Who Puts the Terror in Terrorism?

March 26, 2009

The new age of security in our generation will recount the efforts by our world to fight a threat defined as terrorism. What is terrorism? Terrorism is an act of violence and destruction intended to create a psychology of fear and terror against its target. These acts are commonly used for ideological reasons and used against non-combatants. They are an international unlawful means of violence and not condoned by just war principles.

Following the September 11th attacks, the government of the United States responded with the launch of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Since then, our perceptions from the west of terrorists have been Islamic fundamentalists or ethnic separatists targeting western countries that have deemed them as ideological or religious enemies. CNN and other western media have flashed images of Arabs holding AK-47s with buildings exploding in the background, insinuating that our greatest enemies are of specific backgrounds and beliefs.  However, what has been less publicized is the involvement of certain governments sponsoring these acts of terrorism, as well as state terrorism.

Richard Falk in his book, Revolutionaries & Functionalities, approaches the definition of terrorism with simplicity – “violence directed against innocent victims is terrorism, whether carried out against the state or by the state.“

By this definition, the United States themselves have been engaged in acts that could be deemed state terrorism.  Some of these might include:

1. the bombing of Libya in 1986.
2. Aiding the Contras against the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.
3. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (although many have argued that this was necessary to end the war).

In fact, state-sponsored terrorism is arguably more dangerous than terrorism by organizations alone as they have easier access to lethal weapons.   With resources provided by governments, they become well equipped with intelligence and material resources to continue carrying out their actions.  When one looks at the role of the US in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, we doubt that the US can effectively combat terrorism when their own agents may be linked to many of the terrorist acts committed in these regions.

Is the global war on terrorism truly global or is it targeted at a specific kind of terrorists? Is terrorism a threat to human security around the world or is it a projection of US security concerns? If one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, how do we tell them apart?

In our view, the ability to filter out friend from foe in this fight for security has become increasingly difficult.

Weldon & Michelle


6 Responses to “Who Puts the Terror in Terrorism?”

  1. Simran Says:

    I would like to bring out an issue which you highlighted in your blog about governments sponsoring these acts of terrorism, I believe this can be directly as the US Government with the GWOT or indirectly, which Pakistan is often accused of doing.

    Pakistan is under alot of scrutiny right now, with the recent attacks on its home ground, such as the bomb attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team or as recent as yesterday when a suicide bomber killed 11 people in Jandola, as well as in India with the recent terror attacks in Mumbai on 26th November 2008. Pakistan has always maintained that it condemns terrorism and how they have tried to combat it several time, with the governments own battle with jihad groups after 9/11 and its support in the U.S. pursuit of Al-Qaeda. However there have been several instances, when the government or the Pakistan Intelligence Agency (ISI) has been found to support and often sponsor these attacks. With several reports showing the close relations of the S-wing of the ISI with the Afghanistan- based Taliban group. The S Wing of the Pakistani intelligence service as the source of “money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders” who are fighting international forces in southern Afghanistan.

    Thus, I would like to bring out the question, what do we or leaders of other countries do, to combat terrorism when governments of countries, themselves are sponsoring terrorism, similar to the question you bought up in your blog, but in a different context…

  2. Zayra Lopez Says:

    Hi Weldon and Michelle

    First of all, thanks for your interesting contribution about terrorism and its implications. You have an excellent point, is terrorism a threat to human security? Whether we like it or not, the world is not the same after September 11 terrorist attacks. We were witnesses of the biggest and more controversial attacks against the United States; however we never imagine that the world would become more insecure, unstable and unjust after the Unites States government reaction.

    I think that one of the main problems was the use of “national strategy” as a method for combating terrorism, when a decision involve more than one country, it is necessary act in a global context. In that time the ex-president of United States George W. Bush declared “No cause justifies terrorism. The world must respond and fight this evil that is intent on threatening and destroying our basic freedoms and our way of life. Freedom and fear are at war”.

    After see the atrocities committed by US government, It seems like everything is justify in order to combat terrorism; the violation of international legality, the violation of human right, the infringement of the sovereignty. At this point the question is not only if terrorism is a threat to human security but also if the actions taken by countries in order to stop and prevent terrorism attacks are actually threaten the security of others.
    The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism focuses on identifying and defusing threats before they reach borders, and it is ironical that the way to do it is actually carry out more threats. According to the New York Times the invasion and occupation of Iraq by UE do not stop the international terrorism; on the contrary it has generated more terrorism in the world.

    If we take a look to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, we’ll see how the terrorist attacks and wars not only have killed millions of innocent people, but also the bombings have destroyed hospitals, leaving civilians without electric energy and water, putting in jeopardy the life of others and the integrity of a country.

    Zayra Lopez

  3. Pinky Says:

    Thanks Weldon and Michelle for your sharing!

    From your post, you have mentioned your view that US, on the one hand, combat terrorism, but at the same time engaged in numbers of acts that could be deemed as state terrorism. In addition, US contribute to the rise of terrorism at some point. In the Israel-Palestine conflict, the US is always in the stance of supporting her primary ally – Israel, due to her own geo-political strategic interest and also the pressure from US Jews. With the help of US on political, economic and military support, Israel obviously has a much greater powers than other Arab countries in the Middle East. With the blind backup from US, this effectually gives courage or “guts” for Israel to implement what she thinks “just” towards Palestine, though it is higher oppressive from many other countries. This really triggers the anger of Palestinians and their determination in taking revenge. For me, US is largely responsible for the Middle East conflict.

    You have brought out the question on “terrorist and freedom fighter”. Yes I argree with your point. For example, Hamas are regarded as terrorist by US for their radical approach towards Israeli. However, the other side of Hamas has often being neglected. To Palestinians, Hamas represents a spiritual nationalism and the aspiration of a fulfillment of immaterial values. Also, Hamas puts great efforts in social work in the Occupied Territories, including the establishment of medical clinics, kindergartens, sports clubs, hospitals, schools and colleges. Hamas is highly regarded by many Palestinian as hope for freedom and justice.

    I think the core problem lies at the “double standard” approach adopted by US or the West, and any distinction between “freedom fighters” or “terrorist” is artificial and opened for manipulation. To me, any violent means to achieve political purpose is undesirable and blameworthy, no matter what they “term” themselves. The West and the US are just using “glorious reasons” to justify the actions that maximize their state interests. “War against terrorism” is a typical example on this. This is the reality of our world and I am pessimistic to finding out any solutions for that.

  4. Anna Hannus Says:

    Thank you Weldon and Michelle!

    I think your conclusion that states engaging in terrorism are actually more of a threat to global human security than individuals can be is correct, and as you point out, there are several examples of huge acts of terrorism performed by states (you take the US as an example, and there are definitely many more).

    Simran, you raised a good question about what to do about government-sponsored terrorism. I honestly don’t know the answer – but I think we’ve seen that the tactics used in the US GWOT (invasion and occupation, for example) are not the right way. Understanding the underlying reasons for the government’s funding of terrorists and trying to remove the reason itself may of course be difficult, but would be the ideal solution.

    I agree with Zayra and Pinky that the US GWOT seems to have created at least as many threats as it has solved. However, I am not completely pessimistic about finding other solutions. As we have seen in our readings this week, the US WOT in Iraq has changed slightly under General Patreau’s “surge” strategy – “Operation Close Encounters” definitely showed a more people-centered, humane approach, consisting in personal conversations with Iraqis in their homes about their experiences and their hopes for change, trying to establish this kind of mutual trust relationship with the local communities, and emphasize the protection of civilians rather than the hunt for potential terrorists. This could point towards a recognition from the US side that their national-security-centered strategy has not worked and that new ways need to be found.


  5. Weldon Says:

    Thank you for all your questions and comments.

    We are all having trouble trying find a solution to this global phenomenon called Terrorism.
    The most concerning point is the millions of lives at risk or exposure as targets of terrorism.
    We do not want to point out specifically that the US is a cause to all this, but we hope to challenge their view of what their GWOT should be.
    It is true in fact as many of you have spoken that the US’s recent actions in the global environment have exacerbated extremism. However to better protect people from the risk of terrorist attacks we should also better understand what these ideological groups hope to do. It is true Hamas is a social benefit to many palestinians but they are not innocent of terrorism as well. So what is it that Hamas is wanting to achieve? Why is their an emnity in the rising middle eastern world against the west in this form of extreme hostility?
    At the same time we also need to understand the dynamics that have been so ambivalent in US policy.
    Pakistan use to be US’s greatest ally in the area, now they have become a liability. One comment that we had that was raised was to the friendship between the Saudi’s and US. Is there a double standard for US’s allegiance. How can US hope to protect their citizens from terrorism if their allies are the greatest supporters of extremism – Wuhabism via the Saudi Royal family. There continues to be alot of questions to what the solution should be. What is the best way to protect our people while maintaining a security concept that helps others protect theirs? The new stance the President Obama intends to take, is it the new way? He has recorded a message of laurel wreath in a way to Iran but will it be affective?

    The security of the word from terrorism remains to be seen.

  6. Ilina Georgieva Says:

    Dear Weldon and Michelle,

    Thank you for bringing up this interesting issue to our intention.

    It is true that states have the economic potential to finance different terrorist attacks but I am not sure that I will consider them as more dangerous than the mobile terrorist organizations. The latter are not that internationally restricted. States have to keep their face before the world; most of them can be hold accountable through the UN system and none of them can afford unilateral decisions. These are some of the merits of the interdependent and interconnected world. Terrorist groups are more flexible, mobile and difficult to be tracked down.

    I agree that the current GWOT exacerbate extremism. One of the problems is that we tried to tackle new threats with old methods. Conventional armies cannot be efficient when it comes to fighting an enemy without face or location. That could be one of the reasons why most of the attempts so far failed.

    We really need to find an answer to the question – What terrorists want. However, I am not so sure that we will like the answer. Recent surveys show that majority of suicide terrorist are neither ignorant, nor from impoverished families. If they do not want better living standard but change in the whole social, religious and political world system, then what we will going to offer them?


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