That Heedless Violence... An Attempt to Define Concepts

That Heedless Violence... An Attempt to Define Concepts

  • Israel's state terrorism against the Palestinians should not make us ignore the other terrorism.
  • Franz Fanon was in favour of violence as a tool in the face of colonialism, but violence today takes unacceptable and indefensible forms and trends.
  • Arab readers and viewers are sensitive and do not like theorizing; however, the threat of violence in our societies requires that we use reason to analyse this phenomenon and adopt the logic of investigation and analysis.

Upsurge in violence has in most cases reached illogical and incredible levels, and has become a serious phenomenon threatening the safety of ordinary people and blocks any rational use of the efforts of human development. It also offers excuses for those who desire to practise intervention and suppression. This phenomenon is far from culture with its aesthetic values; nevertheless, we must approach it using the tools of culture.

Unarmed hostages under the threat of arms appeal for their release. Innocent train passengersO bodies blown off into pieces by a sudden explosion. A huge bomb blast targeting the motorcade of a top official who never harmed anybody, but on the contrary did great services to his people and country, with the bodies of the victims including tens of passers-by, charred beyond recognition. Beheaded bodies shown on teleivision and the Internet. Children taken hostage under the force of arms. Worshippers blown up in places of prayer. Booby-trapped cars killing a number of innocent people. Many horrific scences, in addition to other familiar ones: Houses destroyed on their inhabitants. Rockets targeting children with their parents in cars. What's all that called? Evil, no doubt, and a kind of human degeneration which spills the blood of innocent people. A quagmire involving factions with different allegations. There is agreement on the stagnation and nasty odour of this quagmire; however, many intellectuals disagree on its definition and on the difference between "resistance" and "terrorism". This disagreement dates back to an old agrument culminating in a famous book published during the era of national liberation from colonialism: "The Land's Souls in Torment", by Franz Fanon, which was translated into Arabic by Drs. Sami Al-Doroubi and Jamal Al-Atassi over thirty years ago. However, this argument is worth reiviewng, as most contemporary Arab writers refrain from making a definite distinction between "terrorism" and "resistance" and they use these concepts interchangeably. This reflects confusion between state and regime terrorism against the Arabs and Muslims, particularly by Israel against Palestinian civilians and their houses, fields and trees, on the one hand, and the Palestinians' reaction to these Israeli crimes, on the other.

In Search of Objectivity It is of course possible to let things go as they are; Arab readers do not care about the precise definition of concepts and terms and refrain from theorizing in general. They prefer rhetoric which appeals to hearts to objective language which addresses minds. But the current developments on the international arena have taken us-writers and readers- to a crucial juncture, which makes it necessary to reconsider concepts and ascertain terms, particularly "terrorism" and "resistance". We often misread the latest develo;ments and the news of violent conflicts brought by the media to our children and brothers, and we are unable to classify them under "resistance" or "terrorism".

What we want to stress here is to offer critical cultural opinions that may help distinguish between "terrorism" and "resistance". We have to admit that the attempts which claim a degree of objectivity - like ours here - suffer from a drawback, namely personal bias. This applies even to the most valid and accurate concepts and terms. We know that one of the secrets behind Galileo's adoption of the concept of the centrality of the sun - when the church imposed the centrality of the Earth - was that he was influenced by the manuscripts of old non-Catholic scholars whose bisases made them adopt the former, rather than the latter, concept. Even the most academic and objective are then not clear of bias.

However, that bias is unavoidable should not make us accept the confusion and ambiguity of concepts. If we insist on biases, let's listen to others' biases, without which no dialogue or interaction of civilizations would be possible. Such a dialogue is even the first condition for minimizing biases and ensuring deeper understanding.

Similarly, the concepts of "terrorism" and "resistance" are heavily biased according to the ideology of those who use them. What to some is the former is the latter to others. That, however, does not mean that dialogue between the two factions is impossible. Anyhow, let's attempt to shed further light on the distinction between the two concepts.

The formulation of concepts to get a deeper view of daily affairs is the domain of applied philosophy, which appeared in the 1950s and was designed to address such daily issues that academics used to reglect as too mundane and far from being theoretical or abstract.

