"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, July 11, 2005

More On What Is A Terrorist

This is really quite unbelievable. I refer to the comments on my previous post, offered by my friends Tlaloc, James Elliott, TVD, and LA. As I understand the general trust of their view, aggregated crudely, it is that the distinction between "terrorists" and "insurgents" is driven not by their tactics but instead by their objectives and by someone's dictionary.

I'm sorry, but this is sophistry, pure and simple. Attacks intended to murder civilians by the score (or more) constitute terrorism, regardless of whether the murderers are locals or immigrants, regardless of their goals (even if they can be discerned), regardless of the particular groups to which they do or do not belong, ad infinitum. Or do my friends want to argue that, say, the IRA attacks in London in the 1980s did not constitute terrorism? By the way, I did not put words into Tlaloc's mouth; I merely quoted him.

23 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dr. Z, I did mean to add that "insurgents" and "terrorists" aren't mutually exclusive. In Iraq, the former are also the latter.

It does seem untoward to refer to the terrorist insurgents as simply "insurgents," because it sanitizes them. Sort of like calling Saddam a bastard without putting "mass-murdering" in front of it.

Tlaloc said...

"Dr. Z, I did mean to add that "insurgents" and "terrorists" aren't mutually exclusive. In Iraq, the former are also the latter."

Actually I have to make a similar point. I never indicated that insurgent and terrorist are mutually exclusive descriptions. Some of the insurgents in Iraq can be termed terrorists (those that target civilians not associated with the US or new Iraqi government).




"It does seem untoward to refer to the terrorist insurgents as simply "insurgents," because it sanitizes them."

How is that different than referring to all insurgents including those who restrict themselves to military targets as terrorists?

Tlaloc said...

"Attacks intended to murder civilians by the score (or more) constitute terrorism, regardless of whether the murderers are locals or immigrants, regardless of their goals (even if they can be discerned), regardless of the particular groups to which they do or do not belong, ad infinitum."

So then you agree the US Government is a terrorist organization? Our military has admitted to targetting the water and sanitation facilities of Iraq with the intended consequence that the civilians would suffer and die as a result. Just want to make sure that a terrorist isn't a terrorist only when you disagree with them.

And on the topic let's discuss Israel's record of bombing apartment complexes, bulldozing homes with the people still in them and cutting off people from thei jobs and livelyhoods.



"By the way, I did not put words into Tlaloc's mouth; I merely quoted him."

That's false and I suspect you know it. You said:

"If the Islamic fascists are bombing westerners, they are terrorists. If they are bombing Iraqi civilians in a direct effort to make U.S. policy appear doomed, well, then they are insurgents."

Those are not my words and you ascribed them as my rationale even thoug I said no such thing.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Zycher, did this really warrant an entirely new post? It breaks continuity to spread it out over multiple threads.

Tlaloc said...

By the way here's an article about the gulf war targetting of water facilities:
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines/091700-01.htm

Anonymous said...

The original document does NOT say that the allies were targeting water facilities. There is nothing about military strategy or any other kind of action by the allies advocated in it at all. It's a completely objective, factual report on Iraq's water situation. You can read it yourself, through the link in the Sunday Herald article cited in the article tlaloc mentions here.

James Elliott said...

I truly do not understand where all this outrage comes from, Dr. Zycher. Do you feel the same ire rise in your gorge when Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children, or when US warplanes destroy Arab weddings and hospitals?

You are engaging in a semantic game to no end other than to fulfill some deep-seated need to be constantly angry at those who do not fall in lockstep. Nowhere has anyone implied that the tactics are any more acceptable whatever label is applied to the perpatrator. The labels are applied only to delineate allegiance and goals. There is nothing wrong with this, however much you may wish it otherwise.

We cannot begin to combat our enemies until we actually understand them. Until the roots are dug up, we will only be fighting the symptoms.

Your passion is an asset. Don't let it blind your intellect. Now go take a few deep breaths. The human body isn't really meant to handle this much stress. Go do some yoga or something, man, before you burst a blood vessel.

Tlaloc said...

"The original document does NOT say that the allies were targeting water facilities. There is nothing about military strategy or any other kind of action by the allies advocated in it at all."

Except for the part where they say it'll take them another six months to completely degrade Iraq's water infrastructure.

Besides which the actual strikes on these facilities is a matter of record.

