Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Politics of Defining Terrorism

[Below is a letter I received from Professor of English, James Holstun. We both agree that attacks by groups like Hezbollah against civilians are unacceptable.He continues to make some very interesting points regarding the political use of "terrorism". HS]

... I've come to the opinion that "terrorism" is just hate speech, which serves to highlight all violence by Muslims, and to deny all violence against Muslims. "Muslim terrorist" is no less hate speech than "Penny-pinching Jew," and I'm just not going to put up with it any more. 
And I just won't argue with anybody about terrorism until they define what they mean by the term. If they say "every group defined by the US government as terrorist," I'll say "those are examples, not a definition." If they say "violence directed against civilians in order to effect political change," that incorporates pretty much all military violence. Of course, the bombing of Hiroshima was manifestly terrorist by this definition.  Of course, Israel has repeatedly said outright that its violence directed against Gaza, Lebanon, etc., aims to effect political change. If they say "violence by non-state actors directed against civilians to effect political change," then I'll ask, "Why is it important for you to distinguish state and non-state actors? How is the former sort of violence better?" 
But the conversation usually won't get that far. Because they don't mean anything more than "Any violence of any sort exercised by Muslims."
Unfortunately what he said has lots of truth. And I think this is why some Muslims historically have been reluctant to use the label terrorist at times and may have at times even went so far as to under-use it.  Point is my dear friends: Any Human with a heart can agree that any oppression or violence against innocent life is unacceptable and ought to be condemned to the fullest extent-regardless of what you call it. Now let us move past the political rhetoric and work together to stand for the protection of all human life and the preservation of the rights and liberties that make America so great.

1 comment:

  1. Another point to remember is that the terms relating to terrorism have been used in the context of the "War on Terror." Thus peace activists were reluctant to use that term freely so as not justify mass military intervention in the Middle East because when you said a group was "terrorist," not only were you condemning their acts (which you can do without using that label which often is not defined and not applied objectively) but you were also justifying escalations of the conflict via increased military intervention.