Among the issues which applied philosophy addresses are: business ethics, politics and ownership ethis, war and famine ethics, pollution and environment ethics, legal freedom, conflict of interests, game theory, racial discrimination, justice and social equality, foetus and abortion rights, artificial insemination and genetic engineering. Finally, to this list the issue of viloence is naturally to be added as a distinction between the concepts of "resistance" and "terrorism". We must here go gack to an earlier period of contemporary history which witnessed an argument involving both concepts: National liberation movements against the colonial powers in Africa and Asia started in the early 1950s and found violence an effective tool in this respect. Anti-colonial ideologies reached a climax with the publication in 1961 of the above - mentioned book of the Martiniquan writer Franz Fanon in which he supported the use of violence against the occupiers: "The main value is land. The colonized is a human being as long as he destroys colonial rule, which is not a mental battle but a movement which violently asserts absotute originality".

Violence here has a liberation function at psychological and operational levels. Fanon cited several examples of mental patients under occupation the only remedy for whom was resorting to violence against colonialism.

Fanon's book contained a wonderful foreword by Jean - Paul Sartre maintaining that the current age is the age of "resistance" in the East against Western colonialism. The book was widely welcomed by intellectuals in both East and West demonstrating the validity of his reading of the growing support for resistance then. Fanon is one of the prominent theorists of "resistance", particularly as his writings combined with his joining the Algeriass' resistance against French rule. He was an enthusiastic young man, and he used his pen to encourage the peoples of the Third World to turn to violence and revolt against colonialism, but because of his pre-mature death he did not leave another book to reconsider his views and warn us of the stage at which "resistance" becomes "terrorism".

Most thinkes from Plato to Hegel and Sartre revised their early and late writings. Fanon didn't do that as his short life witnessed the launch of resistance rather than a revision as is the case today so that the institutional concepts of liberation and resistance movements may be compatible with the radical revision of the forms of neo-colonialism.

The Rise of the Concept of "Terrorism" A decade after Fanon's death, and by the 1970s, most colonies had attained independence, and the national governments in the Third World began reformulating their relations with the countries of the North and the West, with a new task to fulfil - state building and community development for which the gun was no longer the proper weapon. Their belligerent inclinations subsided and they withdrew from fighting against colonialism which had changed its positions, concentrating on domestic building.

However, the influence of Fanon and other theorists and resistance workers on some popular liberation movements continued and even grew. As armed conflicts between states abated in terms of number and scope, they suddenly escalated between different ethnic, religious and ideological factions in the same country who were formerly fellow freedom fighters. A dramatic example is what happened in the Indian subcontinent after independence: partition and the Kashmir problem. Thus arose the concept of "terrorism".

At Fanon's time, resistance was the strategy adopted by the peoples of the Third World in their struggle against European colonialism. Following independence, "terrorism" was the strategy adopted by splinter armed groups who did not share in the new governments of the Third World, and the only target after completion of resistance and liberation was breaking away from the emerging states or overthrowing the regimes by force.

The following are possible differences between terrorism and resistance:

1. The domain of resistance is liberation; that of terrorism is politics.

As Fanon said: "The main value is land", resistance stresses regaining land from occupation forces, as manifested in the tactics of resistance and assessment of gains. As far as terrorism is concerned, politics, rather than land, is the focus. Whereas resistance organizations are associated with land, terrorist organizations do not recognize or attempt to regain any particular territory, but seek to blackmail the enemy or inflict as much heavy damage on them as possible. That could be symbolic rather than actual. If any such group does this in a manner that makes conflict difficult to classiby as success or failure, this is terrorism, to be sure. Resistance groups, on the other hand, focus on the liberation of land, and their successes or failures are definitely measured in square kilometres of the homeland.

2. Resistance stresses strategy; terrorism tactics Violent resistance tactics employ an overall strategy aimed at reducing the area of occupied land, whereas terrorist tactics lead to unexpected miscalculated results. In this way, terrorism is always engaged in such detailed tactics that differ from the stated strategy. An organization may seek to win public support against the government, but children and women are killed in their operations, thus startling the public and making them ally with the government against it. One reason why terrorist strategies fail is that tactical operations are carried out by persons not committeel to the overall strategy, if any, in favour of tactics. This indicates lack of vision, or even turning a blind eye. A striking example of this is an operation which targeted a big religious celebration by a booby-trapped car carrying hundreds of kilogrammes of explosives. The perpetrator was one with Down's syndrome, unaware of anything surrounding him.

