Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Branding terrorism

Terrorism is a popular military tactic, used by everyone. By everyone, I mean individuals, insurgent and revolutionary groups and nation states, including democratic nation states. Indeed, the worst terrorist attacks in history were carried out by the world's leading democracy. And in the Middle East today, the region's leading democracy is carrying out two terror campaigns, one against the 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, the other against the 3.9 million people of Lebanon.

Its major opponents, Hamas and Hezbollah, are also known for their use of terror. For this reason, even though both are about much more than military action, we formally categorize them as terrorist organizations. Israel, oddly enough, we don't. Our categorization is highly arbitrary, depending it would seem on whether or not we approve of the group or its cause rather than on its actions. This is pure hypocrisy. Terrorism is terrorism, whether used by good guys or bad guys, for good causes or bad causes. It doesn't just become terrorism when it's applied by people we don't like against us or our friends.

Our categorization is not only hypocritical, it is inaccurate. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have been listed as terrorist organizations by the Canadian and U.S. governments, yet their military wings are only a part of what they are. Hamas also has a highly successful political wing and a social wing that provides services more effectively and certainly with less corruption than the Palestinian Authority. That is one of the reasons it was elected to government. Like Hamas, Hezbollah also has both political and social wings. It runs hospitals, clinics, schools and agricultural centres to assist and train farmers, all desperately important to the poor Shias of southern Lebanon. Dismissing Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations makes no more sense than dismissing the United States as a military state simply because it has the world's largest army (although it does seem preoccupied with war).

Beyond being hypocritical and inaccurate, our categorization is foolish. It often prevents us from dealing with critical actors in the world's dramas. Listing Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations makes both understanding them and communicating with them difficult, yet they are the most important groups on the Arab side in the current crisis. Just as the British had to swallow their pride and sup with the IRA if peace was to be achieved in the British Isles, so will Israel and the United States have to deal with Hamas and Hezbollah if they want to achieve peace in the Levant. They must recognize that these groups have legitimate constituencies. Hamas is the democratically elected government of Palestine for heavens' sake! Ignoring that mocks democracy while insulting the Palestinians' government, and thereby the Palestinians themselves.

Finally, inventing a new category of crime called terrorism was completely unnecessary. If people fly planes into towers, or place bombs in subways or railway stations, they are murderers and the law is more than adequate to take care of them. We have allowed September 11th, 2001, to push us into a hypocritical, inaccurate, foolish and unnecessary invention that offers no benefit but much harm.


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