Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Terrorism is good as long as it's doing one's own bidding...

From NYT, on the article about car-bombing of a senior Hezbollah commander:

"Gideon Ezra, a minister from the governing Kadima Party in Israel and former deputy chief of the Shin Bet internal intelligence agency, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that many countries had an interest in killing Mr. Mugniyah, but that “Israel too was hurt by him, more than other countries in recent years.”

Mr. Ezra said, “Of course I don’t know who killed him, but whoever did should be congratulated.”"

Sounds familiar? Osama Bin Ladin and his men were "freedom fighters" when they fought Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. The moment they turned their attention to the US, they became... the terrorists, too.

By the way, the terrorism is defined by State Department thusly: "Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant* targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."

The reason "subnational" is here because the moment you start applying this definition to the nation-state, any war action can be classified as "terrorism". For example, bombing of Hiroshima or fire-bombing of Tokyo or Leipzig. They all were designed to make a political point ("influence" the people of the other countries to stop fighting). That would exclude war as a means of resolving international conflicts, something that the US does not want to do.


dimrub said...

Your code doesn't parse. When you:

1. Quote a definition of terrorism as that or another kind of action against NONCOMBATANT
2. Call the assassination of the senior Hezbollah commander an act of terror

Do you actually call the aforementioned Hezbollah commander - a noncombatant?

Sergey Solyanik said...

Actually, I first call the assasination of a Hezbollah commander an act of terror - very consistent with what is typical press terminology when described car bomb/IED attacks on US troops in Iraq. Then I quote the State Department definition of the term "terror" - just to emphasize how arbitrary the definition of terror is.
Note that personally I don't endorse either definition.

dimrub said...

If indeed the press uses the term "act of terror" to describe the attacks on US military, they are simply wrong, since it's not that they use any specific definition of the word, but simply misuse an existing (and commonly agreed upon) definition. Actually, they are only 99% wrong (that is, if they indeed do that - I've never encountered such a misuse myself), since in Iraq the same groups that attack the US military, perform also indiscriminate acts of violence against the civilians (ergo, they ARE terrorists, even if not all of their activities can be labeled as acts of terror). Anyhow, if you do not endorse any of the existing definitions of terror, you probably have one of your own. It would be interesting to hear it.

Sergey Solyanik said...

For example, Google USS Cole terrorist, and you will encounter many references to terrorist attack on a US military ship.

I think the reference to civilians in State Department definition is also as bogus as a reference to subnational entities (when you fire a tank shell into a crowd from which you are being shot at by one gunman - does this target civilians? or when you drop a 500lb bomb on an apartment building where you've got an intelligence of a possible enemy meeting), but it's a subject of a separate discussion.

You are actually wrong when you say that there is a "common agreement" when it comes to the term "terrorism". There is in fact no internationally accepted (i. e. accepted by the UN) definition of this word. There is not even an accepted Wikipedia defnition - see the attached discussion to the Wiki article.

The only meaning of terror that seems to cover all of its uses, from Alexander II of Russia to todays middle-eastern conflicts is essentially "my enemy", since it is used indiscriminantly by all sides to vilify and dehumanize the enemy and whip one's own population into the holy indignation.

dimrub said...

Why does endorsement by the UN signify a term's wide acceptance? Is there a value of Pi endorsed by the UN? There is a definition widely used by the professionals dealing routinely with the terror, and it's as close to the one you've quoted as can be. The fact that the word is widely misused does not cancel out the existence of this definition any more than the misuse of the catchy phrase "everything is relative" cancels out Einstein's theory. Here's, for example, a think tank explicitly dealing with the issues related to terrorism:

And here's their piece on the subject we've been discussing:

Sergey Solyanik said...

Ahem... The paper that you cite seem to underscore my point. First it quotes a book that has references 109 definition of terrorism. Then there's this perl that's just as 1984 as I've ever seen or hear of in real life:

The following exchange took place between Ned Walker, Assistant to the
Undersecretary for Middle East Affairs at the U.S. State Department, and the Hon.
Lee Hamilton, chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East—under
the auspices of the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the House of Representatives—
on the background of talks between the US and the PLO. The remarks will attest to
the problems involved in the use of the concept “terrorism”[3]:
Hamilton: Well, how do you define terrorism, do you define it in terms of noncombatance?
Walker: The State Department definition which is included in the terrorism report
annually defines it in terms of politically motivated attacks on non-combatant targets.
Hamilton: So an attack on a military unit in Israel will not be terrorism?
Walker: It does not necessarily mean that it would not have a very major impact on
whatever we were proposing to do with the PLO.
Hamilton: I understand that, but it would not be terrorism.
Walker: An attack on a military target. Not according to the definition. Now wait a
minute; that is not quite correct. You know, attacks can be made on military targets
which clearly are terrorism. It depends on the individual circumstances.
Hamilton: Now wait a minute. I thought that you just gave me the State Department
Walker: Non-combatant is the terminology, not military or civilian.
Hamilton: All right. So any attack on a non-combatant could be terrorism?
Walker: That is right.
Hamilton: And a non-combatant could include military?
Walker: Of course.
Hamilton: It certainly would include civilian, right?
Walker: Right.
Hamilton: But an attack on a military unity would not be terrorism?
Walker: It depends on the circumstances.
Hamilton: And what are those circumstances?
Walker: I do not think it will be productive to get into a description of the various
terms and conditions under which we are going to define an act by the PLO as

[Which basically says that PLO is a terrorist organization irrespective of their target, because they are our enemy]

Finally, it produces its own definition which will never be politically acceptable in the US (or in the host county of this think tank) because everything that Israel is doing in the occupied territories fits squarely under this definition:
"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."

Finally, of all people Israeli would be the last I would want to learn about terrorism. Look how amazingly "successful" they were in fighting it... 50 years and counting.