I know it’s popular to say so, but, acts of terrorism as executed by groups such as al Qaeda and al Jihad are not rooted in cowardice. These are not cowardly acts.
Blowing up innocent people is a terrible act. That, however, is not the goal of the act. All acts of terrorism do not consist of blowing up innocent people.
The governments of the world take part in acts consistently of which the end result is the death of innocents. Blowing up, shooting or in some other way killing innocent persons occurs all the time at the behest of the most powerful nations on this planet to include the United State, Great Britain, Australia and Russia. Smaller nations also conduct operations of this sort.
How is this different?
Each time the United States enters into a conflict such as the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, we do so in the full knowledge that innocents will die by our hand. We make these decisions consciously. Are we cowards for doing so?
Terrorism is naught but a form of war. It’s a war conducted by a smaller “power” against a larger power. Both parties have goals at which end they deploy the means at their disposal. For Arab insurgents and terrorists, the means at their disposal is partly small scale targeted bombings meant to produce psychological terror on a target population. For the US and other greater powers, we have greater means to produce terror and to intimidate or cause the destruction of our enemies.
A person who takes a bomb into a crowded market place or who drives up to an armed guard station with the intent to inflict damage is not a coward. The act is not that of a coward. The act may be heinous. It may be cruel and devastating. Cowardly, though, I think it is not. These people are acting in a cause in which they believe. No different than the belief of a soldier fighting for a State.
Their methods may be criminal in that they oft times target civilians, but, they are not cowards. It makes us feel good to call them cowards, but, it’s simply feel good politics to label them as such. And that label works to our detriment. These folks are dedicated fighters. Insanely dedicated in many ways but dedicated they are. No coward can commit him or herself to a goal and no coward is willing to die for a cause.
The United States has knowingly killed innocent people in the process of apprehending or killing it’s enemies. Are we cowards as well?
The Colonists engaged in psychological terror in the rebellion against the crown. Sherman’s March to the Seas was directed at Civilians. We decimated cities such as Dresden in World War II wherein we specifically targeted civilians. We detonated two atomic bombs over civilian populations. Were those cowardly acts?
The difference, the only difference, is that we rationalize these decisions as necessary to our war aims. Terrorists do the same.
“Terrorism” comes from the French word terrorisme, and originally referred specifically to state terrorism as practiced by the French government during the Reign of terror. The French word terrorisme in turn derives from the Latin verb terreō meaning “I frighten”. The terror cimbricus was a panic and state of emergency in Rome in response to the approach of warriors of the Cimbri tribe in 105 BC. The Jacobins cited this precedent when imposing a Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. After the Jacobins lost power, the word “terrorist” became a term of abuse. Although “terrorism” originally referred to acts committed by a government, currently it usually refers to the killing of innocent people by a non-government group in such a way as to create a media spectacle. This meaning can be traced back to Sergey Nechayev, who described himself as a “terrorist”. Nechayev founded the Russian terrorist group “People’s Retribution” (Народная расправа) in 1869.
In November 2004, a United Nations Secretary General report described terrorism as any act “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act”.
This is one of hundreds of definitions of terrorism:
A definition proposed by Carsten Bockstette at the George C. Marshall Center for European Security Studies, underlines the psychological and tactical aspects of terrorism:
Terrorism is defined as political violence in an asymmetrical conflict that is designed to induce terror and psychic fear (sometimes indiscriminate) through the violent victimization and destruction of noncombatant targets (sometimes iconic symbols). Such acts are meant to send a message from an illicit clandestine organization. The purpose of terrorism is to exploit the media in order to achieve maximum attainable publicity as an amplifying force multiplier in order to influence the targeted audience(s) in order to reach short- and midterm political goals and/or desired long-term end states.”
If we accept this as a definition of terrorism, then the NATO Air War in the Balkans was an act of terror. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were as they were targeted violence against a civilian populace designed to produce the response of capitulation from the Imperial Japanese government. The genocide of the Native populations of the Americas were acts of terror. The targeted bombings of civilian populaces in World War II on the European front were acts of terror. The British reaction to the IRA and others were acts of terror. The acts of Southern governments in the pre-1970s USA directed at the black populace were all acts of terror. Historical and ongoing US support of despotic governments such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, the UAE and Iraq are all acts of terror. Chinese governmental acts to control their populace through fear are acts of terror. The Shahs use of Savak in Iran was terrorism.
The question then is who are the terrorists? When did the war on terror begin and which party is actually fighting against terrorism or are both parties fighting different types of terrorism? Why is the US government supporting nations who regularly use terror to control their populace while we are fighting a “war on terror.”
Who are the terrorists? US or THEM? Both? If we use terror to fight terror, are we cowards as well?