Who Are the Terrorists?


During the recent war in Lebanon, Israel used US-made cluster bombs. These weapons are deliberately designed to destroy tanks and other military targets but their most numerous victims are innocent civilians.

A few weeks ago, the UN’s humanitarian chief Jan Egeland accused Israel of a ‘completely immoral’   use of the weapon. The UN has already found thousands of unexploded cluster bomblets at 359 separate sites across Lebanon. Even the New York Times, a traditionally strong supporter of the Jewish State, editorialised recently (26 August) that Washington should be more stringent in selling cluster bombs to foreign buyers, including Israel.



For the vast majority of the world, the Israeli Government’s actions in Palestine and Lebanon and US and Australian support for them are a clear violation of human rights and represent the actions of a terrorist State. Should we therefore not negotiate or talk with Israel or the US? Of course not.

And yet, we are constantly told that even talking with supposed ‘terrorists’ emboldens their cause. Ever since 9/11, our Government has sold us a bogus and dangerous narrative. Who, after all, defines ‘terrorism’? I do not believe that HAMAS or Hezbollah are just terrorist organisations and nothing more, yet the Australian and American Governments claim that they are.

During the early years of the Israel/Palestine conflict, Israel refused to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and the PLO. Officially, the Palestinian leadership were ‘terrorists’ who wanted to drive Jews into the sea and spouted anti-Semitic rhetoric for no discernable reason.

During these long years, however, the Israelis and Americans did indeed liaise with the Palestinians. For example, from about 1970 through to his assassination by the Israeli secret service organisation Mossad in 1979, the PLO’s Chief of Intelligence, Ali Hassan Salameh, received approval from Arafat to work with various US Administrations and provide information on terrorist groups even though the PLO was then regarded as a terrorist outfit itself.

This was done in the hope that the PLO’s political goals could be furthered as a result of the USA’s closeness to Israel and its influence in the Arab world. During these years, especially after the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre which Salameh helped organise and other Palestinian hijackings and attacks, much of the rhetoric emanating from Western governments and media focussed on the supposed barbarity of Palestinians and Arabs in general.

Sadly, little has changed. When the Palestinians democratically elected a HAMAS Government in elections in January this year, the news should have been welcomed warmly in the West. After all, Bush, Blair and Howard constantly talk about ‘democratising’ the Middle East. Unfortunately, the ‘wrong’ Party won and since then there has been military, financial and diplomatic attempts to undermine the HAMAS Government.

Remarkably, they are holding on, though domestic strife threatens to overwhelm the Occupied Territories. (The latest news is that HAMAS and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have reached an agreement to form a national unity government in an attempt to end the Western embargo that has been crippling the Palestinian Authority.) Surely, these are the kind of ‘terrorists’ that we should be dealing with a Party that has specifically stated it is willing to negotiate with Israel and maintain a long-term ceasefire.

The mainstream media are well-served by promoting the ‘War on Terror’ and its associated abuses of language.

Thanks to Emo

Some definitions are therefore in order. The deliberate targeting of civilians, whether by a State or group, is outlawed by Geneva Convention IV and, therefore, could be defined as a terrorist act. An attack on a military facility or a soldier during wartime, however, is not a terrorist act. Resistance to occupation is often legitimate. Such statements are uncontroversial and yet our politicians and amateur media ‘terrorologists’ prefer to class any and all resistance to Western activity as ‘terrorist behaviour.’

Many in the Arab world, Latin America, Asia and Africa understand this contradiction, principally because of their own history of Western colonialism and occupation. Why do we in the West refuse to accept that our actions have consequences. Why do we think that we can invade other nations and exploit their resources without the inhabitants fighting back? In Western mainstream parlance, ‘our’ actions are noble if occasionally misplaced, while ‘they’ do not enjoy the same linguistic luxury.

Robert Pape, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, argues that much of the violence directed at the West is not a result of Islamic fundamentalism but a product of secular and strategic goals. (Read an extract from the book, previously published in New Matilda)

Pape recently told the Sydney Morning Herald  that the US-led invasion of Iraq was the perfect way to increase suicide bombing. ‘ Since the invasion of Iraq,’ he said, ‘Suicide terrorism, both by al-Qaeda and in Iraq itself, has just been surging. We now have a pretty good idea of the cocktail to create suicide terrorism, and it’s not a madrassa [Islamic religious school], it’s the presence of foreign combat forces.’

It is a view echoed by Graham Allison, Professor of Government at Harvard. He wrote in last month’s Boston Globe that:

we must acknowledge that the surest way to generate terrorists is to occupy their territory. The French learned this in Algeria; the Israelis, in the occupation of Lebanon from 1978 to 2000. To the extent that US troops are seen as occupiers in Iraq or Israeli troops occupiers in Lebanon, history would predict we motivate terrorists.

The concept that we shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists is nonsensical. Engaging in dialogue with groups some of us may find distasteful is simply the price to be paid for living in an increasingly complex world. And what is the alternative? The Bush Administration and its dwindling allies, including John Howard’s Australia, live under the illusion that the Arab world understands little else but brute and indiscriminate force.

How often do we hear that the West must not appease the ‘terrorists’? And how many times have we heard that a foreign leader is the new Hitler? Arafat was the new Hitler. Then Saddam Hussein. And now Osama Bin Laden. So many Hitlers, so little time.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said recently that the US is facing a ‘new type of fascism’ and blamed ‘appeasers’ within the Democrats and the media for bringing down the morale of Americ
an citizens. With people like Rumsfeld allowed to govern, it’s no wonder the United States has never been more hated around the world.

Perhaps it’s time for some perspective. Benjamin Ferencz was the Chief Prosecutor of at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals in 1945-6. He said in late August that both George W Bush and Saddam Hussein should be tried for starting ‘aggressive’ wars Bush for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Saddam for the 1990 attack on Kuwait. Such clarity leaves much Western debate about destroying ‘terrorists’ in tatters.

There is no doubt that Islamic fundamentalism poses a threat to our lives. The barbarity of beheadings, mass deaths, rape and suicide bombings makes many of us afraid to get on a bus let alone a plane. The destruction on 9/11 was horrific, but alas, people in countries around the world, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, suffer violence on a daily basis that is often perpetrated by governments funded, armed and supported by the US and its allies (including Australia).

To these people, we are the ‘terrorists.’

Any rational debate about terrorism cannot simply claim that Western institutions and individuals are the only targets and the only victims.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.