(Via BoingBoing) Ironic Sans has a blog post up about the logos of various terrorist organizations (hmm, do they use Adobe Illustrator or something else?) The thing that irritates me is the way people try to turn “terrorist” into a meaningless or partisan term. Among Americans, this seems to be an idea particular to liberals. I’m actually a moderately liberal person, but this is definitely one area where I break with the them (although, they’re probably considered “far left” rather than simply “liberal”). It seems to me like “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is jingoistic nonsense, but it’s something that *sounds* like it could be true if you don’t really think about it. Here’s some actual comments:
He worked from the Wikipedia entry on terrorists, which is as good a source as any, but necessarily flawed, since the difference between “terrorist” and “guerrilla fighter” depends on whose side you’re on.
The term terrorist is rarely self-applied. “Terrorists” frequently become labeled as such by the groups who are the target of their violent activities. From the perspective of the group being attacked, the attackers are “terrorists;” from the perspective of the attackers, they are liberators, defenders of a just cause, etc., while the target of the attacks are occupiers, an illegitimate government, etc.
The difference between a “terrorist” and “guerilla fighter” is not who’s side you are on. To be a terrorist requires specifically targeting civilians. If you aren’t targeting civilians, but you are fighting against “my side”, you still aren’t a terrorist. If you don’t believe that I make that distinction, then consider this: I read a book a while back written by a former American who converted to Islam, and became a jihadi. This all happened back in the late 90s. He trained in Afghanistan, and killed Russian soldiers in Chechnya. He believed that he was fighting “the enemies of Islam”. I greatly disliked the author because I didn’t like his fanaticism, thought he was blindly “fighting for Islam”, and I thought he was doing more harm than good in the world. However, at one part in the book, he talks about discovering that some of his Muslim allies were connected to a terrorist group in Egypt that killed tourists at the Pyramids. The author was absolutely against this – he was against killing civilians, and said that the Koran says you are only allowed to kill soldiers or other men with weapons. Even though the author was killing soldiers, even though I felt he was fighting on “the wrong side” of the conflicts, even though he was a guerilla fighter, he was not a terrorist because he was not targeting civilians. There is a difference between guerilla fighter and terrorist, and it’s not simply who’s side you’re on.
A second problem with the “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” problem is the fact that it can work to legitimize the killing of civilians by developed countries. For example, if the CIA targets and kills a bunch of civilians, then how can we possibly call that “terrorism” if “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”? We could easily turn around and say that the CIA is simply a “freedom fighter”, and shut down any criticism. My suspicion is that a conversation with a far-left proponent might go like this:
Me: “Why don’t you want to call Al-Qaeda a terrorist organization even though they specifically target civilians?”
FarLeft: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
Me: “So – Al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organization, but a freedom fighter no matter how many civilians they kill?”
FarLeft: “I already told you that.”
Me: “Oh. How do you feel about allegations that the CIA killed civilians?”
FarLeft: “The US government and Israel are terrorists.”
Me: “Hmmm. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, right? Doesn’t that mean that terrorism is now a normalized and legitimized form of war? Doesn’t that mean that the US and Israel should be considered ‘Freedom Fighters’ regardless of whether or not they target and kill civilians?”
FarLeft: “No, the US and Israel are the *real* terrorists.”
Me: (roll eyes)
I will say that people have shown a tendency to ignore or downplay terrorist actions when they are committed by “your own side”, and a tendency to erroneously label the “other side” as terrorists. That’s more an issue of accurate labeling, rather than an argument that terrorist = guerilla fighter = freedom fighter. In this sense, I think American liberals are harming people’s understanding of the world, are undermining themselves, and legitimizing the killing of civilians by militant groups. This is particularly irritating when they throw around “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” in the context of Osama Bin Laden. Sure, OBL is fighting against the US and US influence in the Middle East – something that many Muslims appreciate. But, he’s certainly no “freedom fighter” – he advocates a totalitarian state under the control of Islamic Sharia law. Take a look at Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to see what that “freedom” is like living under the dictates of “Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice”: women must be completely covered, men must have beards and must not wear certain clothing (like shorts, which are “Western”), music, movies, television, and kite-flying are illegal, the entire society placed under Islamic laws, prayer is mandatory, apostasy from Islam is punishable by death, Islam in control of the schools preaching hatred against Jews and America, etc. According to Human Rights Watch:
[I]n September 1999, the Taliban issued decrees that forbade non-Muslims from building places of worship but allowed them to worship at existing holy sites, forbade non-Muslims from criticizing Muslims, ordered non-Muslims to identify their houses by placing a yellow cloth on their rooftops, forbade non-Muslims from living in the same residence as Muslims, and required that non-Muslim women wear a yellow dress with a special mark so that Muslims could keep their distance. (Link)
OBL is a religious fanatic. I wish liberals would stop and think about the fact that religious fanatics (whom they oppose in the US, but make excuses for when whey are foreign) are much, much worse in the Islamic world. Does anyone with these silly ideas seriously want to defend the idea that killing 62 unarmed tourists in Egypt was legitimate guerilla warfare by “freedom fighters”?