"Widespread infrastructure destruction hurt the Iraqi population. Years after the war electricity production was less than a quarter its pre-war level. The destruction of water treatment facilities caused sewage to flow directly into the Tigris River, from which civilians drew drinking water, resulting in widespread disease."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_War

http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/NAG108A.html

During the Gulf War, the U.S. coalition systematically targeted Iraq's electrical grid, water system, key industries, and transportation arteries, dropping 88,000 tons of bombs.
http://rwor.org/a/v23/1110-19/1119/iraq_water.htm

Tlaloc said...

"We cannot begin to combat our enemies until we actually understand them."

I'm always amazed at how few conservatives ever read Sun Tzu. You'd think that with all the war mongering and jingoism they'd love "The Art of War." Instead few have read it and fewer internalize it. Understanding your enemy is considered effeminate. Rove talks of offering terrorists therapy.

E.B. Crow said...

The average reader of this blog, not to imply that anyone who reads The RC is average in any way, must appreciate the differing points of view and most of the ways they are being portrayed.

As one knows, and insurgent is someone/s who are revolting against the civil authority or the established government. There are many examples of insugents throughout history, including the founders of this great nation of ours. More recent examples include Martin Luther King, Jr, and Mahatma Ghandi (the spelling may be a bit off on MG). They revolted against the prevailing authority, and succeeded in their goals, though it cost them their respective lives.

An insugent does not necessarily equal a terrorist. As JE has stated in another (or perhaps more) post, a terrorist is one whose goal is to inspire terror. That is a bit simplistic, the definition actually being one who uses systematic uses of terror, especially as a means of coercion. So the question must be posed, what are the goals of "those who are perpetrating the homicidal activities" in Iraq?

If they are insurgents, then why are countries other than the US and Iraq being attacked? Why did the Egyptian ambassador lose his life? I believe that while some may be genuine insurgents, others (most?) pure terrorists who see an opportunity and are gladly taking advantage of it.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

If they are insurgents, then why are countries other than the US and Iraq being attacked? Why did the Egyptian ambassador lose his life? I believe that while some may be genuine insurgents, others (most?) pure terrorists who see an opportunity and are gladly taking advantage of it.

I'm guessing that the ambassador lost his life as a message to others: don't associate with what the insurgency believes to be an illegitimate government.

In the most general sense, the bombings in Iraq are being perpetrated to create instability, to send the "get out!" message, and to target those who the bombers view as colluding with the occupation.

There's no such thing as a "pure" terrorist, if by that you mean one whose motive is purely terror. These are people who, faced with a large and seemingly undefeatable foe, have resorted to terror to attempt to achieve their ends. This violence has a goal.

Tlaloc said...

"If they are insurgents, then why are countries other than the US and Iraq being attacked? Why did the Egyptian ambassador lose his life? I believe that while some may be genuine insurgents, others (most?) pure terrorists who see an opportunity and are gladly taking advantage of it."

It's certainly a hodgepodge of gorups with different goals and methods.

The real world of course doesn't involve many clear cut cases where you can say this person is purely a terrorist and this person is purely an insurgent. As mentioned before our Founding Fathers did indeed engage in some terrorism although they were primarily insurgents. Al Qaeda is primarily a terrorist organization but it has now started aiding insurgent activity in Iraq.

E.B. Crow said...

Lib Anon- I appreciate your close reading of my use of "pure." I disagree with your final analysis, though. It seems to me that you are setting up for an equivalency argument, and that road has been trodden here before.

I do believe that there are examples of pure terrorists, and just becuase there may be political motivation, does not mean that terror is not the ultimate goal. Stalin comes to mind.

You said: "I'm guessing that the ambassador lost his life as a message to others: don't associate with what the insurgency believes to be an illegitimate government." This is not a goal of insurgency, to warn others by instilling fear, this is a goal of terrorism. The goal of insurgency is to overthrow a system that is corrupt (defined as corrupt by the insurgents) and to replace it with another.

Here is a question: Assume for a minute that the insurgents/terrorists are actually foreign-fighters. Does that change your analysis?

The Liberal Anonymous said...

You said: "I'm guessing that the ambassador lost his life as a message to others: don't associate with what the insurgency believes to be an illegitimate government." This is not a goal of insurgency, to warn others by instilling fear, this is a goal of terrorism. The goal of insurgency is to overthrow a system that is corrupt (defined as corrupt by the insurgents) and to replace it with another.

Yes, and certain elements of this insurgency are using terrorism to achieve their ends. I think that's been discussed already. I would say that preventing people, through fear, from assisting the government is an effective way of destabilizing that government.

Here is a question: Assume for a minute that the insurgents/terrorists are actually foreign-fighters. Does that change your analysis?

