Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Consideration of Recent Alleged Instances of “Terrorism” and Related Observations

There have been a number of instances over the last several months of the misuse or overuse of the word terrorism

As I have posted a number of times, terrorism is a distinctly evil form of illegitimate warfare, whereby the strategy of the attacker is to target innocent civilians in order to intimidate the populace into giving into the demands of the attackers.  The overly broad use of the word to include lesser evils as equal to terrorism, or even the defense against terrorism as “terrorism,” dilutes the meaning of the word and undermines the legitimate right to self-defense against terrorism. 

Not all politically or religiously-motivated violence is terrorism and not every violent act committed even by terrorists is necessarily an act of terrorism.  The question of the applicability of terrorism has sparked a number of recent controversies.  This post is a survey of such recent incidents and an explanation of whether or not they meet the definition of terrorism, as well as related observations. 

            Because of North Korea’s cyber attack on Sony in December in order to prevent the showing of a motion picture, some in the United States Congress are suggesting the Hermit Kingdom should be placed back onto the Department of State’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, which necessitates the imposition of various measures against that state.  The cyber attack was an act of sabotage, not terrorism, as it was not aimed at the masses of innocent civilians, but at a company’s actions to which North Korea objected inappropriately.  However, the Communist regime’s threat to attack movie theaters showing the film did meet the definition of terrorism, as it was targeted at innocent civilians and intended to intimidate not only the company and theater operators, but the populace into giving into North Korea’s demands that the film not be seen.  Therefore, the U.S. should re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

            North Korea’s cyber attack exposed the vulnerability of companies to cyber attacks, even more than prior breaches of Internet security at other major American companies.  It reminds Americans of the vulnerability also of civil entities and the need for improved security on the Internet.

The attack on a French satirical newspaper earlier this month was not an act of “terrorism,” as it was targeted at journalists and cartoonists of a leftist, secular satirical newspaper who had made graphic images of the prophet of Islam, not at the masses.  The attackers, who were an al-Qaeda cell, expressed their motivation not to terrorize the French people, even though they belonged to a terrorist organization, but to avenge by murder the acts they considered to be idolatry, sacrilege or blasphemy.  Indeed, the violent jihadists from al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch only shot specific individuals, although their actions certainly inflicted fear on other witnesses and probably had in indirect effect of terrorizing those who would exercise their freedom of expression in a manner objectionable to Muslims.  The attack by an “Islamic State” cell on a Jewish delicatessen in France, however, was an act of terrorism, as it was targeted at innocent civilians in order to intimidate the French people into opposing the arrest of the attackers on the newspaper.

            The Obama Administration, in attempting to deny an inconsistency in its policy of not giving into the demands of terrorists when it traded five Taliban leaders it had detained for a captured American soldier last year, is arguing that the Taliban is an “armed insurgency,” not a “terrorist organization.”  These terms are not mutually exclusive, as terrorist organizations do not necessarily limit their violence only to acts of terrorism.  Regardless, the Taliban meets the definition of a terrorist organization both because it harbored other terrorist organizations, particularly al-Qaeda, and because it commits acts of terrorism itself in Afghanistan and Pakistan, such as the slaughter of hundreds of schoolchildren in Pakistan last year, and was even behind the attempted bombing of New York City’s Times Square in 2010.  In fact, the Administration designates the Taliban as a foreign “terrorist organization” under another law.  As with its direct negotiations with the Cuban Communist Castro regime that is listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Obama Administration’s direct negotiations with the Taliban were thus negotiations with terrorists. 

           Ukraine has been referring to the pro-Russian separatists in its east as “terrorists” and is sponsoring a United Nations resolution to declare them as such.  Although the rebels sometimes have made indiscriminate attacks that have killed innocent civilians, including both Ukrainians and others, such as the Malaysian Air flight they shot down last year, their attacks do not appear to meet the definition of terrorism because they are not targeted at innocent civilians, but at Ukrainian soldiers and government officials.  Their insurgency nevertheless represents a threat to freedom, as noted in my last post.  

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