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AN AXIOM OF ACADEMIC DISCOURSE is that war is an extension of politics but by other means. Over the course of history, as a result of the innate brutality of war, certain rules of conduct for warfare have been agreed upon and legally solemnized in international conventions. While these rules of conduct are frequently violated in the conduct of warfare and often not punished by the international legal order when they are, they nonetheless provide a framework for considering military actions and their consequences even if they are not always adhered to.

The international community has also considered and adopted a position regarding the legality of war itself. This position is reflected in the Charter of the United Nations. Offensive wars are illegal while defensive wars are permitted.

The term "terrorism", has, because of horrific killing of civilians by groups of individuals or an individual who is ideologically motivated, and the attendant media coverage, that surround them has been so laden with emotion that it is most difficult to examine it as a legal and socio-political manifestation. Moreover, the concept of "terrorism" has not been given the benefit of an international legal consensus through which a unified international effort to eradicate it might be conducted.

Former U.S. Secretary of State in the Carter Administration, Warren Christopher, very succinctly observed that terrorist acts in the name of religion and ethnic identity have become "one of the most important security challenges we face in the wake of the Cold War." Christopher's statement raises a number of interesting questions relating to how one is precisely to define terrorism, what and whose security is threatened by it, and how the end of the Cold War did or did not contribute to the rise of terrorism. But the change in what is viewed by the United States as the single biggest area of growth for terrorism can be seen in the annual State Department report to Congress on terrorism.

The 1980 State Department roster of terrorist organizations listed very few religious organizations. In the 1998 report, however, over half of the organizations listed were religious. Interestingly, this period of two decades is one which witnessed the greatest change in the post World War II international order: namely, the fall of Communism in and the breakup of the former Soviet Union.

Various commentators, scholars, and legal experts have sought to define exactly what terrorism is. One of these I believe correctly sets the stage for a discussion of what terrorism is. This scholar maintains that:

the designation of terrorism is a subjective judgment about the legitimacy of certain violent acts as much as it is a descriptive statement about them.

In his seminal examination of terrorism, Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories and Literature (with Albert J. Jongman, et al, Rev. ed., Amsterdam, Oxford, New York: North Holland Publishing, 1988), Alex Schmid recorded 109 different definitions of terrorism by social scientists and lawyers. In a rather lengthy definition, he attempted to collect the most agreed upon elements among the various writers on the topic:

Terrorism is a method of combat in which random or symbolic victims serve as an instrumental target of violence. These instrumental victims share group or class characteristics which form the basis for their selection for victimization. Through previous use of violence or the credible threat of violence other members of that group or class are put in a state of chronic fear (terror). This group or class, whose members' sense of security is purposefully undermined, is the target of terror. The victimization of the target of violence is considered extra-normal by most observers from the witnessing audience on the basis of its atrocity, the time (e.g., peacetime) or place (not a battlefield) of victimization, or the disregard for rules of combat accepted in conventional warfare. The norm violation creates an attentive audience beyond the target of terror, sectors of this audience might in turn form the main object of manipulation. The purpose of this indirect method of combat is either to immobilize the target o f terror in order to produce disorientation and/or compliance or to mobilize secondary targets of demands (e.g., a government) or targets of attention (e.g., public opinion) to changes of attitude or behaviour favouring the short or long term interests of the users of this method of combat. (pp.l-2)

What is crucial in this attempt to define terrorism is that (1) it is not value laden (Good vs. Evil) and (2) it seeks to understand the existence of terrorism in a rather utilitarian context.

Thus, just as a political scientist would hold that war is politics by other means, so too is terrorism. It exists because of the disparity of power between an aggrieved group and the holder of dominant power and is an attempt to alter that relationship and to press a list of grievances. In some cases terrorism is resorted to only as an action of last resort, or when other effective avenues of complaint are cut-off or non-existent.

