Who are the Terrorists?
by Adnan Gill
These days the word “terrorist” is thrown around more often than any other noun we can think of. Pick a newspaper or tune into a news channel; all one sees or hears is somebody attacking another under the pretext of ‘self-defense’ or ‘war-on-terrorism’. As a rule of thumb, almost always, the stronger calls the weaker a terrorist. It seems, all one has to do is label his/her rival a terrorist, and a license to wage indiscriminate violence is bestowed upon him/her. Naturally, one has to wonder who the terrorists are in reality, and who are the victims in today’s asymmetric war-on-terrorism? Are the terrorists whoever the media designates, or the American and Israeli governments labels as such, or anyone who dares to question the apartheid practices of governments like Israel, India, Russia, and etc.?
Though there is no single broadly accepted definition of terrorism that can clearly define who the terrorists are, but in order to answer the question, it maybe prudent to go over whatever definitions of terrorism we can find, even if they are not universally accepted.
Proposed Definitions of Terrorism
The Webster’s dictionary defines ‘terrorism’ as: “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” It also defines the ‘terrorists’ as: “violent or destructive acts (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands.”
On several occasions the United Nations (UN) has futilely tried to come up with a singular definition of terrorism, but it always failed, because one or the other powerful nation(s) objected and sabotaged the general consensus.
Proposed Definitions of Terrorism at the UN
1. League of Nations Convention (1937):
"All criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public".
2. UN Resolution language (1999):
“Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them".
In the absence of a universal standard that defines terrorism and hence a terrorist, a brief glance over a few incidents that could be perceived (in the context of loose definitions, above) as acts of terrorism may help us to understand who the terrorists are?
Some of most memorable acts of terrorism in the modern history:
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Zionist groups like Hagana Bet/ Irgun and Lehi/Stern Gang hounded the British rulers and Arab civilians through violent means. Were Irgun and Stern Gang terrorist groups? You decide.
German Nazis exterminated over six million Jews, gypsies, and disabled. Were Nazis terrorists? You decide.
In 1949, close to 1 million Arabs were forced out of the newly-created Jewish State. Does that make Israel a terrorist state? You decide.
In1953, Ariel Sharon was given command of Unit 101 whose missions were to spread terror in an effort to scare Palestinians to flee from their homes. In August 1953, the UN commander Major-General Vagn Bennike reported, "bombs were thrown" by Sharon's men "through the windows of huts in which the refugees were sleeping and, as they fled, they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons." Fifty Arab refugees were killed. On October 14, 1953, Sharon led an attack on a Jordanian village of Qibya massacring 69 civilians. Then in 1982, after invading Lebanon, Sharon allowed the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia into two Beirut-area refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila, where they slaughtered over 800 Palestinians, including women and children. Is Sharon a terrorist? You decide.
According to the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, "Sharon's order was to penetrate Qibya, blow up houses and inflict heavy casualties on its inhabitants. His success in carrying out the order surpassed all expectations…The village had been reduced to rubble: forty-five houses had been blown up, and sixty-nine civilians, two thirds of them women and children, had been killed." Does that make Israeli leadership a terrorist organization? You decide.
In 1972, during the Munich Olympic Games, Palestinian fighters held Israeli athletes hostage and subsequently killed about a dozen of them. Does that make PLO fighters, terrorists? You decide.
In 1984, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, raging Hindu mobs embarked on anti-Sikh riots in which more than 3,000 Sikhs were massacred in New Delhi. Another 8,000 Sikhs were bloodily slaughtered in rest of India. Did Hindu mobs commit terrorism? You decide.
During the 1st Palestinian Intifadah (1988-1991), 1,162 Palestinians, including 241 children out of which 159 children were below the age of 16 were killed by the Jewish extremists and the Israel military for tossing stones. Does that make Jewish extremists and IDF, terrorist organizations? You decide.
During the same time (1988-1991), 160 Israelis were killed by the Palestinians. Does that make Palestinians militants, terrorists? You decide.
Since the 1989 Kashmiri insurgency, an estimated 80,000 innocent Kashmiris, including women and children had been indiscriminately butchered by the Indian military and paramilitary forces. Thousands of Kashmiri women had been raped by the Indian troops. Another hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris lost their homes, business, and crops to the naked aggression of Indian troops. Does that make Indian troops, terrorists? You decide.
In a 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the members of a Japanese cult which killed 12 people and left 5,000 people injured. Does that make the Japanese cult a terrorist organization? You decide.
During the 2nd Palestinian Intifadah (2000-2005), 3,323 Palestinians were killed by the Israel extremists and military for tossing stones. Does that make Jewish extremist groups (including the Jewish settlers) and IDF terrorist organizations? You decide.
During the similar time (2000-2006), 989 Israelis were killed by the Palestinian rockets and suicide attacks. Does that make Palestinian militants, terrorist organization? You decide.
On September 11, 2001 (9/11), 19 men affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked four American passenger jet airliners to crash them into American landmarks. Approximately 3,000 innocent people from all walks life died in these attacks. Were the 19 men, affiliated with al-Qaeda, terrorists? You decide.
During the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, over 2,000 unarmed Muslim men, women and children were systematically butchered by Hindu extremists. Major Indian newspapers accused the Gujarat state government, led by BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi of supporting, and in some cases instigating, the riots. Are Hindu extremists, Modi and BJP, terrorists? You decide.
Since Aslan Maskhadov (a Chechen separatists leader) won internationally monitored election in 1997, Russian troops have killed hundreds of thousands innocent Chechens, and reduced virtually every Chechen city, town and village to ruble. Does that make Russians, terrorists? You decide.
