Opening Remarks by The Executive Director- Saeed Ismat

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by Usman on 17 Jan, 2012 02:03 am

At Strathmore Grange Hotel, London UK

“It is important to bear in mind that the term \"terrorism\" is commonly used as a term of abuse, not accurate description. It is close to a historical truth that our terrorism against them is right and just (whoever we happen to be), while their terrorism against us is an outrage. As long as that practice is adopted, discussion of terrorism is not serious. It is no more than a form of propaganda and apologetics.” Noam Chomsky. Activist and philosopher of international repute

From a historical perspective terrorism is not a new phenomenon but for good reasons 21st century is being described as “Age of Terrorism.” The 9/11 attacks marked a salient turning point in the history of the U.S. and indeed of global geopolitics. When the U.S. declared “war on terrorism” as its top priority it changed the domestic, national, and international policies.

Everyone uses the term terrorism, but who really understands it? What precisely is terrorism? What causes it? Who engages in it? Should terrorists be identified according to their intentions, ideologies, tactics, or targets? When is violence justified so it is not “terrorism”? How is terrorism different from assault, murder, and other violent “criminal” acts? Was the world’s most deplorable terrorist action taken when the U.S. dropped two bombs on Japan during World War II? Does terrorism involve violence toward one person or many? How can one distinguish morally culpable terrorists from legitimate guerrillas, insurgents, or freedom fighters?

In the nebulous name of “terrorism,” wars are being fought, geopolitical dynamics are shifting. Would it be justified to state that U.S, India, Israel, Russia and many other nations are aggressively destroying the basic concept of democracy, liberty, human rights and   waging war against people with utter disregard to the international law? How would you like to describe the attacks on and occupation of so many nations? What about the sovereignty of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan.  What about the plight of the people of Kashmir, Palestine and Chechnya. All I can say is: It an undeniable fact that the most used words in the current vocabulary, \"terrorism\" also is one of the most exploited and abused word of modern times.

But far from a problem, many nations capitalize on the vagueness of the term to apply it in any way they see fit to suit their purposes. In post-9/11 America, the term is used so broadly and promiscuously when any action that challenges the interest of the exploiters. The political relativity of the concept is manifest in the phrase, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Depending on the interpreter, violence against an enemy can be seen as terrorism or counter-terrorism, as aggressive offense or legitimate defence.

For Israel and the U.S. government, Palestinian organizations are terrorists but to Palestinian and nations with an iota of conscience or morality they are freedom fighters opposing the occupation of their land by the forces of Zionism. The Indian government considers groups working to liberate Kashmir from Indian oppression and illegal occupation to be terrorists while many Kashmiris and Pakistanis embrace them as liberators. The U.S. calls its violent allies friends and defames its foes as terrorists.

 Clearly, “terrorism” is not just a word, it is a weapon. The definition is politically motivated by the user in order to target certain individuals or groups. Speakers routinely brand their adversaries as terrorists to malign their cause and demonize them while, conversely, legitimating their own cause by any means necessary to secure it. Because of its negative connotation; the “terrorist” label discredits any individuals or groups to which it is affixed. It dehumanizes them, places them outside the norms of acceptable social and political behaviour, and portrays them as people who cannot be reasoned with. By delegitimizing any individuals or groups or nations described as “terrorist,” you can terrorize them in most brutally till they capitulate or cave in”.

 Allow me refresh your memories that the U.S. hailed Osama bin Laden and his comrades as freedom fighters in the 1980s, while many government officials denounced Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. The Western world reviled the 9/11 attacks as a paradigm of evil, but Al Qaeda and other enemies of the U.S. upheld it as a legitimate strike in their jihad, while decrying U.S. bombings of Afghanistan as terrorism.

Finally we may also consider what is a morally defensible response to terrorism? Economic sanctions, trade barriers, political isolation that unfolds slowly but can be more devastating and may result in the killing of million innocent human lives. Are these the tools of a Terrorist State that takes action under the garb of fighting terrorist? These are some of the questions that you may like address.

But before I go any further I must state my position on terrorism. To begin with, I go with the UN definition of “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.\"

But that’s not all. The UN definition limits terrorist goals to only political goals, but I like many others also consider all organized criminal acts perpetuated to achieve religious, social, economic and ethnic goals as terrorism.

Added to this, I consider the use of economic power by the prosperous nations to bully the others into falling in line with their world view and to serve their own interests as terrorism – economic terrorism. I also consider the misuse of state power, social structures and religion for achieving political or other goals as terrorism.