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 What defines terrorism? 
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Joined: July 26th, 2011, 9:52 am
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Do not know if anyone else noticed that when the news of the bombing of the Presidential Offices in Oslo, Norway was first broadcast and it was assumed it was a Islamic Fundametalist attack the word "Terrorism" was used all the time.

When it was then discovered to be a Fundamentalist Christian behind the attacks the word "Terrorism" suddenly vanished. But it is still terrorism.

I remember a teacher of mine in School saying, "If you want to know the real history of your Country, read other Countries historical accounts of you!"


July 29th, 2011, 9:17 am
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Your terrorist is our freedom fighter.

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July 29th, 2011, 9:30 am
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Griblet wrote:
Your terrorist is our freedom fighter.

Not so sure it is as simple as that.

I seem to remember that there was once an attempt to define it by saying that terrorism was an attempt, by one faction to achieve political ends over another faction by means of the destruction of innocent life, by deliberately creating a state of fear.

Who is innocent? One could define every supporter of an opposing faction, whether an active or passive, as an enemy of your aims. "If you are not with us you are against us!"

Perhaps the size of the "constituency" the people fight for defines their degree of "legitimacy"? The Taliban represent their own ideology only it seems, as do Al Q and many others, and seek to impose that on an unwilling people. If they had the majority of people backing them up could they be considered "terrorists"? They might be guilty of war crimes if, in that latter state, they did take unnecessary innocent lives. We are supporting what were once the "rebels" in Libya, that legitimises them in the eyes of our government. But they do seem to be representing a large part of the population, tending wounded enemy soldiers and avoiding heavy attacks in residential areas - so I guess they are "freedom fighters", not "terrorists".

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July 29th, 2011, 10:31 am
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Dave B wrote:
I seem to remember that there was once an attempt to define it by saying that terrorism was an attempt, by one faction to achieve political ends over another faction by means of the destruction of innocent life, by deliberately creating a state of fear.

Who is innocent? One could define every supporter of an opposing faction, whether an active or passive, as an enemy of your aims. "If you are not with us you are against us!"
I think you are right basically in your first statement, and should not qualify by the second. If there is a real distinction between terrorist and freedom fighter it is that terrorists do target civilian populations deliberately. They work like this because they are usually weaker than the forces they oppose; in contrast, genuine guerrilla fighters target the conventional military forces whom they see as oppressing the population as a whole. Terrorism can also be carried by states, though - for instance against their own populations or against other states.


July 29th, 2011, 3:19 pm
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IIRC, terrorism was a political strategy of the 19th century, which argued that the only way to get the people to rise up against the state was to create terror, so that the state is forced to become so repressive that eventually the people will find it unbearable. Can't remember whose theory it was, though.


July 29th, 2011, 5:02 pm
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thundril wrote:
IIRC, terrorism was a political strategy of the 19th century, which argued that the only way to get the people to rise up against the state was to create terror, so that the state is forced to become so repressive that eventually the people will find it unbearable. Can't remember whose theory it was, though.
Yeah, that rings a bell with me as well, thundril.

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July 29th, 2011, 5:26 pm
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thundril wrote:
Can't remember whose theory it was, though.


Sergei Nechaev?

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July 29th, 2011, 6:08 pm
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At least one exponent of the idea,
Quote:
"must infiltrate all social formations including the police. He must exploit rich and influential people, subordinating them to himself. He must aggravate the miseries of the common people, so as to exhaust their patience and incite them to rebel. And, finally, he must ally himself with the savage word of the violent criminal, the only true revolutionary in Russia"
Wiki [My italics]

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July 29th, 2011, 6:30 pm
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Tetenterre wrote:
thundril wrote:
Can't remember whose theory it was, though.


Sergei Nechaev?

Yep, that him. Bakunin gave the idea some support initially, but only a few head-bangers really went for it.
Karl Marx completely despised him apparently.


July 29th, 2011, 6:34 pm
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thundril wrote:
Tetenterre wrote:
thundril wrote:
Can't remember whose theory it was, though.


Sergei Nechaev?

Yep, that him. Bakunin gave the idea some support initially, but only a few head-bangers really went for it.
Karl Marx completely despised him apparently.

have not checked it out, but I think the political movement here was Anarchism (certainly Bakunin was an Anarchist); the Anarchists used terrorist methods like bombings, though these were directed at the rulers mainly.

Have now looked at the Wiki reference and found Nihilism, which seems to be associated with Nechaev. I am wondering how he proposed to further aggravate the condition of the Russian poor?

Leaving this historical aspect aside, does my distinction between terrorism and guerrilla warfare make sense?