By itself, this does not change the nature of the conflict. There were, of course, foreign fighters in the American Revolution.

James Elliott said...

Drawing a distinction between the insurgents and the terrorists is important. There are terrorists in Iraq. Indeed, there is an al-Qaida element in Iraq. There are those who have come in to the country to attack the U.S.

But, a goodly number of the foreign fighters are Syrian. Non-dissident Syrians are Baathists. The government we overthrew were Baathists. The Syrian fighters are aiding the insurgents - loyalists to the old regime who are resisting an outside imposition of regime change using tactics of terror. Let's put it this way: Ever hear of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade? Ever read Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls?" I know the comparison will drive you nuts, but that doesn't diminish its efficacy.

Why are they attacking Coalition troops? BECAUSE THE COALITION TROOPS ARE THE POWER BEHIND THE GOVERNMENT. It's really not a hard connection to make. They're also blowing up Iraqi troops and policemen. Attacking civilians has the goal of undermining and intimidating them away from their support for the current government.

I've said it before. Playing these semantic games in some perverse need to be right all time doesn't serve anything other than ego.

Hunter Baker said...

I would argue the old Soviet Union engaged in terrorism even though it was the government of that nation. Lenin wrote enthusiastically of the uses of terror to crush dissent.

E.B. Crow said...

James- do you even realize the magnitude of what you are saying? You said: "Playing these semantic games in some perverse need to be right all time doesn't serve anything other than ego."

Semantic games? Are the definitions, and thus uses, of "insurgents" and "terrorists" to be considered trivial? (I suppose you will say that it depends on what the definition of "is" is.) Honestly, do you really believe that semantics is to be taken lightly? I assert that semantics is one of the most important aspects of civilization, period. If we do not say what we mean, then what are we really saying? Words cannot be tossed around and meanings made trivial, otherwise there will be no way to determine what is right and what is wrong.

Look at all the documents that our country is based on. They are nothing more than words on paper. It was the meaning of those words that carried the weight. Example: "We hold these truths to be self-evident…" Does that leave any room for doubt as to what is meant? Not to those who wrote it, read it, or to whom it was sent.

I do not believe that wrangling over words is a matter of ego, nor do I believe it is fulfilling some perverse need to be right all the time (an aside- I am 'right' all the time, I am a conservative after all; to be otherwise would be 'left'). I believe it is acute understanding of the importance of what is at stake, and that is "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

James Elliott said...

Nice strawman there. I never implied that semantics were unimportant. The games being played with them, however, are.

Tlaloc said...

"I would argue the old Soviet Union engaged in terrorism even though it was the government of that nation. Lenin wrote enthusiastically of the uses of terror to crush dissent."

I'd tend to agree. Of course so did we. The FBI Cointelpro was nothing less than terrorism aimed at dissent groups.

In fact I doubt there are more than a handful of nations in the world that can honestly claim never to have engaged in terrorism.

But as always people are quick to judge and slow to self analyze.

Hunter Baker said...

You just can't compare the U.S. and the Soviet Union in this game. We weren't knocking on doors and summarily executing people with no due process of any kind. The difference may be of degree rather than of kind, but if so the difference of degree is extreme.

Tlaloc said...

"You just can't compare the U.S. and the Soviet Union in this game. We weren't knocking on doors and summarily executing people with no due process of any kind. The difference may be of degree rather than of kind, but if so the difference of degree is extreme."

No the difference was one of homebrew vs. export. The Soviets did some of their worst abuses at home. We sent ours abroad. There's hardly a villain we've dealt with in the last fifty years whom we did not originally arm and give free reign to oppress and murder because it swerved our geopolitical interests. Hussein, Noriega, the contras, Ho chi Minh, Pinochet, the mujahedeen...

And we're still doing it: look at Uzbekistan and Pakistan, our good "allies" in the war on terror.

Oh I asked someone earlier to start a thread on teh gulag claim since I contend it's not nearly so ridiculous as others seem to think. Are you game?

Hunter Baker said...

I missed that one Rain Deity. You'll either have to link it so I can read for myself or inform me.

Tlaloc said...

"I missed that one Rain Deity. You'll either have to link it so I can read for myself or inform me."

Which part?
that we supported Hussein?
Noriega?
Ho Chi Minh?
The Mujahedeen?
Pinochet?

Or do you mean the offenses of Uzbekistan and Pakistan? I'm perfectly willing to give you sources but I need you to narrow it down a tad for me.