderate and Arab nations. Here's a snippet from the Washington Post article:

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, long a supporter of the Palestinian cause, suggested any deliberate attack on civilians, including those by Palestinian suicide bombers, should be classified as acts of terror.

The failure to define terrorism seems to be a cop-out to appease some of the more hardline Islamic countries who cannot balance the concept that the ends do not always justify the means.
posted by billman at 1:04 PM on April 2, 2002

Badstone: you do what you can. I'm sure terrorists would rather do things with diplomacy, but since they are not recognized as anything but terrorists, they have to fight. And since they don't have bombers or tanks, they use brutal attacks which kill innocent people. The more desperate a group is, the more terrifying their attack will by necessity be.

Terrorists don't call it terrorism. They call it war. It's us immortal invulnerable giant nations that are the only ones wondering how we should define this war against us - we can't call it war because then it would be equatable with our war against them. So we call them agressors or terrorists, we call ourselves freedom fighters, they call themselves freedom fighters and they call us ignorant.
posted by Settle at 1:10 PM on April 2, 2002

cowlix had a series of links on defining terrorism to give some perspectives. this one i thought was particularly enlightening.
posted by kliuless at 1:45 PM on April 2, 2002

And since they don't have bombers or tanks, they use brutal attacks which kill innocent people.

But it's a foolish way to make an impact. The target of those kind of strikes should be the government or organization you're rebelling against, not random innocents that happen to live under the government. If you attack them, you'll just deepen their support of that government.

There are always strategic and symbolic targets that are vulnerable to primitive attacks and that do not lead to death of innocents. If you can bomb a cafe, you can bomb a power station or a monument.
posted by badstone at 1:54 PM on April 2, 2002

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