13 February 2007

State Terrorism and the War on Terror

There are people who like to use the word "state terrorism" to refer to violent abusive conduct by governments. I don't. I also don't like the terminology "war on terror." Why?

[The text below, is copied, with edits for grammar, from a comment of mine at Daily Kos using the term in the context of Israel, the most common place the term "state terrorism" is used.]

Like "war on terrorism," the term "state terrorism" frames the issue in a way that doesn't naturally lead to productive solutions.

Both the U.S. and Israel conduct military operations without enough regard for the human rights of bystanders, civilians, the societies impacted by their actions and the human rights of prisoners.

Both countries are frequently deaf to political solutions to the conflicts they address with military force.

Traditional "terrorism" is usually a form of civil war by other means, in which the legitimacy of the prevailing government is questioned. Those who feel compelled to fight it use terrorism because they have no political clout and also lack traditional military force. It is often committed in a suicidal manner. It thrives on publicity. It has very different causes and solutions than abuses of state power.

The biggest problem with the "war on terrorism" meme is that it incorrectly suggests that there is one "terrorism" problem, when in fact there are myriad independent political legitimacy problems in which terrorism is a tactic used to address them.

So called "state terrorism" has almost the opposite source. Rather than flowing from desparation in the face of powerlessness, it flows from excessive unchecked power, and often from misarticulating the military goals in conflicts (e.g. seeking to destroy the insurgents, rather than seeking to secure peace). It flows from a culture of impunity, from administrative corruption, and from unenlightened leadership (violence is the last refuge of the incompetent). It thrives on secrecy.

Approaches that address ordinary terrorism well are almost doomed to fail, indeed, may be counterproductive, in addressing "state terrorism".

Certainly, the goal of the "state terrorism" meme is to more strongly condemn this activity by associating it with something that is already widely condemned. It is an attempt to create moral equivalency. But, terms like "genocide" (where appropriate), "oppression" (where genocide is inaccurate) and other terms invoking the same idea, better capture what is going on, and as a result, are more likely to produce knee jerk solutions that are fruitful.

No comments: