24
Sep
07

What is the Definition of Terrorism?

What is the Definition of Terrorism?

“Terrorism is simply a word, a subjective epithet, not an objective reality and certainly not an excuse to suspend all the rules of international law.”

– John V. Whitbeck, The Daily Star

John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer and commentator on international affairs, has cautioned people about the “notorious subjectivity of this word,” wherein he says: “For years, people have recited the truisms that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” and that “Terrorism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”

Speaking about the potential danger of using this word, Whitbeck says, “It is no accident that there is no agreed definition of “terrorism”, since the word is so subjective as to be devoid of any inherent meaning. At the same time, the word is extremely dangerous, because people tend to believe that it does have meaning and to use and abuse the word by applying it to whatever they hate as a way of avoiding rational thought and discussion, and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral behavior.”

Expanding on its capability of being used as a manipulative tool, Whitbeck speaks about the “overwhelming, demonizing and thought-deadening impact of the word “terrorism”, which is, of course, precisely the charm of the word for its more cynical and unprincipled users and abusers.”

“Most acts to which the word “terrorism” is applied (at least in the West),” he continues, “are tactics of the weak, usually (although not always) against the strong. Such acts are not a tactic of choice but of last resort. To cite one example, the Palestinians would certainly prefer to be able to fight for their freedom by “respectable” means, using F-16s, Apache attack helicopters and laser-guided missiles such as those the United States provides to Israel. If the United States provided such weapons to Palestine as well, the problem of suicide bombers would be solved. Until it does, and for so long as the Palestinians can see no hope for a decent future, no one should be surprised or shocked that Palestinians use the “delivery systems” available to them – their own bodies. Genuine hope for something better than a life worse than death is the only cure for the despair which inspires such gruesome violence.”

Referring to the danger of abusing the concept of terrorism, Whitbeck warns, “If the world is to avoid a descent into anarchy, in which the only rule is “might makes right”, every “retaliation” provokes a “counter-retaliation” and a genuine “war of civilizations” is ignited, the world – and particularly the United States – must recognize that “terrorism” is simply a word, a subjective epithet, not an objective reality and certainly not an excuse to suspend all the rules of international law.”

Concluding that the word “terrorism” is “fundamentally an epithet and a term of abuse, with no intrinsic meaning,” Whitbeck adds, “Perhaps the only honest and globally workable definition of “terrorism” is an explicitly subjective one – “violence which I don’t support.”

– abridged from the book: The ‘Wahhabi’ Myth


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