e-Pao! >> Books >>Who is a Terrorist? >>On Who a Terrorist is
Article details

On Who a Terrorist is

The war against terrorism is on. Those who are waging the war are perhaps clear in their minds as to who a terrorist is. But we are not. Defining is just one more attempt at knowing. The present paper aims at exploring the logical possibilities of defining who is a terrorist and to see if definition emerges in the process. Inscrutable are the ways of definition. In most cases we allow the strong to define what is what and get away with the consequences. If definition grows out of the fear for under holocaust, then America is most competent to define who is a terrorist. It is for America to usher, in the new dispensation and the rest of the world to know their places in the new order. Otherwise, we have to open our eyes, look at that go under the name terrorism and identify the pattern.

Let us begin with definition number one.

Definition 1:
A terrorist is one who uses violence.

Two questions: What is violence? What is the meaning of use violence?

Killing of human beings, men, women and children is violence. Killing of other forms of life is also violence. Killing of or to put in a milder expression, disfigurement of human nature is violence. We must explain the meaning of disfigurement of human nature. Disfigurement of human nature means denying human beings the kind of development human nature is capable of, by external constraints or conditions. Man can humanely relate himself to Nature, as a means in material production and as an end in theoretical contemplation and artistic creation. Man can relate to his fellow beings in love and friendship that give him happiness, the enjoyment of human nature as Marx or Russell would say. He can command the right technology to do so. In the unity of man, nature and technology, man can occupy his rightful place of a creative artist. That is, he can now freely engage in such activities and relations, which are satisfying as ends in themselves. This is the development frontier his nature (human nature) is capable of. Colonialism, which uses man and nature as raw materials of economic exploitation, stands in the way of realising man's human mode of relating to Nature and his fellow beings. Therefore, colonialism stands in the way of man achieving the fullest development his nature is capable of. From this, the conclusion is that colonialism does violence to human nature and this is a most palpable form of violence. In the same sense, racism and casteism violates human nature and are therefore palpable forms of violence. Wanton destruction of Nature, a mystery and an object of contemplation in herself, is also violence. Use of our veritable mother, the earth as object of nuclear test is the obvious example. Classical colonialism and neo colonialism rapaciously exploiting Nature for material gain thereby causing ecological disaster is a point too well known to be laboured here. The G-8 Nations are responsible for more than 70 percent violation of world environment, but they sermonize us on how to protect our environment for their sake. This is a basic lesson on how it is always the mighty who tells us what is what. The discourse on terrorism is no exception.

Destruction of artefacts' is also violence. Artefacts embody human creativity and as such, violation of artefacts' is as good as violation of human nature that creates them.

Technology is man's extended hand. Violation of technology, therefore, is mutilation of man's organs.
Violence, therefore, is violation of (1) life (2) human nature (3) Nature and (4) man-made artefacts.
Individual use of violence has no relevance to the definition we are looking for. It is always organised violence that can be considered either as terrorist activity or otherwise. Therefore, the expression 'use of violence' occurring in the definition 1 is to mean either organised and/or institutionalized violence. The next problem is to find out the terrorist, who uses violence in the manner stated above.

Organisations blacklisted as terrorist organizations by the U.S.A. and by other States also use violence in the sense explained above. The degree of violence used and the forms of expression are besides the point. The present essay will not enter into the moral question of whether all violence are equally abominable or for that matter, equally good. The present essay is concerned only with the crucial issue of definition; is there any specific use of violence that can act as the differentia in the definition of a terrorist. That is to say, is there anything specific in the nature of use of violence that rarely distinguishes the terrorist from the non-terrorist.

States also use violence, on a larger scale and no less abominable than the ones indulged by the organizations branded as terrorists. Vietnam, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, starving Iraqi children, dropping of cluster bombs along with food packets, destabilizing popularly elected progressive governments through CIA sponsored coups, are just some of the activities that can make any so called civilized State feel virtuous.

Thus States as well as organizations branded as terrorists use violence. States do what the so-called terrorist organizations do and vice versa. There is nothing in the use of violence per se that makes one black and the other white.

To introduce a qualitative difference in the nature of the use of violence and thus isolate the terrorists, let us modify our definition 1.