Another source of serious confusion in the definition of terrorism arises because of the different contexts in which it occurs. The most glaring example of this is the existence of the use of the word "terrorism" in a struggle against a dominant occupying colonial power (the French in Algeria, the Jews in Palestine and the Afrikaners in Southern Africa) and the use of terrorism in an ideological battle between systems of economics and governance. In this later category falls the efforts in the Reagan Administration and among many Cold War warriors in the media, entertainment industry and elsewhere, to label the former Soviet Union as the chief sponsor and promoter of terrorism throughout the world. Claire Sterlings' widely promoted book, The Terror Network set the public justification for what had been an ideological weapon of choice in the Cold War. Likewise, the attacks against the United States, both domestically and internationally, by certain Muslim organizations are in their essence ideologically motiva ted. When Aymen al-Zawahiri stated at the time of the trial for the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat that he was opposed to "communism and capitalism" and that "Islam is the answer," he was setting forth an ideological basis for the use of terrorism, however it is defined. Interestingly, in all of the public statements that leaders of Islamist movements have made, they have not specifically rejected or denounced the label of terrorist that the United States and other western states have used in describing them. The reason for this is that they are basically unconcerned about their public image in the West; they know that these labels, given the experience of the peoples of the regions with the United States and its allies, only increases their visibility and appeal.

The confusion, I believe arises by conflating terrorism in the context of a liberation struggle and terrorism in a larger ideological battle. After September 11 Israel and its American supporters wanted to brand Palestinian resistance to occupation as part and parcel of American's war on terrorism. Any early hesitancy by President Bush to disallow this co-mingling was quickly overcome by the deft movements of Israel's supporters in Congress and the media.

Interestingly the use of the word "terror" and "terrorism" entered the modern political lexicon in the treatment by the government of a state--in this case France--against some of its own citizens in the later part of the French Revolution. Since then the United States and Western states generally have been unwilling to allow that a state can practice terrorism either domestically or externally. Today, for instance, the United States has devised a new category that it has incorporated into its domestic law and that is the category of state sponsor of terrorism. The ex parte designation as being such a state, (there are seven currently so designated) allows for a number of trade restrictions, and legal liability consequences to attach themselves. Of course, this is as much a subjective political label, as it is based on any genuine involvement of the state so designated with terrorism. Cuba is a prime example since it has been subjected to terrorism by groups outside its borders that have been aided and abette d by the United States.

It was quite refreshing, to say the least, to read a frank and open examination on "America's War on Terror" in the July/August 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs by Grenville Byford who is identified by the journal, as a "Boston-Based entrepreneur and independent analyst of international relations." I suspect that this was a description that he himself supplied to accompany his very important contribution. First, he acknowledges that a war against a "common noun" such as terrorism is much more complicated than a war against a country such as Afghanistan. The reason for this is that defining just who is a terrorist is complicated. He examines three different approaches in trying to define what terrorism is. He then gets into the core issue of any discussion of terrorism and that is "civilian casualties" and "civilian targets." While his article makes for compelling reading one section is worth quoting verbatim:

WHAT ABOUT TARGETS, then? Are terrorist those who deliberately set out to kill civilians? This inquiry raises the political incorrect question of what is wrong with killing civilians. Civilians are not always mere bystanders and are crucial to any war effort. U.S. military power is based on America's economic success. This relationship holds for any halfway modern economy and provides the justification for attacking industrial targets in a war--whether in Hamburg half a century ago, or in Belgrade more recently. The United States, furthermore, is a democracy; its citizens help decide how its military power is used. Are they truly innocent?

Return, though, to conventional wisdom and accept that killing civilians is wrong. It does happen, nevertheless. Serbs under Slobodan Milosevic and Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, some of whom must have had a better claim on the word "innocent" than the citizens of democratic America, have been killed in recent years by American bombs. The pilots who dropped those bombs, however, are not terrorists in any meaningful sense of the word.

Still, drawing the line can be difficult. Are civilians deaths defensible if they are known to be a likely consequence of violent action -- unwanted, certainly, but eminently predictable? How hard does a principled warrior have to try to avoid killing civilians, and does everyone have to try equally hard? At least part of the answer surely lies in assessing the costs of a scrupulous attempt to avoid civilian casualties. In Kosovo, the United States was willing to invest billions of dollars in advance weaponry and tolerate delays in accomplishing its objective in order to reduce civilians casualties. Washington drew the line, however, at hazarding the lives of U.S. pilots by ordering low-level attacks. This policy was not especially immoral. The problem with using it as a model, however, is that no other power on earth has the resources to act in a like manner. Must everyone without access to the latest technologies require their pilots to run risks that the Pentagon deems unacceptable in order to fight honora bly?

This hardly seems a reasonable proposition. And consider the case of those opposing a government so ruthless and powerful that any attack on its armed forces is tantamount to suicide. Can we say that in such a situation no armed struggle against the regime is legitimate, since the opposition would have to employ force against civilian targets and would certainly kill the innocent? The sad truth is that for many people -- some of them decent -- a scrupulously honorable struggle is an unaffordable luxury. Recognizing this reality, most of us will not pass moral judgment on any combatants without also considering the ends they pursue.

Fighters with a halfway decent cause may be forgiven much. Fighters with a noble objective and no alternatives may perhaps be forgiven everything. It is hard to think of any means, for example, that would have been unacceptable if used by the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. The members of the Irgun from 1946-48, however, faced a much less dire situation and had more choices available. Their actions can be judged with this context in mind. Today's Israeli government can surely be held to a still higher standard.

Byford explains why America's war on terror is what he calls "morally unsatisfying" and could possibly be "counter to American national interests." The reason for this disconnect, he says, is because the "war" is not nuanced and as an example of this lack of nuance he gives the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In their conflict with the Palestinians, for example, the Israelis claim the moral high ground by pointing to the means their opponents employ, notably suicide bombings. This is all that matters, they say; nothing else can even be discussed. The Palestinians, in contrast, focus on ends. Israel, they argue, is intent on continuing its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Opposing this occupation is legitimate, in their eyes, and the huge disparities in strength leave them no alternative to terrorism. Despite the absolutism on each side, both dimensions of the conflict clearly exist and have a certain moral validity. Unless the Israelis and the Palestinians begin to recognize this fact, they will never engage each other, and progress toward a resolution of the conflict will not take place. Yet the concept of a war on terrorism privileges the Israeli view, thus creating a gap between Bush administration statements and the inevitable realities of Mideast diplomacy.

He then goes on to discuss how the U.S., by its lack of nuance, has now become enmeshed in conflicts of India's Kashmir province, China's Xinjiang Province, in Uzbekistan and Chechnya and Indonesia. Some of these are conflicts that arose with the unraveling of the Soviet Union, a process greatly aided, if not caused by the U.S. proxy war against it using Afghan nationalism and Pakistani/Arab fundamentalism to carry the ball.


Both Pakistan and Israel contemporaneously emerged as the Western colonial powers retreated from areas of the world that had been under their dominion. Both were created on the basis of religion and both became caught up in the designs of the United States as it took up its anti-Communist crusade in the post-colonial world in both South and West Asia. But coupled with this was the development of secular nationalist movements in the Middle East that sought to bring development, education and unity across the region. Competing Arab nationalist ideologies in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya sought to wrest the local state economies from foreign and domestic elites while confronting the constant humiliation of their weakness evidenced by the western imposed aggressive Jewish state in their midst and the creation of the serious Palestinian refugee problem in most of the states immediately adjacent to Israel. On the other side, the hereditary monarchies and Sheikdoms, either created or now supported by the former colon ial powers or the United States, looked with alarm on the republicanism of the Arab nationalist movement.

The Arab nationalist movement was smashed by the June, 1967 war in which Israel, in its lightening attack over six days, occupied the West Bank, (a portion of Palestine incorporated by Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan after the 1948 war), Syria's Golan Heights, the Egyptian administered Gaza Strip, and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

No other two events in modern Middle Eastern history--the creation of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948 and the defeat of the newly independent Arab states in 1967--contributed more to the search for a new ideology of resistance against the West, of which Israel and the satellite kingdoms and Sheikdoms were the most tangible manifestation.

The religious idiom took hold in this vacuum -- a vacuum created by the collapse of Arab secular nationalism, increasing unemployment and economic underdevelopment. It was an idiom that had been supported by Western powers against a non-aligned Arab nationalism and a godless Communism as the Soviet Union sought to increase its influence in the region through Communist parties of some significance in Iraq, Sudan, and South Yemen. In this the United States and Saudi Arabia, with its considerable oil revenues, were on the same wavelength. Some leaders like Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt sought to play the Islamists off against the remnants of Communists and Nationalists; this ultimately led to his own downfall.