On May 1, 2002, on a Hardball with Chris Matthews (CNBC) show, the then US House Majority Leader Dick Armey (a Republican) called for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. He said, “I'm content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank… There are many Arab nations that have many hundreds of thousands of acres of land and soil and property and opportunity to create a Palestinian state… I happened to believe that the Palestinians should leave... I am perfectly content to have Israel hold and occupy the land that it has at this moment.” Does the calls of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their ancestral homelands by the fascist Congressional leaders tantamount to terrorism? You decide.
Since the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, an estimated 50,000 Iraqis have been killed by the US led military coalition. Does that make the military coalition, terrorists? You decide.
In a series of coordinated bombings of the commuter trains in Madrid, in March 2004, 192 unsuspected people were killed. A number of Moroccans and Indians were arrested for the attacks. Were the arrested Moroccans and Indians, terrorists? You decide.
In September 2004, Beslan's Middle School Number One was seized by the Chechen separatists. In the ensuing fighting nearly 400 innocent people were killed. Half of them were children. Were the Chechen separatists, terrorists? You decide.
In September 2004, 35 Iraqi children were killed by the Iraqi insurgents as American troops were handing out candies to the children in the West Baghdad. Does that make Iraqi insurgents, terrorists? You decide.
In an instance of four coordinated suicide bombings, in July 2005, 56 civilians were killed in London by young British Muslims, who wanted to avenge worldwide mistreatment of Muslims. Were the four suicide bombers, terrorists? You decide.
In October 2005, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Does President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call to destroy Israel tantamount to terrorism? You decide.
Some recent acts of terrorism:
Since Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian legislative election and subsequently declared a unilateral ceasefire, Israel crossed into Gaza with impunity to abduct and kidnap dozens of Palestinian ministers and legislators, and to kill many others through the targeted assassinations. Does kidnapping and meticulously assassinating Palestinian ministers and legislators make Israeli government, a terrorist government? You decide.
On June 9, 2006, Israeli Navy shelled a crowded Gaza beach killing 7 civilians, including 3 children from the same family, and wounded another 20. Does that make Israeli Navy a terrorist organization? You decide.
On June 25, 2006, Palestinian fighters killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped one. They demanded from Israel the freedom of hundreds of Palestinian women and minors in its jails in exchange for the information about an Israeli soldier. Does the demand to release woman and children, and kidnapping of an Israeli soldier makes the Palestinian fighters, terrorists? You decide.
In a display of grotesque rage, since June 25, Israeli tanks, cannons, soldiers, gunships, warships and the warplanes have killed dozens of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, and flagrantly embarked on a campaign of collective-punishment. Israel has destroyed Palestinian homes, schools, markets, roads, bridges, government offices, sewage plant, water plants and electric power plants. Does Israeli campaign of systemic murder of Palestinian civilians and collective-punishment make it a terrorist state? You decide.
Despite protests of its neighbors, on July 4th, North Korea test-fired seven missiles. One of the tested missiles was a long range ballistic missile (Taepodong-2) which failed and landed in the Sea of Japan. Among many, the Americans called the missile launch provocative, and a terrorist act. Was the missile firing a terrorist act? You decide.
Despite protests of its neighbors, on July 9th, India test-fired a long range ballistic missile (Agni III) which failed and fell into the sea off the coast of Orissa. US State Department called the missile launch ‘disappointing’. Was the missile firing a terrorist act? You decide.
On July 11, 2006, eight bombs detonated in commuter trains and stations in Bombay killing at least 183 people. Were those who murdered 183 people, terrorists? You decide.
On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah captured 2 Israeli soldiers and killed 8 to gain the release of approximately 70,000 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners, including women and children rotting in Israeli jails. Does Hezbollah’s killing of eight Israeli soldiers and capture of 2 Israeli soldiers to secure release of thousands of Arab civilians constitute as an act of terrorism? You decide.
In a raging mad response to the July 12 Hezbollah cross-border raid, Israel unleashed its lethal and armed to teeth military on all of Lebanon killing at least 200 Lebanese civilians in the first six days. Israel imposed an air and sea blockade. Israel collectively-punished Lebanese nation by destroying their hospitals, homes, schools, markets, roads, bridges, government offices, water plants, sewage plants, airports and electric power plants. Does Israeli campaign of terror, systemic murder of Lebanese nation and collective-punishment qualify it to be a terrorist state? You decide.
There are no easy answers. Some people may find the answers to the questions asked above to be plainly trivial, while others may disagree with the context of questions altogether, but no one can dispute the fact, that at some point in time, most of us had been victims of terror and at other time we became the terror. Captious critics often comment that one state's "terrorist" is another state's "freedom fighter". Others call the terrorism, poor-man’s war.
Whether they wear a disguise, a religious symbol, or a nation’s uniform, anyone who terrorizes a society by intimidating, injuring, and/or murdering innocent humans should be considered terrorists.
On July 13, while looking forward to feast on a barbecued pig in Germany, President Bush set the standards for self-defense, he declared, "Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life." One wonders, if President Bush considers Palestinians and Lebanese to be nationals of Palestine and Lebanon respectively, or at a minimum, to be equally human as Israelis? Most probably not, otherwise he would have muzzled the Israeli terror machine and recognized Arabs’ right to defend themselves from the Israeli campaign of terror. Expecting the US to arm Palestinians and Lebanese with the same most-modern weaponry for self-defense as it freely arms Israel with, would be expecting Neo-Cons in his government to be fair. However, at least, President Bush could have also given the Palestinians and the Lebanese a few million dollars from the billions he dishes out to Israelis every year, so they could also, like the Israelis, build bomb shelters to save their citizens from the systematic, deliberate and malicious Israeli bombing raids.
When it comes to terrorism and counter-terrorism, there are no winners; there are no heroes, only flawed human beings pursuing their own selfish goals.
More articles by Adnan Gill