There is no consensus when it comes to defining terrorism. The most acceptable is ‘the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political aims.’ Some definitions insert the word ‘systematic’ so the act is defined as the regular, standard behavior of an individual or a group and not just one aberrant or anomalous action.
Terror is not quite the same as terrorism. Terror is experienced by many people in many ways and at many levels of their lives. There is terror at home in the hands of an abusive husband. There is the terror experienced by sexually abused children. There is terror in the school and the church, from abusive priests and teachers.
There is terror in the streets, from the man holding a knife to your throat as he demands your wallet and there can be terror at the hands of police, there to protect but frequently to abuse and even kill.
A violent father will terrorize his family for years. He will terrorize them regularly, day after day. He will assault his wife and children. He might even kill them. The family will live in a state of fear for years. There will be no end to it any more than there seems to be an end to occupation for the occupied.
This is a digression but it is not unreasonable to compare the fear of an abusive father in the home to the fear of soldiers and settlers amongst a people living under occupation. Violence is always just around the corner in both circumstances.
The home is turned into occupied territory, a place of violence and terror from which there is no escape for the trapped child. The abusive father becomes the soldier, the border police and the settler.
The state and the media tell us who the terrorist is. It is never us
The state and the media tell us who the terrorist is. It is never us. It is always them. The terrorist is the Islamic State in Syria, the terrorist is the gunmen shooting dead 90 young people in the Bataclan theatre in Paris and the terrorist is the man driving a 19-ton truck into a mass of people strolling along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. The central problem with this mainstream definition is that it excludes the terrorist actions of a state, except, of course, when the state is part of ‘them’ and not ‘us’ and needs to be set up as a fitting target for attack.
The killers at Bataclan and Nice had their own political motives but so do ‘western’ governments and their regional allies when launching their wars of aggression in the Middle East. Their actions meet their own criteria of terrorism – unlawful violence against civilians with a political aim in mind – and they have killed infinitely more people than the victims of all individual or group terrorist attacks put together.
Their wars would be more accurately described as onslaughts by the most powerful armies in the world on countries scarcely capable of defending themselves. Israel’s war on Lebanon in 1982 was a terrorist war directed against a civilian population, with the political aim in mind of extinguishing the PLO. Its ‘wars’ on Gaza have been terrorist attacks on a civilian population with the aim of destroying support for the Palestinian government elected in 2006.
When the US and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003 the entire Iraqi population south of the Kurdish region was terrorized. Across the country, people did not know whether they or someone close to them would live to see the next day. Hundreds of thousands did not.
They were the sacrifice that had to be made so a dictator could be stripped of the weapons of mass destruction he did not have and the architects of the killing of these civilians knew he did not have.
There were no elegies, no regrets, and no remorse. No flags waving over coffins and no sound of the last post. They were pulp, no more than dross, the scourings in the factory of war, a faceless, nameless pile of bodies with a sign stuck on the top reading ‘collateral damage.’
This did not mean that death did not concern the folk back home. Many were horrified and came out into the streets to demonstrate but most were concerned only with the death of their own, the soldiers sent to kill in this senseless war.
The same governments that led the attack on Iraq then took advantage of the ‘Arab spring’ to turn their attention to Libya. This most developed country in Africa was not destroyed by ‘rebels.’ It was destroyed by the air forces of the US, the UK, and France. The ‘rebels’ moved forward only under cover of aerial attack. Without it they could not have gone beyond the municipal boundaries of Benghazi.
These same governments changed gear when it came to Syria, where they knew they could not get any kind of UN Security Council backing for what they intended to do. They claimed to have been engaged in a ‘war on terror’ since 9/11 but now they and their regional allies used the terrorist gangs they had pledged to destroy to destroy Syria. Their takfiris were no more than the equivalent of the contras Ronald Reagan used against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
The criminality in all of this is enormous. The Nuremberg tribunal defined an aggressive war as the supreme international crime. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, the destruction of Libya in 2011 and the slow-motion destruction of Syria from 2011 onwards were aggressive wars and thus supreme international crimes for which no-one who commissioned them has been held accountable in a court of law.
The 2003 attack on Iraq followed ten years of sanctions described by senior UN humanitarian coordinators as genocidal. This was a decade of terror suffered by the Iraqi people, deprived of food, clean water, and energy supplies. Half a million children who would have lived died. The sanctions sickened so many governments they refused to apply them any longer.
With the sanctions regime collapsing, and with it becoming clear that Saddam would survive and Iraq would again take its place as a front line Arab state against Israel, the US decided to attack again and break Iraq up.
The second war on Iraq was launched and sustained under cover of the most reprehensible lies, not one of them being challenged let alone exposed by the corporate media. Up to one million people were killed within a few years and millions more fled their country. Until the attack on Syria, it was the greatest outpouring of refugees in the Middle East since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
The refugees scattered in all directions. Some managed to reach Indonesia, where they took rickety boats across the Timor Sea to Australia. Many drowned when their boats sank. Others were turned back and some actually made it through the naval cordon. Taking no responsibility for its military role in the destruction of their country, the Australian government then locked them up in ‘detention centers’ or in camps behind razor wire in the middle of the desert.
The vicious, inhumane treatment of such vulnerable people will rank for all time as one of the most despicable episodes in Australian history. What it exposed yet again was the racism deeply embedded in Australian society, directed against one vulnerable group of people after another, the indigenous people from the beginning of white settlement, Chinese miners in the 19th century, ‘boat people’ escaping the Vietnam war in the 1970s and most recently the ‘boat people’ escaping the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.