Definition 1.2
A terrorist is one who uses illegitimate violence that is violence not sanctioned by rule of law.

Rule of law will then be the differentia that distinguishes the terrorists from others. Terrorist organisations use violence sans sanction of law (illegitimate violence) whereas States use violence in accordance with the rule of law.

Let us now examine to what extent State use of violence is in accordance with the rule of law.

State use of violence may be internal or external. Internally, the State is the unipolar centre of force. The State enjoys the exclusive monopoly to use violence against any individual or association within its territory. What are the necessary and sufficient conditions to ensure that such an internal use is in accordance with the rule of law? For simplicity's sake, let us take a democratic State S where citizens elect their representatives who in turn frame laws. These laws regulate the 'when, how and how much' of State violence to be exercised over the citizens and associations within the State. Suppose many of these laws are in the interest of all the citizens. Examples are, traffic laws, laws prohibiting murder, theft, dacoity, drug abuse, community gang rape, suttee3 or burning of widows, violation of the person etc. Enforcement of these laws is in everybody's interest When the State punishes a citizen guilty of any of these offenses, if need be with the use of violence, the State can be regarded as using violence under the rule of law. Here the laws enforced by the State S are so good and in everybody's interest that ultimately no violence not even the threat of violence may be necessary to enforce them. But let us further suppose that our States enacts anti-labour laws leading to large scale unemployment or retrenchment of workers or cut in the wages, racial laws that legalizes racial discrimination, laws that deny minority nationalities their right to self-determination. The workers, the discriminated racial groups, the enslaved nationalities offer resistance � through non-violent means to begin with. As far as recorded history goes social protests and revolutionary movements hardly begin with violence. They all started as humble plea for social justice by a deprived and oppressed class, group or people. The American Revolution, The French Revolution, The Bolshevik Revolution started peacefully, with repeated supplicants to the powers that be. The French Revolution did not begin with the Reign of Terror - the term 'terror' was first used by Edmund Burke to describe the actions of the new revolutionary government in Paris. Continuing with our supposition, now State S meets the resistance coming from the affected class, group or people with State repression and violence. The next response to this State violence may now be in the form of violence that is, counter-violence to State violence. Then the dynamics of violence takes its own momentum. Here the problem simply is the State has legal legitimation, but what is legitimized is use of force to protect socially unjust status quo. When the injustice of the system is palpable legal legitimation of State use of violence faces serious crisis. The disturbing question then arises, is it rule of law that tames violence, or violence that uses rule of law to legitimize itself, to appropriate respectability.

On the other hand, let us further suppose that social justice is on the side of revolution. But the revolutionary use of violence lacks legal legitimation. In State violence legal legitimation is in crisis because social justice is in question. In revolutionary violence, the delivery of social justice is in question because the legal rule of the game is lacking. Whether there can be a type of democracy and a type of a rule of law that can provide an open framework for radical change for social justice, in other words, how open can a democratic open society be, is a question having profound bearing on the issue of terrorism. The question is an open one. But still, so far as we know, modern States including the democratic ones, have resisted radical change, if necessary with State violence.

This leads us to a paradox, the paradox of rule of law. The paradox may be stated as follows:
"Where rule of law is said to tame or legitimize State violence, State violence is ultimately found to be at the foundation of rule of law."

Until and unless the paradox is resolved, the argument that rule of law qualitatively differentiates the internal State use of violence from other uses including the so called terrorist ones is fraught with theoretical difficulties.

On to State use of violence in the external sense.
From the very beginning the State system is riddled with a contradiction. Internally, the State is unipolar centre of force whereas externally there are as many centres of forces as there are States. Internally, the State uses violence in the name of rule of law. Externally, the State use of violence is not bound by rule of law simply because there are neither laws applicable to all the States uniformly nor a law enforcing agency with the legal legitimacy to enforce laws among the States. The so-called international law is not law in the sense the word 'law' occurs in the expression 'rule of law4 The simple reason is; there is no world body to give sanction to and enforce the hitherto existing international treaties, covenants and conventions. In the absence of rule of law war is the time-honoured institution of conflict resolution among the States. Russell makes this point succinctly when he says that the State divides mankind into citizens and aliens; towards the former it is bound by rule of law, towards the latter only by the prudence of the highwaymen.5 According to Russell, a warring State becomes a combination of men for murder and robbery.6 The international community has so far refrained from employing the term 'terrorism' to State acts of war. But this is simply because warring powerful nations have decided to call each other gentleman through agreements having the semblance of law to cover their rapacity for domination over human and natural resources. The history of all hitherto existing international relations is the history of conflict among the nation States, wherein the story of might is right is repeated umpteen times. We fail to see terror in this design of History. The reason, we have been ideologically brain washed to regard the design as natural as the Law of Nature.