The specific idiom of the movement for religious revival is not so important as the fact that it exists on a foundation of historical development by religious thinkers and scholars. At its base is the effort to revive jihad as a guiding principle and individual duty of every able-bodied Muslim male and to re-create a trans-national Muslim community regardless of national origin.

Among the proponents for a revival of jihad there is a very strong sense of aggrievement that Muslims as a community are under attack by western ideologies (both Communism and capitalism) and an alliance of Christian and Jews against them. They reject any state that they regard as not being governed solely on the basis of God's revealed law and the actions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. This sense of profound aggrievement is enhanced when they witness nominally Muslim leaders acting in the interest of non-Muslim powers; they believe that they may employ any means necessary to attack and defeat their enemies so long as the consequence of the attack is not random and is intended to weaken the enemy. In short, they see themselves as at war with the West but particularly with the United States and its Jewish ally, Israel.

In attacking the World Trade Center and Pentagon, this movement has taken on the greatest military and economic power that the world has ever known--that of the United States. In doing so, it is hard to imagine that it did so without understanding what the consequences of those attacks would be. It would mobilize the full force of American military, economic and police power to crush this incipient challenge.

Individuals who grew up in the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century with the coming of age of Hollywood movies were given a spate of what we called cowboy-Indian movies. A frequent action scene in these movies was wagon trains of settler families with armed males surrounding the wagon train as it moved through Indian Territory. Suddenly a band of yelping Indians would descend upon the wagon train and kill every man, woman and child and brutally mutilate some through scalping. Government troop raids on peaceful Indian villages and wonton slaughter of their inhabitants was seldom shown. It was only in the 1960's that we began to get some "revisionist" history of the U.S. with the activities of the American Indian Movement and books such as Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

But this residual history of the occupation and settlement of the United States by Europeans is perhaps one of the main sources of the modern day support for Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The suicide bomber is the likes of the yelping Indian attacking the peaceful wagon train.

Also the 60's were a time of great ferment as anti-colonial struggles were being waged by indigenous populations in Vietnam, in Algeria, and elsewhere. We clutched our dog-erred copies of Franz Fanon's, Wretched Of The Earth, by the psychiatrist who worked in Algeria. Fanon developed a psychological analysis for anti-colonial violence.

One of the best lines of the movie Battle of Algiers, released in 1966 by Italian movie maker Gillo Pontecorvo, is spoken by a leader of the Algerian FLN who had been captured, tortured and then taken to face the French press in a "press conference." A French journalist poses the question: "How can you use women who place baskets filled with explosives in bars and cafes and still call yourself a liberation movement?" The response: "If France gives us its Mystere Jets, we will give you our baskets with bombs in them."


The U.S. Department of State, as mandated by Federal Law, annually issues a report, Patterns of Global Terrorism. This Report provides Congress with assessments of foreign countries where terrorist acts have occurred and information about countries listed as having repeatedly providing state support for international terrorism. It also includes information about the activities of "individuals, terrorist organizations, or umbrella groups known to be responsible for the kidnapping or death of any U.S. citizen and groups known to be financed by state sponsors of terrorism." Two-thirds of the 33 designated foreign terrorist organizations in the 2002 Report are either secular Palestinian ones or Arab and non-Arab Moslem ones. What the report notes as a significant change from previous reports is that while Americans traveling, living or working abroad had previously been the victims of terrorist attacks, the pattern was more and more evident that America itself was increasingly becoming the target with even greate r damages and loss of life. If this trend continues, Arab and non-Arab Muslims in the United States are bound to come under increasing surveillance and so-called security measures.

A National Commission on Terrorism was established by Congress in 1999. Over a period of six months, it reviewed "the laws, regulations, directives, policies and practices for preventing and punishing international terrorism directed against the United States" and to "recommend changes." In the Forward to its report, written by its Chairman Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, II and its Vice-Chairman Maurice Sonnenberg, it acknowledges that:

People turn to terrorism for various reasons. Many terrorists act from political, ideological or religious conviction. ... Others become terrorists because of perceived oppression or economic deprivation. An astute American foreign policy must take into account the reasons people turn to terror, and, where appropriate and feasible, address them. [emphasis added]

While this is a rather weak admission of the connection between U.S. foreign policy and terrorism directed against Americans, the only explanation for the fact, acknowledged in the Report, that Americans are targets of terrorism more than citizens from any other country is that "America's pre-eminent role in the world guarantees that this will continue to be the case, and the threat of attacks creating massive casualties is growing." Given what happened on 9-11 it would appear that many of the Report's recommendations were either ignored or given very short shrift. In other words, America can continue its "leadership role" in the world only if it "refines sound counter-terrorism policies." Given President Bush's warning to the American people that Americans are under a continuous threat of terrorist attack, some perhaps much greater than 9-11, it is clear that maintaining a world "leadership position" is more important than instituting the modifications that would lessen the hatred and anger toward Americans by millions of people around the globe.

The contributors to this special issue of Arab Studies Quarterly on the complex topic of terrorism have all made important contributions in the areas of law, political science and community service. Peter Weiss is an attorney working in the area of intellectual property and trademark law. He has served for many years on the Board of the Center for Constitutional Rights and on the Board of Americans for Peace Now. He has written and spoken widely on international human rights law, most recently addressing a conference in Algeria. Peter Weiss' contribution is most important because it provides an overview discussion of an international approach to terrorism.

Professor Marjorie Cohn is an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She is also a member of the national executive committee of the National Lawyers Guild. She regularly contributes legal and political commentary on current affairs. In "Understanding, Responding to, and Preventing Terrorism," Professor Cohn details how much the Palestine issue intersects with the whole discussion of terrorism; she emphasizes that the failure of the west and in particular the United States to have a clear policy supporting Palestinian rights has contributed to terrorism both in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Professor Susan Akram is an associate Clinical Professor at Boston University School of Law. She also works with the Boston Legal Clinic and is an expert in immigration law. She worked for a year as an attorney in Jerusalem working on Palestinian human rights and has been involved in research and writing on the Qana Massacre where during the 1996 Israeli "Grapes of Wrath" military operation into Lebanon, Israeli tank fire killed over 100 Lebanese civilians who had taken refuge in a UN installation. Susan Akram's study, "The Aftermath of September 11, 2001: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims in America," demonstrates with the use of solid research and extensive documentation that the targeting of Muslims and Arab-Americans for surveillance, harassment and prosecution by federal and state law enforcement officials far pre-dated the horrible terror attack on the U.S. on September 11.

Edward Herman is professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He co-authored with Noam Chomsky The Political Economy of Human Rights; he is the author of Corporate Control, Corporate Power, and the classic, The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda. In "Israel's Wholesale Terrorism Escalates: The Threat of Genocide," Herman points out the ongoing hypocrisy of the United States and its allies on the issue of terrorism. Herman also describes how much the Palestinian people are at risk because of this hypocrisy.

Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi', a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary and author of Intellectual Origins of Islamic Resurgence in the Modern Arab World, has contributed several poems dealing with the subject of terrorism. Poetry is a powerful mode of expression with a particularly long and venerable tradition in the Arab world. In the context of the Palestinian struggle for national self-determination, poetry has played an important role in communicating and defining the desires and history of the Palestinians. Abu-Rabi's poems conform to a long tradition of political poetry and it is, therefore, especially appropriate to include them in this political discourse on terrorism.

Finally, "Terrorism: Books in Brief" offers a synopsis of several key studies on the issue of terrorism, state politics and freedom struggles. In the aftermath of September 11 a plethora of new studies, many by instant "terrorism experts," were widely touted by the mainstream press and media. In general, these publications aimed to provide the appropriate academic cover to bolster support for U.S. and Israeli actions in the so-called war against terrorism. Shifting through the myriad of conflicting accounts and definitions of terrorism is a daunting, to say nothing of a time consuming task. The books summarized here offer nuanced historical and political analyses of the interrelationship of terrorism and state policies with a special emphasis on the Islamic and Arab worlds by recognized scholars. They are excellent resources for further study and discussion on the complex interrelationship of terrorism and state policies -- an issue that promises to be a defining one, with global dimensions, well into the 2ls t century.

Abdeen Jabara is a civil rights attorney practicing in New York City.
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Author:Jabara, Abdeen
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Previous Article:The Adam of Two Edens: Poems. (Book Reviews).
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