Le Visage de la Terreur

Looking at the horror of the 7 coordinated attacks with 129 deaths and other injuries has once again thrust terrorism to the forefront of public consciousness.

France’s 9-11 said some commentators. Interestingly Lebanon had a 9-11 the day before (or a Pre-Paris, s’il vous plait) that no one mentioned. Why is this ?

Because not all terrorism is equal.

This of course raises an interesting question : what is terrorism?

You thought you knew the answer, did you not ? Wikipedia has an entire page saying there is no comprehensive definition that is agreed upon.

The US has several times codified such things :
Title 18 of the United States Code (regarding criminal acts and criminal procedure) defines international terrorism as:
(1) [T]he term ‘international terrorism’ means activities that —
(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended —
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum”
Commenting on the genesis of this provision, Edward Peck, former U.S. Chief of Mission in Iraq (under Jimmy Carter) and former ambassador to Mauritania said:
“In 1985, when I was the Deputy Director of the Reagan White House Task Force on Terrorism, [my working group was asked] to come up with a definition of terrorism that could be used throughout the government. We produced about six, and each and every case, they were rejected, because careful reading would indicate that our own country had been involved in some of those activities. […] After the task force concluded its work, Congress [passed] U.S. Code Title 18, Section 2331 … the US definition of terrorism. […] one of the terms, “international terrorism,” means “activities that,” I quote, “appear to be intended to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” […] Yes, well, certainly, you can think of a number of countries that have been involved in such activities. Ours is one of them. […] And so, the terrorist, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.

A man who was always fantastic with parsing language, President Clinton, had a very succinct definition a bit out of character for the rascal.

“Killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority” – Bill Clinton

Thanks Billy, we needed a working definition.

So in the end the word terrorism is just that : a word.

A word which is used to provoke the mind into cognitive dissonance forcing us to create a false division between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” violence depending on the source and target.

We are conditioned to consider certain types of violence as terrorism, but not others.

Brown people shooting white people? Terrorism.
Black people shooting White People? Not Terrorism.
White Kids on Ritalin shooting classmates in a carefully premeditated attack? Not terrorism.
Brown people setting off a bomb and setting off another Bomb for first responders? Terrorism.
US Military Double tap drone strikes on civilian populations in exactly the same manner? Not Terrorism

Drone strikes Wedding parties and Doctors without borders?

Well that shit isn’t terrorism. That’s Policy.

But if one takes terrorism in its widest sense of inflicting terror this includes all of the above and so much more.

Every SWAT raid on the wrong house.
Every targeted audit of an unfavorable political organization.
Every stop and frisk in certain demographical areas.

So terror is violence which the state can exploit for an expansion of its own power.

The state has a monopoly on violence. Hopefully not a monopoly on its language yet.


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