Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The definition of "terrorism"

So, rather than listen to Mr Obama explain how taking a few thousand troops out of Afghanistan now and twenty thousand or so next year, while leaving more than double the number he brings home - which will be more than double the number that were there when he became president in place - is "withdrawal", I went to Glenn Greenwald's.

(Funny, I can read things that make me angry without throwing stuff at my laptop, but listening to them and looking at their faces? Anyway...) Greenwald has one of his typical good pieces there. An excerpt:
One can have a range of views about the morality and justifiability of Iraqi nationals attacking U.S. troops in their country. One could say that it is the right of Iraqis to attack a foreign army brutally invading and occupying their nation, just as Americans would presumably do against a foreign army invading their country (at least those who don't share Mitch McConnell's paralyzing fears and cowardice). Or one could say that it is inherently wrong and evil to attack U.S. troops no matter what they're doing or where they are in the world, even when waging war in a foreign country that is killing large numbers of innocent civilians. Or one could say that the American war in Iraq in particular was such a noble effort to spread Freedom and Democracy that only an evil person would fight against it. Or one could say that it's always wrong for a non-state actor to engage in violence (a very convenient standard for the U.S., given that very few nations around the world could resist U.S. force without reliance on such unconventional means). And one can recognize that most nations, not only the U.S., would apprehend those engaged in attacks against their troops.

But whatever one's views are on those moral questions, in what conceivable sense can it be called "Terrorism" for a citizen of a country to fight against foreign invading troops by attacking purely military targets? This is hardly the first case where we have condemned as Terrorists citizens of countries we invaded for fighting back against invading American troops. The U.S. shipped numerous people to Guantanamo, branded them Terrorists, and put them in cages for years without charges for doing exactly that (indeed, the Obama administration prosecuted at Guantanamo the first child soldier tried for war crimes, Omar Khadr, for throwing a grenade at U.S. troops in Afghanistan).

I've often written that Terrorism is the most meaningless, and thus most manipulated, term in American political discourse. But while it lacks any objective meaning, it does have a functional one. It means: anyone -- especially of the Muslim religion and/or Arab nationality -- who fights against the United States and its allies or tries to impede their will. That's what "Terrorism" is; that's all it means. And it's just extraordinary how we've created what we call "law" that is intended to do nothing other than justify all acts of American violence while delegitimizing, criminalizing, and converting into Terrorism any acts of resistance to that violence.

Just consider: in American political discourse, it's not remotely criminal that the U.S. attacked Iraq, spent 7 years destroying the country, and left at least 100,000 people dead. To even suggest that American officials responsible for that attack should be held criminally liable is to marginalize oneself as a fringe and unSerious radical. It's not an idea that's even heard, let alone accepted. After all, all Good Patriotic Americans were horrified that an Iraqi citizen would so much as throw a shoe at George Bush; what did he do to deserve such treatment? The U.S. is endowed with the inalienable right to commit violence against anyone it wants without any consequences of any kind.

By contrast, any Iraqi who fights back in any way against the U.S. invasion -- even by fighting against exclusively military targets -- is not only a criminal, but a Terrorist: one who should be shipped to Guantanamo. And this notion is so engrained that no media account discussing this case would dare question the application of the "Terrorism" label to what they've done, even though it applies in no conceivable way.

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