In his study of the political economy of human rights, Chomsky developed and convincingly argued at length the following thesis:
The common view that internal freedom makes
for humane and moral international behavior is
supported neither by historical evidence nor by reason.
The United States itself has a long history of imposing
oppressive and terrorist regimes in regions of the world
within the reach of its power, such as the Caribbean
and Central American sugar and banana republics .
Since World War II with the great extension of U.S.
power it has borne a heavy responsibility for the spread
of a plague of neofascism, state terrorism, torture and
repression throughout large parts of the underdeveloped
world. The United States has globalized the "banana
republic". This has occurred despite some modest
ideological strain because these developments serve the
needs of powerful and dominant interests state and
private, within the United States itself.

In his lecture on September 11 and its Aftermath: where is the World Heading?, sponsored by Frontline and the Media Development Foundation on November 10, 2001, Chomsky referred to the U.S. intervention in Nicaragua in the early 1980s. He pointed out that the U.S. ignored condemnation by the International Court of Justice for its unlawful use of force and vetoed a UN Security Council i resolution that simply called on all States to observe international law.8 At that time, the World Court's order calling for the termination of international terrorism and the payment of substantial reparations to Nicaragua was dismissed with contempt by the U.S. Instead the U.S. escalated the war, with official orders to the mercenary army fighting the Sandinista government to avoid combat and to attack undefended civilian targets.9 He further pointed out that U.S. sponsored State terrorist in Central America left hundreds of thousands of tortured and mutilated corpses, millions maimed and orphaned and four countries in ruin.10 This was in addition to what U.S. did to Vietnam and rest of Indo-China where in between 1960 to 1975, 2 to 4 million people have been killed, along with after effects of bombing lasting more than thirty years. Western democracies have been consistently employing war as a technique of conflict resolution because of what the historian Charles Tilly calls " a central tragic fact - that coercion works". The Black Tuesday terror only provided the context of fear in which it was possible for U.S.A. and allies "to ram through harsh and regressive measures that would otherwise arouse resistance",12 In this counter-terror to what is officially called international terrorism nuclear weapons which are weapons of choice for the powerful played their part. The point is made already. States use violence not bound by the rule of law. Chaste western democracies led by the U.S.A., no less.

Let us now turn again to the engagements in violence by the so-called terrorist organisations.

The French Revolution, to the later phase of which Burke gave the name "Reign of Terror' spread the message of liberty, equality and fraternity that struck at the roots of feudal status quo. The Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Latin American Revolution, the Algerian Revolution were inspired by visions of social order free from exploitation and the emergence of the 'new man' as opposed to the egoistic man of bourgeoisie culture. These were attempts at a total change of human nature and reconstruction of a qualitatively new civilization on a scale never dreamt before. The attempts have failed so far, but the dream lingers on, as it should be considering the fact that contemporary neo-liberal societies with America as the rallying pole are still riddled with contradictions. After all, dreams come so naturally to all of us. No social scientist has branded these revolutions as practices in terrorism. But strategic thinkers in line with Pentagon would regard these revolutions as the forerunner of Left Terrorism, which they interface with Religious-fundamentalist-terrorism and Right Terrorism in their typology of terror.

The question arises, do we distinguish terrorism from revolutionary violence. Is there a grey area, a point of convergence of the forms of violence; State violence, terrorist violence and revolutionary violence?

President Chandrika Kumaratunga in her First Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture on Building a Pluralistic Society - Managing Change and Diversity, makes the following distinction:
The goals of terrorism differs somewhat from
those of revolutionary movements. 'Revolutions seek to
effect radical changs in the social and economic structures
of the country and also in its power structures. They
enunciate a new vision and programmes of action.
Terrorist movements are neither radical nor revolutionary.
They an destructive and stem usually from conservatism and

Referring to the South Asian scenario, she pointed out that the world's two most dangerous and ruthlessly efficient organizations Al Qaeda and the LTTE were born, nurtured and operates in the region. South Asian nation States bom of the ruins of decolonization represent essentially plural societies cradling various ethnic, religious and cultural groups, On the one hand, these nation States led by the majority community are engaged in the projection of their national identities, where the identity of the majority community if sought to be equated with national identity. On the other, smaller ethnic religious or cultural communities within the nation States are demanding for recognition of their distinct identities, mostly in the form of demand for separate sovereign States. This has led to conflicts within the same nation States which first took the form of revolutionary or insurrectionary movements but subsequendy transformed into guerilla-type terrorist organizations. Nation States are to manage plurality, change, nation building and modernization in a way that will fulfil the aspiration of all conflicting ethnic, religious and cultural groups, failing this, resort to violent State repression to resolve international conflict will result in full-blown terrorism 14 President Kumaratunga opines that "violence -social, political or physical, perpetrated by the state or the agents of the state against other states or its own people - is die womb of terrorism, humiliation its cradle and continued revenge by the state the mother's milk and nourishment for terrorism."

The legitimate demands for social justice fair share and recognition by marginalized or deprived communities are englobed by the ideology of religious fundamentalism or the theology of identity politics in traditional South Asian societies. This has led to a demand for right to self-determination, developed to "the savage and tragic absurdity in the demands of separate movements".16 Welded to violence as a political strategy this has given rise to terrorist organizations. Thus, according to Kumaratunga, a terrorist (1) is rooted to a cause (elimination of social injustice in one form or other) (2) has a demand englobed in a theology or ideology but expressed in a savage and tragic form (3) uses violence in a form not to be condoned by any human being or State or government and in a manner in which the means and ends of the terrorist fall apart. The cause is to be addressed to, but not necessarily conceding the extreme demands or surrendering to the techniques, of the terrorist.

President Kumaratunga's views on the right to self-determination is highly controversial, particularly her claim that the theory of the right to self-determination has been publicly abandoned by most rational observers. The present author would rather argue that the right of nation States to exist and right of small nationalities to self-determination are either equally sacrosanct or equally contingent. The principle that renders one sacrosanct equally renders the other also sacrosanct and vice versa. So long as there remains even a tiniest or smallest nationality that feels enslaved and oppressed, History will not call it a day on the decolonization process. The existence of nation States is never a moral phenomenon as it has often been made out to be. It is rather a phenomenon in the evolution of institutional power as a material force. This point apart, President Kumaratunga has made her other points forcefully as a visionary South Asian leader of international stature.

There are other forms of violence yet to be noticed by a Chomsky or a Kumaratunga. In many parts of South Asia, the so-called organised States have entered into a holy alliance with organised armed gangs in waging an undeclared war against defenceless people. The paradigm is invariably the same everywhere. For the sake of explanation, let X be the model of a typical South Asian State, Y that of a typical armed gang so common in the South Asian landscape, and P the people within the territory of X. X professes democracy and decision making boxes are made available to P in tunc with the principles of democracy. But the law of simultaneity of societies at different stages of development which is a. corollary of the law of uneven development of human society, works. So much so that P barely emerging from primitive, tribal, feudal past has not been enabled to use the democratic decision making boxes, while P's counterparts in other parts of the globe have already enjoyed the fruits of democracy and material progress. Not only the availability, but the use of decision making boxes constitute the essence of democracy. Unable to use the decision making boxes, P surrenders the power to shape the forces that determine P, either to the lure of money or to the fear of the gun. Therefore, the so-called democratically elected government of our model State X, swindles, loots, kills and begs in the name of P. Not to be left behind, armed gangs in the name of freedom and other high sounding phrases indulge in looting, extortion, highway robbery and merciless killings. What a day for adventurers and fortune hunters! "Make hay while the sun shines" as the saying goes. The victim is always the defenceless and helpless, raped from both the sides. P is raped frontally by the so called democratically elected government and from the rear by the so-called armed gangs. Although apparetly at cross purposes, the so-called democratically elected government and the so-called armed gangs of our model State X shake hands in the freedom of the night. Nietzsche announced the death of god. Poor Nietzsche! He was misunderstood. What he announced was the death of false gods. Contemporary armed gangs have not declared the death of Revolution. They have murdered the Revolution. Call what you may, the deed remains the same.

