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International Terrorism and the Logic of Terror


By Dr.Chaiwat Satha-Anand
Peace Information Center, Faculty of Political Science
Thammasat University


On August 7, 1998 two bombs exploded at the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 263 people and wounded approximately 4,000.

Two weeks later , on August 20, the US navy launched 75 to 80 Tomahawk cruise missiles from its ships in the Arabian and the Red Sea at targets the American government believes to have been a chemical weapons plant somewhere Northeast of Khartoum, Sudan and a training camp for terrorists 150 Km. Southeast of Kabul, Afghanistan. Thirty people were reported killed by these missiles.

Soon after the attacks, US President Bill Clinton said they were not aimed against Islam, but at "fanatics and killers who wrap murder in the cloak of righteousness".

Supporters of the attack include Newt Gingrich, the Republican House Speaker, who said the US "did exactly the right thing", traditional allies such as Chancellor Kohl of Germany, and some 80% of the Americans public surveyed by ABC television network immediately after the news of the attacks became public.

There were 304 acts of international terrorism in 1997, leaving 221 dead and 693 injured. Most of the casualties were from the Middle East and Asia.

Among the victims of terrorism last year, 7 who died and 21 who were injured were Americans. Approximately, one-third of the attacks, or 123 incidents, were against US targets. Of these attacks, 87% involved bombs .

Perhaps, as a result, the US formulated a three-part counter-terrorist policy: make no concessions to terrorists, bring terrorists to justice, and isolate and apply pressure on governments which are thought to sponsor of terrorism.

In this sense, the US is both a target of terrorism and a kind of global police/judge who is expected by some to gather information and then judge and punish terrorists whose actions undermine world peace and jeopardise American interests, broadly defined.

But elsewhere, from Pakistan to Malaysia, especially in the Muslim world, these missile attacks were condemned as "violation of territorial integrity" and "dangerous" to humankind. They were carried out because of American arrogance, its hegemonic position, its animosity towards Muslims and its possession of highly destructive weapons.

It is my contention that terrorism in all forms cannot be condoned because it is an act designed to realize some political goals by sacrificing the lives of innocents. To justify terrorism is to accept that innocent lives are expendable for the sake of the terrorists' "higher cause".

Although, according to one analyst, there are as many as 109 different definitions of terrorism provided by various writers from 1936 to 1981, its most basic feature is the severing of link between the target of violence and the reason for violence.

Under the shadow of terrorism, no one is safe anywhere. Without warning and not knowing why, anyone, young or old, male or female, could lose his/her life simply because he/she happens to be in a place at a time when a terrorist's bomb explodes.

It threatens the power of the state precisely because it replaces the sense of security with fear, and thereby undermines a most sacred duty the state everywhere owe their citizens: to provide safety to all.

But is it justifiable for the state to respond with violence such as these missile attacks?

I would argue that it is difficult to justify such attacks on the grounds that, similar to terrorism, it violates a sovereign stateís territorial rights and the rights to life of the innocents.

To launch Tomahawk missiles 4,000 km from across the sea to attack another country certainly violates some states' airspace and others' territorial integrity. The only justification for such an attack is the information that these states are sponsors of terrorism and so their rights can be ignored.

Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, has definded seven governments as state sponsors of terrorism: those of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. With the Taleban coming to power in Afghanistan, the list can certainly be extended from the US governmentís perspective.

Despite their accuracy, the destructive power of missiles is indiscriminate. Innocent lives are again sacrificed, no matter how small in number, for the sake of punishing the terrorists.

Viewing the event from the perspective of a Sudanese or an Afghan, his/her life is not safe because his/her sense of security is lost under the hi-tech shadow of missile attacks from afar at the hands of the world's only remaining super power.

In this sense, can these 30 people who were killed in the attacks be considered victims of another form of terrorism: state terrorism?

Attacking a factory in Sudan or a camp in Afghanistan is considered a "pre-emptive strike" by the US government. But it is important to ask if, as a result of these attacks, the lives of Americans and others are better protected.

It seems obvious that these attacks could not put an end to terrorism since it is not only the material capability that is important to an act of terror but also a strong sense of determination, believing in the justice of the cause, that makes terrorism possible. As a matter of fact, it is this willingness to die for a cause that makes modern terrorism so very dangerous.

It is highly doubtful if these missile attacks could ever undermine the terrorists' determination to carry out their actions. If anything, lives of ordinary Americans and other nationalities are even more threatened given the heightened anger and hatred of the terrorists and those related to them who were punished by the attacks.

With tightened security measures, a remarkable loss of trust in other human beings, and a life lived in fear, any sense of security among Americans and others is severely compromised The world seems acutely more dangerous to most of us all of a sudden.

Terrorism and violent responses to it are normally dangerous because the logic of terror that governs a pattern of behavior resulting from the two sides' actions dictates an escalation of violence which, in turn, endangers the normality of life.

To weaken the logic of terror it is perhaps wise to heed Gandhi's admonition against retribution.

Gandhi once commented on the use of violence and violent response that, an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

The notion of blindness here is both physical and metaphorical. At the metaphorical level, the acceptance of the logic of terror leads to at least three kinds of blindness.

First, violence prevent most parties from seeing the genuine causes of grievances which gave rise to the use of terrorism in the first place as a means to achieve some political goals. The escalation of violence robs the ability of conflicting parties to appreciate the causes and chain of events that result in terrorism and its responses.

Second, users of violence are blind to the rights of innocents to life and freedom from fear. They become pawns in the chess game of violence governed by the logic of terror. Pawns are always dispensable.

Third, caught in the logic of terror, the parties involved are blind to non-violent alternatives in solving problems. These non-violent alternatives are at times informed by age-old wisdom that teaches humanity to respect the rights to life, as evident in the first precept of Buddhist, the Christian commandment not to kill and the following verse from the Koran:

And if anyone saved a life,
It would be as if he saved
The life of the whole people (V: 32)












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