Definition of a terrorist may not be as easy as some would want

Published 2:23 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The American government under President George Bush essentially defines as a terrorist anyone who is opposed to what the government decides is this nation’s national interests, or, when it has to, anyone who is opposed to the Western World’s accepted norms of how the world ought to be.

Of course, the American government, especially under Bush, has decided whatever it wants is what comprises the Western World’s accepted norms.

Is that definition correct? I don’t think so.

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Once upon a time, the United States was not a super power. England and France were the competing super powers in the world for a couple of centuries. Before that, it was England, Spain and France. England, for all practical purposes, since the age of Elizabeth, was the world’s premier super power up until the end of World War II and she still remains a force to contend with.

That being the case, a terrorist, prior to the end of World War II, would have been anyone opposed to British interests.

Guess what? Many of today’s heroes were terrorists to the British. Start with George Washington and the other founding fathers who led this nation in rebellion against England towards the end of the 18th Century.

Then there is Michael Collins of Ireland who wrested control of most of that island neighbor of England from its pernicious grasp. You may be sure that the English barons and leaders of the British government that starved to death much of the population of Ireland during the potato famine were not considered terrorists. After all, they were not opposed to the super power’s interests.

There was also Ghandi of India who brought that subcontinent its eventual freedom.

Israel was founded in the late 1940s by Jewish terrorists who then became the establishment of that nation and began labeling as terrorists those whom they displaced and from whom they stole property.

In this country, Martin Luther King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were considered terrorists. Think not? Then why did the Federal Bureau of Investigation spy on them and cast suspicion on them of being Communists?

In other words, we need to be very careful of how we define the term terrorist and not throw it around so loosely. To simply be opposed to the status quo is not good enough, even to the point of throwing bombs and battling the forces of status quo.

Certain groups of anarchists who murdered and pillaged in Europe in the 1970s and 19802, with their only goal to produce chaos probably fits the definition best. There were no larger, overriding goals for those groups. Frankly, in an earlier age they would have been called anarchists.

Today, though, we throw the term terrorist at all in the Middle East who oppose the establishments there without looking at what their goals may be. We cannot defuse that situation simply by labeling and killing.

The overriding interests of the people who make up the out-of-favor organizations that are battling the establishment need to be looked at and carefully considered and dealt with sensibly if ever there is to be peace in that region.

The problem with that for many is Israel. The establishment of that nation is one of the root causes of much of what is labeled as terrorism in that region of the world. We in the West may believe that Israel has the right to its location and establishment, but those from whom the land was stolen obviously disagree. Should they simply be labeled as terrorists for disagreeing and fighting to take back what was theirs?

There are many other, related matters in all of this, of course. Nothing relating to conflict is ever as simple as the propagandists would like to make it.

The Western World conveniently divided itself into nations, and while it was pre-eminent, the Western World also divided up much of the Eastern World into nations while ignoring the wishes and natural divisions among people that didn’t fit between convenient terrain features or surveyors’ lines.

People who didn’t like each other for various reasons, for example the Sunnis and the Shiites, both divisions of the Islamic religion, found themselves trying to share the governance of an artificially established nation in Iraq. The Kurds, a separate ethnic group altogether also has its claims.

All of this leads to even more conflict among the opposing peoples bound in a single nation. It also causes anger at those who forced the creation of the artificial nations.

That’s the world we find ourselves living in today. Solutions to the conflicts are not easy and are going to cause a great deal of pain, but hopefully less pain than the death and destruction that is now occurring in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.

Until we get over the labeling that allows us to ignore the reasoning and concerns of those we now label as terrorists, there is no chance for peace.

Some, of course, who are in the battle have gone so far that there is no hope of dealing with them except with bombs and bullets. Osama bin Laden and his organization is a primary example.

They need to be carefully separated from those with whom we can reason. Also, the West is going to have to get over its infatuation with Israel and rein in that bully very harshly.

There may never be total peace in the Middle East, but life can be better there for its inhabitants if reason, rather than a label, is applied.