There are then acts of degenerate violence which are neither sanctioned by law nor redeemed by a sincere quest for social justice. They do not have even the pretended or formal sanction of law that the State use of violence has. The adjective 'pretended' or 'formal' is added here in the light of the problematic of rule of law formulated earlier. Armed gangs indulging in forms of degenerate violence 'pretend to be the State', form 'government-in-exile', appoint 'Ministers' and Secretaries', impose their writ on a defenceless people. But they do not have the necessary command over force to provide an institutional foundation to their writ, to gain recognition from other individuals or associations. Hence, in the end, such armed gangs are either unable to ensure their survival in the jungle of State systems or forced to act as the surrogate of a powerful State. Armed gangs enjoying surrogate power charged up by a patron State are destined to do dirty jobs that the latter will hesitate to commit openly. Needless to say, their target invariably will be the unarmed, innocent, defenceless, weak common people; what they call the 'soft target' in the jargon.

Such degenerate forms of violence are also devoid of any goals of social justice, emancipation of mankind, or self-determination of nationalities. Armed gangs professing noble causes while practicing highway robbery and banditry is the rule rather than the exception. Marx's midwife theory of force, that is, the theory that "force is the midwife every old society pregnant with a new one"17 applies either to institutional or revolutionary use of force, but never to gangster's use of force. The use of force shorn of ennobling goals and regenerative elan coming from constant touch with the people, completes a full circle when the perpetrators themselves are eliminated in their turn. That the terminate are terminated, the violators are violated is as regular of nature.

We have sketched out
1) State use of violence
2) revolutionary use of violence
3) organised but degenera use of violence.
But still, we are far from identifying the terrorist. To make no mistake about who the terrorist is,out conceptual framework must be sharp enough to delineate the grey areas where forms of violence converge or one for suddenly transforms into another and vice versa, or to: the classic Wittgensteinian phrase where there are 'criss Cross family resemblances' among the various forms of violence.
To sharpen our conceptual framework, let us rule of law again. The principle of rule of law is helpful in identifying the terrorist use of violence if and only if certain conditions are obtained.

Firstly, the principle must be universal. That is to assuming that all forms of use of violence are to be brought under rule of law, to differentiate legitimate use of violence from the illegitimate use, laws regulating 'the when, how and how much' of use of force must be universally arbitrated simple terms, it means that all the institutions and individual that use or are likely to use force must be brought under uniform law that regulates use of force. In practice, it one that not only the individuals and associations within the States but also the States themselves must be brought under one uniform law. Until and unless the States themselves are brought under rule of law operating uniformly all over the world, it is logically impossible to differentiate the terrorist from the non-terrorist use of force. For, in the absence of an international law regulating use of force, parties to a conflict will themselves be the best judges as to nature of force they are using, the category under which such a use is to be subsumed. Being the best judge each of them would define and categorise the same act of violence in their own way. Where definitions and categories are in conflict, force will be the ultimate arbiter available. What is arrived at will then be only a paradox; the paradox that force is the ultimate justification of force. To put it the other way, it is the most powerful who defines and categorises the forms of use of force. Given this paradox a terrorist provided he is the most powerful will be the best judge as to who a terrorist is. By the very rules of the game, he can escape the label 'terrorist'.

