Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists.

I'm reading Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. It's a dauntingly fat book with font size 4; but very, very worth reading.

After the news that a suicide bomber blew himself up on the streets of Stockholm has sunk in, I read these words by Fisk (written about Afghan freedom fighters/terrorists during the Soviet invasion):
"Terrorists, terrorist, terrorists. In the Middle East, in the entire Muslim world, this word would become a plague, a meaningless punctuation mark in all our lives, a full stop erected to finish all discussion of injustice, constructed as a wall by Russians, Americans, Israelis, British, Pakistanis, Saudis, Turks, to shut us up. Who would ever say a word in favour of terrorists? What cause could justify terror? So our enemies are alway 'terrorists'." (p. 74)
I'm not saying I would like to say a word in favor of the actions by the man who strapped explosives to himself and (it seems like) intended to take as many persons as he could with him on his disturbed, suicidal way out of this world.

Because honestly. It seems a little misguided and anticlimactic hitting the streets not of Israel the colonial occupying human rights defying power; not of USA the meddler in everybody's affairs (especially if there's oil), but of Sweden.

Because we have 500 troops in Afghanistan (out of 140 000 foreign troops in total) and one lunatic artist who enjoys offending people's deep-held religious beliefs?

And his bomb didn't even detonate properly (thankfully, but anticlimactically enough).

No, I have no words in favor for his actions. Nor for anybody else's actions that aim to hurt or kill.

But I do have several words to say on the word terrorism. It is all about the politics of naming. Whoever dominates the public sphere gets to label people and actions according to what fits their interests for the moment, and the whole world nods and listens (it seems).

But here is no given definition of terrorism; no objective truth about the word.

Is it terrorism because the man in Stockholm was a Muslim? Because there were explosives?

I seem to remember another mad man who stabbed the Swedish foreign minister to death a few years back. Why wasn't he a terrorist?

Because he didn't send a letter before he killed her, maybe. So is it the motivation behind the action that makes it terrorism?

But then... I think we all can think of a countless number of actions by a countless number of persons and armies and governments around the world that have motivations behind them that would make them... terrorists.

And plenty of innocent victims where they bring mayhem. Which is necessary. There must be innocent victims for it to be terrorism, right?

So what if nobody had gotten hurt in Stockholm? And the suicide bomber had just killed himself? Would it still be a terrorist act?

This nitpicking doesn't make sense, I know. But once you start questioning the meaning of the word terrorism, you inevitably end up weighing these questions against each other.

Of course there are no final answers.

It is not surprising that still to this day we have not been able to agree on a single definition of terrorism. In the UN itself, there is no consensus about the meaning of the word (but still, the member states base policies on this undefined term).

But the word itself has no absolute meaning. And therefore, it is meaningless. A meaningless punctuation mark that exists to end discussions of injustice.

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