Terrorism? Let's Call Things by their Names
(This article appeared in Le Soir of Brussels, on October 20, 2001)
For several weeks now, the word "terrorism" is on everyone's lips, specially on those of politicians trying to reclaim a lost virginity or to conquer a legitimacy not clearly acquired through the ballot box.
The fact is that nobody seems concerned about defining "terrorism". According to dictionaries that I have been able to consult, people understood by terrorism, up to very recently, a political action using violence in order to destabilize a government (a classical example being the Red Brigades in Italy). It was a question of groups refusing to play the normal political game and trying to impose their will on the people through force. That use of the word was already somewhat ambiguous. When a country was led by a military dictatorship, for example, any violence trying to overthrow that dictatorship was called "terrorism", but not the violence -- often much greater and much more cruel -- of the military regime itself.
During the last few years, however, and especially during the last few weeks, the word terrorism has been used without any restraint by politicians, journalists and "ordinary" people alike in a much broader sense, and therefore in a sense that is much more ambiguous and inevitably very subjective.
If one wanted -- but is it still possible? -- to save humankind from another long period of destruction and incalculable sufferings, one should ban the use of the word terrorism and call things by their names. What we are in presence of here is violence. Listening to the impassioned speeches of our politicians going on a crusade to "free the world from evil" (God has not succeeded yet) and to establish a new international world order (Hitler and Stalin tried that, with the results that we know), we are obliged to realize that what is now called "terrorism" is nothing else than the violence that is done by the other one, even if it is not of a different nature than the one that we practice ourselves. Paraphrasing a well known phrase of Sartre, one could say that, in the current way of speaking, "the terrorist is the other one".
Why could we not create a vast coalition on the scale of the whole humankind in order to try to reduce violence always more, within each nation as well as between nations, rather than creating warlike coalitions that claim to crush terrorism -- necessarily always defined in a partisan way -- through military interventions, the victims of which have every right to consider terrorist attacks.
The attack against the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and against the Pentagon was an act of violence totally unjustifiable, that must be condemned in the most absolute manner. Can, however, the Palestinian people who have seen for several years now their own homes leveled by the bulldozers and the tanks of the occupying power and their stone-throwing kids slaughtered with machine guns, without the international community protesting, see the difference between the two situations? And why would not the Iraqi people, who have seen tens of thousands of their civilians killed in attacks that were supposed to target military bases and by bombs that were claimed to be much more "intelligent" than they were in reality, have any right to consider themselves victims of terrorist attacks just as well as the inhabitants of New York and of the Pentagon? And the Iraqi children (more than half a million according to the United Nations, and at least a million according to several ONG) who have died as a direct consequence of sanctions that the great majority of the countries of the UN have been wanting to stop for several years, but that are maintained simply because an obsolete and unjust composition of the Security Council gives the right of veto against such a decision to one power that is then both judge and party -- should not these children be considered victims of terrorism ? Why are the dead on our side called "victims" (what they are), and those on the other side nicely called "collateral damage" ?
One of the basic principles of justice in our Western countries that boast to be respectful of human rights (always defined, of course, in a subjective manner) is that any person must be considered innocent as long as he/she has not been proved guilty before a court where she/he has had the possibility of defending himself/herself. How is it, then, that the international community allows one nation to systematically assassinate, without any trial, the persons of the neighboring nation whom it considers "suspect" of terrorist acts? How can one justify, according to our own principles of law, launching a massive military operation, at the price of considerable destruction and a large number of innocent civilian victims, in order to capture "dead or alive", before any trial, the "suspect nš 1" ?
At the beginning of the war against Iraq, General Colin Powell bravely announced in from of TV : "We will bomb them back to the Middle Ages". What the USA have been occupied to do for almost ten years. At the beginning of the present campaign against Afghanistan, the officials of the US army proclaimed : " We will bomb them back to the Stone Age!" What they have been busy doing for the last four days. Are these missions to the honor of the Western civilization, which Silvio Belusconi, President of the Italian TV networks (and also of a few other things), vociferously proclaimed last week superior to the Arab world?
The Afghan people was invaded ten years ago by the Soviet Union under a pretext not much different from the one used today to invade it again. For several years, it was the victim of a cruel war that, in conformity to the standards of the Cold War was waged by the Soviet Union on one side and the USA through the intermediary of the Mujahidins on the other side. They are again victims of a war foreing to them. The Talibans are religious fanatics and nobody will shed a tear when they depart. They wanted, however, at least at the beginning, to free their country from the criminal bands that are found in the Northern Alliance that people now want to bring to power -- which will allow them of course to continue undisturbed their production of heroin.
Some of the countries that were compelled by economic interests or through fear of military retaliation to quickly side with the great Bush/Blair Coalition do not have a record superior to that of the Talibans as far as the respect of the rights of women and other basic human rights are concerned. In that context, the Afghan people whose all the infrastructures (hospital, schools, etc.) have already been destroyed by almost twenty years of war ( to the point that our brave Coalition has problems to find anything worth destroying apart from the military camps build by the CIA for Ben Laden almost twenty years ago) and who are already dying of hunger -- are not those people wholly entitled to consider themselves "victims of international terrorism" ? -- Oh! yes, I was forgetting that we are generously dropping on them tons of humanitarian stuff. But this is, obviously, a media operation rather than an humanitarian one. The geography of the country is such that most of those parcels will fall on inaccessible places and most probably some of them -- dropped by night -- will crush to death those whom they are supposed to save, as it happened in other similar operations in the past. And one should not forget the innumerable amount of antipersonnel mines with which the Afghan soil is covered; which means that several hungry people will blow up on mines by trying to reach a parcel of food. -- Only collateral damage !
The list of situations, on all sides, that one can consider "terrorist actions" is very long and could occupy several pages, even books. But are we not all tired of that collective hypocrisy?
Let's call things by their names. What we are confronted with here is violence, whatever can be its motive and by whoever it may be produced. Then, why not to call for a great pacific movement of resistance to any form of violence ? A certain head of State said recently, in a parody of the Gospel : "those who are not with us are against us". Jesus of Nazareth used the same words, but it was to call to love and sharing, not to war.
Abbaye de Scourmont
Era of the Fifth Crusade, year one, day four.