Terrorism in the Webster’s New American Dictionary is defined as “the systematic use of intense fear as a means of coercion.” In this day and age, the term terrorism is more than just the use of intense fear as a means of coercion but includes the use of terrorism as a means of revenge and pure sport and also as a means of suppression. While the dictionaries definitions says that it is the use coercion to promote certain ideologies, some of the most cleverly hidden terrorism today is the terrorism used to suppress some ideologies or certain ethnic groups or societies. The popular image of terrorism is of extremist groups trying to rebel or promote their ideologies by blowing up airplanes, buses, government buildings, or taking hostages. By defining terrorism thoroughly, we can begin to look at what terrorism is really about.
The use of terror is usually a tool to promote ideologies according to the dictionary but what about the use of terror for revenge? After the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo this past month, there was a rash of terrorist acts committed by Albanians against Serbs. The Serb civilian population of Kosovo was not a threat to the Albanians but the violence against them was not one of coercion but of revenge. The hostage crisis at the American embassy in Teheran twenty years ago was another example of terrorism based on revenge. While that incident involved the political theme of the revolution in Iran and the authorities used it to promote their Islamic ideology, those that carried out the hostage crisis took over the embassy in a fit of rage and under the euphoria of anger against anything American. They had already achieved their goal, which was to rid the American backed Shah who ruled the country with terror; the hostage crisis was merely an outburst of revenge against the west. Terrorism is not just coercion, but it also revenge. The use of terror to punish the victim and remind them of what the enactor of the terror had felt. There are other examples of terrorism that fit under revenge but those are a combination of revenge and political or social coercion.
Revenge motivated extremist groups with political or social coercion are well publicized but how are their actions different from that of states? The terrorism that comes to mind is of the PLO hijacking Israeli airplanes or Ben Laden bombing the American embassies in Africa. What can motivate someone to strap bombs on their bodies and blow themselves and others to make a statement? To understand this motivation, we have to look at the conditions the terrorist lives under. Since 1948, the Palestinians have been continuously robbed of their land and self-rule while being subjugated to third-class citizenry and terror. The Israeli government is the only one in the world that openly admits to sponsoring assassinations for their own state security. The Israeli military and police use torture and arrest to place the discourage the Palestinian people from free thought and the right to the democratic process. When an individual commits a terrorist act, their families are punished by having their homes destroyed in what Israel claims as collective punishment. The G7 (the world’s most powerful countries) signed a declaration in 1996, which clearly states; “We reaffirm our absolute condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, regardless of its perpetrators or motives. Terrorism is a heinous crime, and there must be no excuse or exception in bringing its perpetrators to justice. Isn’t Israel’s use of assassinations, torture, systematic arrest, and collective punishment terrorism? Doesn’t the G7 claim that no excuse or exception for terrorism will be tolerated, yet Israel remains the largest recipient of American foreign aid which includes military aid. The acts of the PLO, which is only reacting to Israel’s provocation, are considered terrorist yet those of Israel are only considered security measures. This double standard and one sided view does injustice to the definition of terrorism because it is not used even-handed.
Israel’s actions can be logically equated to being terrorism which leads to the question of whether American foreign policy is also a form of terrorism or not. Take the sanctions against Iraq, for example, which is heavily endorsed and enforced by the United States against the will of the majority of the world. The sanctions restrict food and medicine imports to Iraq in order to bring down Saddam Hussein. The result is more than 1.2 million deaths, according to the very organization that began the sanctions, of which the majority were children under the age of five. According to Bruce Hoffman’s recently published Inside Terrorism, terrorism is “ineluctably political in aims and motives, violent or, equally important, threatens violence; designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond immediate victim of target, conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia); and perpetrated by a sub-national group or non-state entity”. America’s motive in the sanctions become diminished when Saddam Hussein’s popularity goes up in Iraq everytime the U.S. bombs his country. Hoffman is claiming that terrorism is perpetuated by non-state or sub-national groups but America’s action in Iraq fits the profile Hoffman describes. Non-state entities or sub-national groups, then, should not be the only entities labeled terrorist but that term should be extended to all perpetuators of terror.
During this past century, terrorism has shifted from being anarchy based to a new array of terrorism rooted in newer ideologies. The expansion of democracy to the third world along with the rise of fascism, communism, totalitarianism, various religious ideals, and capitalism have rapidly changed the societies of the world and this change has been and continues to be challenged by foes of the ideologies. While the Webster’s definition of terror as being and intense fear remains the same, the second part to terrorism that states it as being a means of coercion doesn’t describe many different kinds of terrorism. Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, said that “terrorism could be defined as committing of various violent illegal acts which physically or mentally harm the well being of an individual or group of people with the aims of promoting a political or religious ideology”. The Kurdish terrorists that Ocalan lead have been fighting the Turkish government for civil rights and recognition for their ethnic brethren in Turkey but the terrorism carried out by Ocalan’s group didn’t mean to coerce the Turks into accepting their own brand of rule of promoting their communist belief. Merely the Kurdish Workers’ Party wanted to punish the Turks and incite violence in order to achieve its own goals.
Terrorism, in my view, is the use of violence meant to enforce a certain political ideology or to rebel against another. Terrorism is also violent revenge against certain political or social movements. An example of rebelling against a certain idea would be the Palestinian group, Hamas, and its violence against Israel over the peace process they are against. In the case of revenge, the bombings carried out by KLA or other Albanian groups this past summer against the Serb population of Kosovo is a fascinating example of how terrorism can take the form of pure revenge. The Albanians are not trying to coerce or enforce an idea upon the Serbs, instead they are seeking just plain old revenge. This example of terrorism is different, however, than the other more common form of terrorism which is political terrorism.
According to Bruce Hoffman’s recently published Inside Terrorism, terrorism is “ineluctably political in aims and motives, violent or, equally important, threatens violence; designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond immediate victim of target, conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia); and perpetrated by a sub-national group or non-state entity”.
In this age, terrorism has been the label given to the sub-national groups or non-state entities that have used terror to commercialize their ideologies, still, what about the terrorism perpetuated by states and governments? Hoffman’s definiton of terrorism begins to describe modern terrorism accurately but then he limits it to violence committed by sub-national group or non-state entities. Although the overwhelming belief is that terrorism is violence by non-state entities, this idea is one-sided in hypocritical. If terrorism is to enact or threaten violence designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussion beyond the intended victim, then why aren’t the economic sanctions against Iraq considered terrorism? Is it because they are sanctions endorsed by the British and American governments and they are not the form of terrorism or is it because the sanctions are not the work of non-state entities. The G7 (the world’s most powerful countries) signed a declaration in 1996, which clearly states;
“We reaffirm our absolute condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, regardless of its perpetrators or motives. Terrorism is a heinous crime, and there must be no excuse or exception in bringing its perpetrators to justice.