July 29th, 2011, 7:05 pm
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Quote:
Leaving this historical aspect aside, does my distinction between terrorism and guerrilla warfare make sense?
Largely in agreement, animist. The trouble is, who is applying the labels? There are Farc (?) forces in Colombo that some call terrorists and some guerillas. The problem is though they do not seem to go for high level terror techniques amongst their own countrymen they do favour kidnapping, and sometimes killing, foreigners. That latter is shared with others clearly labelled "terrorist".

I will certainly agree that the forces or some states are well capable of using terrorist tactics, many Afgrican nations have experience of this. Syria is perilously close to the line between maintaining their idea of law and order and what others would call terrorism - maybe past it?

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July 29th, 2011, 7:43 pm
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By international convention, people conducting an armed struggle against an occupying force have usually been recognised as legitimate freedom fighters, particularly (but not exclusively) when they are fighting 'on their own territory'.. On this view, neither the French Resistance nor the PLO would be regarded as terrorist. Neither would the Mau Mau, or the Viet Cong.
People conducting an armed struggle against 'their own' government may be either freedom fighters or terrorists depending on the political stance of the observer.
Thus, Umkhonte we Siswe may or may not have been 'terrorists' depending on your attitude to apartheid.
Similar thinking could be applied to the IRA, ETA or the Tamil Tigers.


July 29th, 2011, 8:30 pm
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That is definitely where it gets very murky, thundril. The IRA have elements of every kind of "method" of fighting. First you have yo decide as to whether the British, or even the Protestants for that matter, were or were not an "occupying force" - how did we acquire the territory how long ago. One might well call us (and no doubts there are those that do) an occupying force in Wales in the same way!

So, does that justify the IRA blowing up both British soldiers and Protestant civilians, many of the latter who never raised a hand in actual aggression against them? Glad that I am not a politician, statesman, judge or academic who has to decide on a definition and work with it!

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July 29th, 2011, 8:47 pm
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Dave B wrote:
That is definitely where it gets very murky, thundril. The IRA have elements of every kind of "method" of fighting. First you have yo decide as to whether the British, or even the Protestants for that matter, were or were not an "occupying force" - how did we acquire the territory how long ago. One might well call us (and no doubts there are those that do) an occupying force in Wales in the same way!

So, does that justify the IRA blowing up both British soldiers and Protestant civilians, many of the latter who never raised a hand in actual aggression against them? Glad that I am not a politician, statesman, judge or academic who has to decide on a definition and work with it!

It's a tricky one Dave, and emotive.
I can't think of a single action perpetrated by the IRA that wasn't also perpetrated by thre French Resistance. (Allowing for difference in technologies available).
Machine-gunning bars where the invading soldiers hung out?
Tarring and feathering local girls for fraternising?
Detonating bombs on civilian transport?
Targetting homes of suspected collaborators?
Trying and executing informers?
Who do we call heroes, and who murderers? Is it decided by which side we prefer?


July 29th, 2011, 8:57 pm
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animist wrote:
If there is a real distinction between terrorist and freedom fighter it is that terrorists do target civilian populations deliberately. They work like this because they are usually weaker than the forces they oppose; in contrast, genuine guerrilla fighters target the conventional military forces whom they see as oppressing the population as a whole. Terrorism can also be carried by states, though - for instance against their own populations or against other states.

Paramilitary tactics include selection of 'hard' or 'soft' targets according to the circumstances prevailing. I am not aware of any forces that absolutely rule out hitting 'civilian' targets if military targets are too difficult.
Consider the decision by Winston Churchill and 'Bomber' Harris to hit the housing estates where technicaly-trained workers lived because these workers were more difficult to replace than the factories themselves: or the decision to bomb Cologne and Dresden in the hope that this would turn the people against the government. These are the normal tactics of even the most legitimate warfare. Likewise the use of refugee streams to block roads and to burden 'enemy' economies; the destruction of food supply sources in order to create refugee streams. Etcetera, etcetera.
War is ugly. The glamorisation of some perpetrators and the demonisation of others is pretty much a matter of opinion.