The irony could not be lost on anyone, as it was the white settlers themselves who in 1788 were the first ‘boat people,’ massacring the native people and claiming the entire land under the lie of terra nullius. Neither should the similarities with the Zionist occupation of Palestine be lost on anyone.
War turned Libya into a jumping-off point for Libyans and other Africans escaping war or seeking a better life in Europe. Thousands drowned crossing the Mediterranean. The Aegean was another death zone, for Iraqis driven out of their homeland or Kurds escaping theirs.
Then it was Syria’s turn. If there is any redeeming feature in this latest attempt to destroy an Arab country it is that Syria has survived and in time foreign forces will eventually have to withdraw from the territory they have occupied. The governments responsible have again violated international law in the most shocking fashion and again no-one has been punished or even held accountable.
These state crimes are the greatest in modern history, far worse in the scale of destruction and the numbers of people killed than the crimes of the national socialists and fascists in the 1930s. One would have to go back to the war on Vietnam for a parallel measure of death and destruction.
Israel was a central element in the wars on Iraq and Syria. It has long been agitating for war on Iran. Its politicians and lobbyists in the US were pushing for ‘regime change’ in the Middle East two decades ago, with the aim of clearing the region of all possible threats to Israeli military domination.
Psycho-historically, Israel also wanted to destroy what was left of the ‘Arab idea’ and what lay at its heart – Palestine. This project began with its establishment. Israel would decide what the Arab world would be and Israel would tell the world what Arab and Palestinian history had been. Indeed, there would no longer be an ‘Arab world’ in any integrated sense. As the Yinon plan revealed in the 1980s, it would be broken up into ethno-religious enclaves that Israel could dominate.
Along with the gross crimes committed in Iraq, Libya and Syria there have been the drone missile attacks ordered against Yemen, Somalia and other countries by that paragon of western liberal democracy, Barack Obama.
Now we have his successor dismissing international law with his claim that Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are part of Israel. Thus encouraged, Netanyahu is pledging that after the forthcoming elections he will annex at least parts of the occupied West Bank. ‘A Palestinian state would endanger our existence’ he says. If he does, Trump is likely to follow through with recognition.
What else are these attacks on the governments and people of the Middle East but terror and terrorism as defined – ‘the unlawful use of violence … especially against civilians … in the pursuit of political aims’?
These two governments, the US and Israel, have turned the canons of international law upside down.
This terrorism is not random but part of the DNA of certain states, no different in essence from the terror of the gunmen who burst into the Bataclan theatre and began shooting down civilians as innocent as the Iraqis, Libyans, Syrians and Palestinians killed by tank fire and missile strikes or shot by gunmen along the Gaza fence. Only the uniform separates them from the Bataclan killers.
These two governments, the US and Israel, have turned the canons of international law upside down. Their law is no more than the law of the jungle, the law not of the civilization whose virtues they endlessly spout but of brute force. They have demonstrated by their actions that where their perceptions of national interest are concerned there is no law they will obey and every law they will break.
They are the Leviathan without the social contract. They have taken the world back to Thomas Hobbes’ ‘state of nature,’ in which, for millions of people in the Middle East the life of a man or a woman, adult or child, becomes ‘brutish and short.’
In their eyes, the ‘terrorist’ is not just the Bataclan gunmen but anyone who stands in their way, whether an individual, an organization or a state. The latest addition, put on the list of designated terrorist groups by Donald Trump, is Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), which has sent forces to support Syrian and Hizbullah resistance to western-led and Israeli aggression against Syria and Lebanon. In response, Iran’s Supreme Security Council has designated the US government as a terrorist government and CENTCOM, the US central military command, as a terrorist group.
The attack on Syria has been yet another terrible violation of international law, at numerous levels, by the US and its ‘western’ and Middle Eastern regional partners. As usual, the UN Secretary-General refuses to speak out, further whittling away the UN’s credibility as the supposed defender of international order. The response by the Syrian government and its allies to the attack on Syria is not terrorism, but resistance to it.
Israel was founded through terror and by terror it has been maintained.
US and Israeli orchestrated terror in the Middle East has to be put in the right semantical order. Israel was founded through terror and by terror it has been maintained. Its terrorism is not random but normalized and necessary to its existence as a state that has chosen to live outside the law, with the full support of the US.
Israel is not ‘defending’ itself when it attacks Gaza or when its soldiers, police, and settlers kill Palestinians in Jerusalem or on the West Bank. What is it is ‘defending’ is its theft of someone else’s property. It is the Palestinians who are defending their rights, under law, not Israel.
Israeli civilians living illegally on occupied land in east Jerusalem or the West Bank put themselves in harm’s way and are to be held primarily responsible for the consequences to themselves and their families.
The terror experienced by Israeli Jews living close to the Gaza fence is the minutest fraction of the terror routinely inflicted on Palestinians on the other side of the fence. They are being targeted not because they are Jews, as Netanyahu and Zionist lobbyists would have the world believe, but because they are living on land stolen from its owners more than seven decades ago after being ethnically cleansed. It would not matter who they are. They would still be resisted because of what they have done.
Adherence to international law would redress the situation in Palestine yet the joint US and Israeli response to the violence and terror they have initiated across the Middle East is more violence and more terror. This is their answer. You will do as we say or else, signaling that the ‘special relationship’ between these two unruly, lawbreaking countries is one of the most dangerous in history.
Top image: An IRGC soldier try to rescue the child amid shooting in Ahwaz terror attack . Credit: Behrad Ghasemi/ ISNA)