Terrorism and the state

NB – This is an article that dates from before 9/11

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/may/07/terrorism

Excerpts:

” […] statistics [on terrorism] are fundamentally meaningless because, as the report points out, “no one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance

Using the definition preferred by the state department, terrorism is: “Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant* targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” (The asterisk is important, as we shall see later.)

The state department regards attacks against “noncombatant* targets” as terrorism. But follow the asterisk to the small print and you find that “noncombatants” includes both civilians and military personnel who are unarmed or off duty at the time. Several examples are given, such as the 1986 disco bombing in Berlin, which killed two servicemen.

The most lethal bombing in the Middle East last year was the suicide attack on USS Cole in Aden harbour which killed 17 American sailors and injured 39 more.

As the ship was armed and its crew on duty at the time, why is this classified as terrorism? Look again at the small print, which adds: “We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site, such as bombings against US bases.

A similar question arises with Palestinian attacks on quasi-military targets such as Israeli settlements. Many settlers are armed (with weapons supplied by the army) and the settlements themselves – though they contain civilians – might be considered military targets because they are there to consolidate a military occupation.

If, under the state department rules, Palestinian mortar attacks on settlements count as terrorism, it would be reasonable to expect Israeli rocket attacks on Palestinian communities to be treated in the same way – but they are not. In the American definition, terrorism can never be inflicted by a state. (emphasis added)”

Interestingly, the American definition of terrorism is a reversal of the word’s original meaning, given in the Oxford English Dictionary as “government by intimidation”. Today it usually refers to intimidation of governments“.

Issuing such a list does at least highlight the anomalies and inconsistencies behind anti-terrorism laws. It also points towards a simpler – and perhaps more honest – definition: terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of.”

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