Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Terrorism, what is it?

The other day I was watching Television with my Arab neighbors, the Atmeh's, and having an extremely enjoyable time eating, laughing, and experiencing the culture.   LIke television does, it went to commercial and I saw a most interesting commercial.  The commercial started off with a young girl flipping through what was obviously the Quran.  As she got to the end of the Quran you suddenly saw a blank page splashed with blood.  As she looked at the page, there was a flashback to a typical picture of a hostage being filmed by multiple terrorists as they demanded ransom and then the girl closed the Quran suddenly.  The screen went black, and in simple white arabic script it said that terrorism is not a part of islam and that it must be fought and then gave a website about stopping terrorism.
  Many Americans say that there are no moderate muslims speaking out about terrorism, but here is direct proof of efforts to fight against it.  At the same time, we are asked the extremely difficult task of defining what terrorism is.  So the question is, what is terrorism?  Does it revolve around violence?  Violence for political purposes, is based on a religion is is perpetrated by an ethnic group?  Does it matter who or what that targets are, or why they were targeted how do we decide?  What about states, can they be terrorists and how do we decide that?  At first it seems like simple answer, but what divides a terrorist, a rebel, and a freedom fighter?
  I think these are fundamental questions that more and more of us have to ask ourselves and think about, we can't just let someone tell us a group is a terrorist group.  For instance, one of the things I hear a lot here in Jordan is that people do not agree that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations, like the United States has listed them.  To them, Hamas and Hezbollah are freedom fighters seeking what is best for Islam and fighting a superior enemy (Israel and the West) with what they have at their disposal.  In addition, these groups have legitimacy in the eyes of the people because they offer much needed services to the community that are not offered by the state or aid organizations.  In the case of Hamas, they were even elected democratically and Hezbollah members have been elected to government positions in Lebanon.  Now, I do not know if I completely agree with these statements, I know that both of these groups attempt to use terror to accomplish their tasks and use violence against non-military subjects to accomplish their tasks.  So the question is, what is a terrorist?  Are Hezbollah and Hamas simply organizations of a people who have no other way to voice their opinion than violence?  Are they people who have been pushed into a corner and are now fighting like a cornered rat, or are they groups simply working on terror, violence and fear?  Would they stop their attacks if their people were given basic services from Israel and the United States instead of isolated and sidelined?  Would Israel gain legitimacy if it helped it's neighbors rather than fight them?
  These are not easy issues, or simple answers.  They are complex, and the answer is not clean or black and white.  This past semester, while attending classes at Brigham Young University, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with George Selim of the Department of Homeland Security.  He spoke in my introduction to the Middle East class and was asked the question, "What is terrorism."  He said, that the United States Government can not and will not ever monitor ideals.  It does not matter why a violent crime was committed, just that it was.  This was eye-opening for me because I thought that an integral part of terrorism was the political purpose behind it.  Again, it adds another dimension to the question that really helped me think about the problem.
  The purpose of this post is simply to make each of us think about what seems like such a simple thing and to increase dialog about this subject.  I am not saying I support terrorist groups or that I do not think violent crimes are wrong, in fact, I have specifically sought to keep my opinions from this post.  I am simply saying that there are two sides to every issue and it is extremely important for us to look at both sides.  I hope you agree.


  1. Interesting post, Skye. But you'd better add a "not" to that third to last sentence! Bad typo...

  2. thanks pop! that was pretty bad!

  3. Hello Skye. You commented on my blog about white GW models and I decided to check your blogs if there was an example of your work that I could refer to. Instead I wound up looking at your trip to Jordan. Very interesting. Islam seems to me, a very demanding religion. It asks a lot from its people, things like praying five times a day, waking up at 4:00 am, and so on. I've always admired this kind of devotion, though I know that not all muslims are as devoted to it as others.

    Who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter? Perhaps these are truly subjective questions. Maybe it depends on who is asking and who is answering. In some cases, I think it is pretty clear, in others not so much. Personally I think the main difference between terrorist and freedom fighter is the intentional killing of innocents. However, by that definition, the United States would be considered such because of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as other bombings in Dresden during WW2. Yet that is not entirely accurate as WW2 is known often as a 'total war' wherein the entirety of a nation is bend toward the war effort, so killing innocents is justified as it diminishes the ability of a nation to wage war.

    Perhaps simply the term terrorist is used by a more powerful organization to justify miitary and covert action against the subject. It might be less of a philosophical title and more of a practical one for those who would label others in such a way.

    1. It is a difficult question to answer isn't it? A heard a quote that said "I can't define pornography but I know it when I see it." I think it's very similar with terrorism. I really should start up a blog, I had one a long time ago but didn't post on it as much as I should have.