3. Resistance is a single solution; terrorism is one extreme alternative. Reistance is often the only solution, without which land and rights would be lost, with nothing left to resistance fighters who struggle to gain anything. Terrorism, contrary to common belief, is not born out of expectation of losing everything or the result of resentment about the prevailing conditions, as psychologists believe that joining a terrorist organization or committing a terrorist act is a personal inclination to resort to violence and a burning desire to change the status quo.

There are several forms of expression of resentment about the prevailing conditions, namely.

1. Withdrawal from society, e.g. emigration.

2. Forgetfulness; consumerism and drug addiction are alternatives to protest.

3. Self-restraint and wishful change of the status quo.

4. Alienation.

5. Suicide.

6. Adaptation to existing conditions.

7. Intellectual opposition.

8. Political opposition.

9. Armed opposition.

As the above list shows, armed opposition to the status quo comes at the bottom and is thereforare called extremism.

A study by Peter Siderberg in his book "Terrorist Myths" suggests that the higher the social and economic level of indviduals, the more inclined they are to adopt more active forms of expression of resentment. They enjoy a high degree of energy and ability to vent anger, a sense of immunity against political oppression and a desire to ahandon the routines of normal life. Resistance workers, on the other hand, turn to resistance as it is the only alternative available. But Siderberg's view may apply to the leaders of terrorist organizations, while the perpetrators are often of humbe origins and from lowly social and cultural backgrounds.

4. Resistance is a means to an end, but terrorism is an end in itself.

By its very nature, terrorism has a basic problem. Terroist organizations always seek to find areas and issues to launch armed terrorism which has become their lifestyle. These organizations rose at first to fight the occupiers who eventually left, following which they pointed their weapons at the emerging governments, then engaged in conflict with world capitalism tycoons. Nobody knows who is next to engage in conflict with. That's why governments do not trust these organizations, but support some of their acts. Today's terrorist organzations have become highly qualified, independent and self-sufficient. That makes them like moving mines which go off if they hit anything still, moving or harmless around them. The story of the so-called "Afghan Arabs" is an obvious example of the shift from resistance to the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan to terrorism in their own Arab countries.

Ambiguous Laws and Growing Biases Attempts to distinguish between resistance and terrorism have been a controversial issue of concern to political and legal theorists. Under the British anti-terrorism law, terrorism is defined as: "the use of violence for political ends, including the use of violence to intimidate the people or any sector thereof". Siderberg criticizes this definition: "This definition is charaeteristically confusing and so verbose that makes it vaguer".

American laws define a terrorist act as "an activity which: a) "involves a violent act or any act which involves a threat to human life or violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state or is deemed a criminal act if committed under the jurisdiction of the United States or any state."

b) "shows a deliberate act of 1. intimidation or coercion of the civil society; 2. influencing the government's policy by intimidation or coercion; 3. influencing the government's behaviour by assassination or abduction".

This American legal definition was attacked by the liberal American thinker Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics at MIT in his book "PiratesO Terrorism and EmperorsO Terrorism" as being selective and deliberately projective and lacking in validity as a definition of terrorism or for consideration.

Ironically enough, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli Prime Minister and a staunch supporter of hatred and mindless violence against the Palestinians, expressed his opinion giving a definition of terrorists as: "those representing a new type of people who take humanity back to pre-historic times when virtue had not been born yet. As terrorists are devoid of any moral principles, they do not have any moral sense or restraint, and are therefore able to commit any crime like a machine without any sense of shame or regret."

Things are so far mixed up. All that Netanyahu said alluding to the violent Palestinian reaction to their intense suffering under occupation marks as terrorist the practices of the Israeli army against the Palestinians, from seizure and demolition, damaging land and uprooting trees, to shooting civilians by rockets, breaking bones and killing children in their parentsO embrace by gun. These practices are "devoid of any moral principles", to use the same words.

There are conflicting concepts and biased laws, and mindless violence ontinues its strikes. For obvious reasons, there are those who say that terrorism is confined to Arabs` and Muslims. But terrorism has become a universal phenomenon and an international epidemic that requires impartiality of research and integrity of thinking, as well as going back to historical roots to understand the present. All this is confused and subject to the researcher's vintage point; nevertheless, an attempt is a must.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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