Secondly, universalisation of rule of law has as - its corollary the imperative of a World Government to which nation States must surrender their sovereignty which in practice means the freedom to wage war. A World Government is to have the sole monopoly over the use of force to rule out multipolarity of force in the form of nation States as power centres. A World Government will also act as the sole arbiter in the resolution of conflicts among the States and strongly intervene against violation of universal human rights by nation States including the right to self-determination of small nationalities. Such a World Government will be different from the one Russell had proposed in that it will not be a mere extension of Anglo- American hegemony christened under a new name. A truly World Government; is to be representative of all the peoples of the world having its foundation in democracy and decentralization of power. Peoples of the Third World countries have been consistently by-passed in the shaping of the destiny of mankind. This has to be remedied. Will the World Government be a reality? It has to be in a not too distant future if the world is to survive the deep rooted contemporary conflicts, of which some forms have been euphemistically called the clash of civilizations. Mankind is at the threshold of a new revolution that is going to pale into insignificance all the earlier revolutions in scale, intensity and dimension. When this new revolution is accomplished, the primitive egoistic acquisitive man will be relegated to History the way dinosaurs have been in natural history. On the horizon of the future will arise the new man best characterized as the free citizen of the free work.

Thirdly, crisis in legal legitimation of use of force is avoided to a great extent when law ceases playing the handmaid to unjust status quo. Law must either lead forward or where it does not lead at least trail behind mankind's progressive quest for social justice. At present, laws are riddled with contradictions and conflicts where the interest of the powerful is universalized and then presented as the spirit of law. But from the universilation rule of law am univerlisation of law enforcing agency, the next logical deduction is universalisation of the spirit of law by making law embody Universal social justice as its spirit

Fourthly, a metaphysical anxiety still remains. Will some amount of force be always necessary in the management of affairs of men? To put it a little metaphysically, is the presence of force an inalienable part of human condition? Is it possible to eliminate use of force altogether from the affairs of men and thus reach the omega point? Russell opines :

1) actual instances of use of force may gradually be reduced
2) the amount of force used may be minimized and ultimately the mere threat of use of force without actually using it may be sufficient, that is, a shadowy existence force may be all that is necessary.
Fine So far so good. But we are interested in going further and ask; "Can we forget negative use of force altogether in the management of affairs of men?"

A theoretical possibility remains the answer. Suppose the law sanctioned and enforced by our proposed World Government has not only universal social justice but also the imperative of a moral law. A moral law shines intrinsically on its own merit. Anybody with a moral sense will 'see' that a moral law must be obeyed of necessity. The imperative is intrinsic in the law. If it is possible to make rule of law synchronized with moral law, then, force will no longer be needed to give sanction and enforce rule of law. What is necessary and sufficient is that rule of law be seen as something which is intrinsically good in itself and hence to be followed of necessity in the absence of extraneous conditions. If this condition is obtained, it is no longer necessary for rule of law to be founded on force in any form whatsoever.

In the light of
1) universalisation of the rule of law
2) universalisation of the repository of rule of law, i.e., the sanctioning and enforcing agency
3) universalisation of the spirit of law and
4) proposed synchronization of rule of law with the moral law we have discussed above,
Definition 1.2. may now be formulated as follows:

Definition 1.3:
A terrorist is one who uses violence
not in accordance with universally
operative rule of law sanctioned and
enforced by a World Government
representative of peoples of all countries
such that universal social justice is the spirit
of the law and that the law is seen to be
intrinsically good, having the imperative
of a moral law.

If the necessary and sufficient conditions given in the definition are obtained there will be no mistake in identifying a terrorist. No grey areas where forms of violence converge will escape detection by our definition. Or rather, there will be no grey areas in our new typology of violence, since given any form of violence its blackness or whiteness can easily be identified.

But perhaps, our definition leads us to an absurd conclusion also. When the necessary and sufficient condition provided in the definition are obtained, the world will be ready for the saints. No terrorist (as per our definition) will ever care to disturb such a world. Will there be sporadic cases of individual or organised madness wherein aimless violence is indulged in just for fun's sake? Very unlikely. Individual of organised pathology is a reflection of social pathology at large. A world free from social pathology will also be free from individual or organised pathology. Hence we are led to the absurd conclusion that precisely at that point where the definition is obtained, the terrorist takes his leave. Or shall we say, the womb and the seed that give birth to the terrorist would have been removed? What then is the point of the whole exercise? Surely this 1) that all hitherto existing definitions and typologies of terrorism are basically power centred, their validity depen depending solely upon the existing power equations 2) that we assert our right to dream for a terror free world particularly a nuclear free world, to dream for the day when we as free citizens of the free world will enjoy our right not to be disturbed.

     Powered by: