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Politics - The World - Terrorism


Terrorism / Internal conflicts

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is a rather lazy way of thinking. It doesn't consider the possibility, for example, that the other man is a nutcase.

"Terrorism", like "left-wing" and "right-wing", needs proper definition.

We can't just condemn all internal rebellions against the state, no matter what the state is like or no matter what the rebellion is like. They may be people fighting a tribal, oppressive state, but only to set up a different type of tribal state (perhaps even a worse one). They may be heroic democrats versus a tribalist state. They may be evil tribalists versus a peaceful democratic state. They may be democrats versus a totalitarian state. They may be totalitarians versus a democratic state.

We can label parties to a conflict by asking these questions:

  1. Are they an officially recognised country?

  2. Have they a just (or at least partly just) cause? This doesn't mean the cause justifies war. Only that it is a cause worth at least addressing. It doesn't mean their grievances are what they say they are. It only means that there is something there that could be addressed. e.g. Wanting to convert everyone to one religion is not even worth addressing.

  3. Even if there is a just (or partly just) cause, does the cause justify war or violence? This does not mean that the violence actually being carried out is justified (see next question). It just means that a case could be made for some military or violent action. Mainly, if the opposition is a democracy, I would say NO. Otherwise, maybe YES.

  4. Do they deliberately target random innocent civilians? Answering "NO" does not imply that the people they do target (e.g. police) are legitimate targets. We are only asking if they target random people.

Here are my attempts at answering these questions for various groups in the 20th and 21st centuries:


  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
Al-Qaeda NO NO NO YES
Iraq resistance NO NO NO YES
Afghan and Pakistan Taliban NO NO NO YES
Hezbollah NO NO NO YES
The Ulster loyalists NO YES NO YES
The Chechens NO YES (maybe) YES (maybe) YES
The IRA NO YES NO NO (mostly)
ETA NO YES (sort of) NO NO (mostly)
1970s left-wing terrorists NO NO NO NO (mostly)
Eco-terrorists NO NO NO NO
Animal rights terrorists NO YES NO NO
Anti-abortion terrorists NO YES NO NO
The French Resistance NO YES YES NO
Pakistan jihad against India YES and NO NO NO YES
The Palestinians YES and NO YES (sort of) NO YES
The Old IRA YES and NO YES YES (maybe) NO (mostly)
Nazi Germany YES NO NO YES
Stalin's democide of the Soviet Union YES NO NO YES
Mao's democide of China YES NO NO YES
Pol Pot's democide of Cambodia YES NO NO YES
The Allies in WW2 YES YES YES YES
Israel YES YES YES NO
The British in Northern Ireland YES YES YES NO
The Allies in Iraq YES YES YES NO
The Allies in Afghanistan YES YES YES NO

White = non-state.
Yellow = state / non-state mix.
Green = state.

Then consider the following categories.



No just cause

The word "terrorism" is generally meant to imply non-state actors, with worthless causes, who attack civilians:

  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
Al-Qaeda NO NO NO YES
Iraq resistance NO NO NO YES
Afghan and Pakistan Taliban NO NO NO YES
Hezbollah NO NO NO YES
Pakistan jihad against India YES and NO NO NO YES

Obviously, any such people should be ruthlessly opposed, as should state actors with worthless causes, who attack civilians:

  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
Nazi Germany YES NO NO YES
Stalin's democide of the Soviet Union YES NO NO YES
Mao's democide of China YES NO NO YES
Pol Pot's democide of Cambodia YES NO NO YES

These two are by far the easiest situations to think about. Any fight against these is justified.


In fact, anyone with a worthless cause should be ruthlessly opposed, even if they fight a "clean" war:

  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
1970s left-wing terrorists NO NO NO NO (mostly)
Eco-terrorists NO NO NO NO

This rarely happens, since most groups without a just cause tend to naturally target civilians (e.g. jihadis, fascists, communists).



Just cause, but target civilians

But how about war crimes in a just (or at least, addressable) cause:

  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
The Ulster loyalists NO YES NO YES
The Chechens NO YES (maybe) YES (maybe) YES
The Palestinians YES and NO YES (sort of) NO YES

Here, one might argue that ruthless opposition to the war crimes has to be combined with a political settlement. One can assassinate, and make peace.


Similarly problematic are state actors with a just cause who attack civilians (which was pretty much all state actors in the past):

  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
The Allies in WW2 YES YES YES YES

Do the Allied bombing crimes in WW2 cause one to oppose the Allied cause?



Just cause, don't target civilians

Even more complex for the definition of "terrorism" is the possibility of an armed group having a just (or partly just) cause, and trying to fight a war against military targets. We consider here the further question: In cases where it is a just cause, does the cause actually justify going to war (a "clean" war, against military targets)?

So we distinguish ones where violence could be legitimate:

  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
The French Resistance NO YES YES NO
The Old IRA YES and NO YES YES (maybe) NO (mostly)

From ones where the cause, although not worthless, does not justify violence:

  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
The IRA NO YES NO NO (mostly)
ETA NO YES (sort of) NO NO (mostly)
Animal rights terrorists NO YES NO NO
Anti-abortion terrorists NO YES NO NO


Finally, any state with a just cause that justifies violence, and which avoids war crimes, seems to be fairly legally justified. (Of course individual crimes may occur. What is important is they are not policy and they are punished.)

  Country? Just cause? (Or at least worth addressing) The cause could possibly justify violence? Attacks random civilians?
Israel YES YES YES NO
The British in Northern Ireland YES YES YES NO
The Allies in Iraq YES YES YES NO
The Allies in Afghanistan YES YES YES NO



Discussion

Saying that one side is not recognised as a country is not really a very strong criticism. Any tyrant, thug and junta can get recognised by the United Nations as the government of a country. Groups in conflict with them might be trying to set up a different tyranny, or they might be heroes trying to establish a free society. One would have to examine each case.

So if the word "terrorism" is used for all non-state rebels, then it is not a very useful word. You cannot just condemn all internal rebellions against the state, no matter what the state is like or no matter what the rebellion is like.



The War on "Terrorism"

For all these reasons, "The War on Terrorism" is a stupid phrase. It is in fact an evasion, that is afraid to name the enemy.

This is not a War on "Terrorism". It is a War on Islamism.


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