July 29th, 2011, 9:28 pm
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Thundril wrote:
I can't think of a single action perpetrated by the IRA that wasn't also perpetrated by thre French Resistance. (Allowing for difference in technologies available).
Machine-gunning bars where the invading soldiers hung out?
Tarring and feathering local girls for fraternising?
Detonating bombs on civilian transport?
Targetting homes of suspected collaborators?
Trying and executing informers?
I think all but one of these could be regarded as non-terrorist because in some way they were directed at occupying forces (including their collaborators) - the exception is bombing civilian trains (when did they do this?). And re Dave's IRA example, surely there is in fact a distinction between the IRA's attacking soldiers (who were there to defeat them after all, even if they had not actually attacked them) and attacking civilians en masse. I agree with your arguments about the Brits' terror bombing of Germany, and this is now widely condemned. I suppose the distinction is not about who is a terrorist - given that probably all successful armed movements or forces do or at least are prepared to resort to terror if it suits them - but what counts as a terrorist tactic. And one can surely distinguish between groups like the French Resistance, which did not depend on terror as I define it (indiscriminate killing of civilians) and say al-Qaeda, which does this and little else all the time. I see the terror issue as parallel to other attempts to at least limit the ugliness of war, eg the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction such as nukes, poison gas and so on, as set out in the Geneva Convention; these may not always succeed in preventing such weapons being used, but surely it is worth trying to distinguish between greater and lesser evils. So I do not totally subscribe to the ethical relativism that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.


July 30th, 2011, 11:15 am
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animist wrote:
. . . I suppose the distinction is not about who is a terrorist - given that probably all successful armed movements or forces do or at least are prepared to resort to terror if it suits them - but what counts as a terrorist tactic.

Yes. The important point is to establish what forms of warfare are legitimate, having regard to the relative strengths of the opposing forces (as in assymetric warfare).
animist wrote:
And one can surely distinguish between groups like the French Resistance, which did not depend on terror as I define it (indiscriminate killing of civilians) and say al-Qaeda, which does this and little else all the time.

Al qaeda does not hit exclusively civilian targets. The Pentagon, USS Cole etc were 'enemy military targets' by any reasonable standard. The attacks on occupying forces (whether Russian or American) and attacks on their police recruitment facilities, are arguably legitimate activities for a covert resistance force.
animist wrote:
I see the terror issue as parallel to other attempts to at least limit the ugliness of war, eg the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction such as nukes, poison gas and so on, as set out in the Geneva Convention; these may not always succeed in preventing such weapons being used, but surely it is worth trying to distinguish between greater and lesser evils.

Agreed
animist wrote:
So I do not totally subscribe to the ethical relativism that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

I don't totally subscribe to that either; totally not fitting well with relativism. :smile:


July 30th, 2011, 11:45 am
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Quote:
Al qaeda does not hit exclusively civilian targets. The Pentagon, USS Cole etc were 'enemy military targets' by any reasonable standard. The attacks on occupying forces (whether Russian or American) and attacks on their police recruitment facilities, are arguably legitimate activities for a covert resistance force.
Sure, thundril, legitimacy is a function of who the organisation represent? If Al Q represented the greater number of the people in the country (ies) they operate I would say that they had some legitimacy in their actions, though even then it would be difficult to argue that the World Towers were any kind of legitimate target, that was an extreme form of statement making only.

If a group's actions are entirely with the intention of expanding the territory within which they can make their ideology/theology the ruling factor, regardless of the wishes of the people, there is surely no legitimacy of any acceptable form?

Is there any country or nation that wish Al Q to be the rulers?

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July 30th, 2011, 12:00 pm
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Dave B wrote:
legitimacy is a function of who the organisation represent? If Al Q represented the greater number of the people in the country (ies) they operate I would say that they had some legitimacy in their actions,

I agree, Dave. Al Q represent only a sub-faction of Wahabbism, which itself is a subfaction of a subfaction of Islam.
Dave B wrote:
though even then it would be difficult to argue that the World Towers were any kind of legitimate target, that was an extreme form of statement making only.

It depends if one thinks the USA is a legitimate 'enemy'. If not, then of course Al Q has no right to attack any US targets, military or civilian. (This would be my view, on the basis you cite, ie that they don't represent an oppressed 'people'.)
OTOH, those who would concede Al Q's right to attack US military targets but then condemn the attack on the WTC are being inconsistent; if the war against the US had any legitimacy at all, then striking at their political, economic and military intelligence centres simultaneously would be a legitimate action. Hitting two out of three of these targets would be a remarkable result, particularly considering that the entire force consisted of a dozen men armed with Stanley knives..


July 30th, 2011, 12:32 pm
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Hmm, the borders between who is and who is not a "legitimate" target are indeed very fuzzy.

So, if the "legitimate" targets of Al Q's, as an Islamic power, include all that which is "American" - regardless of religious or political affiliations - could not "America" include all that is "Islam" - regardless of sect or nationality - as their "legitimate" targets?

Who would be the neutral arbiters?

We should also remember that the attack on the WTC was an attack on those from many other countries than America including Muslims. Part of the problem is that in the Islamic picture of the world to die "for the faith" is an honour even when it is not voluntary and at the hands of your supposed co-faithful. So Al Q and the Taliban etc. can feel "virtuous" in any actions that involve the deaths of would be allies.

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July 30th, 2011, 1:18 pm
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