Saturday, November 12, 2005

Terrorists evil - but okay to torture them?

Abu Ghraib 'Scream'With reference to Ami's recent post on the Jordanian terrorist attacks, I commend this reiforcement of the lack of justification there is for terrorism. But it raises a question in my mind which worries if we're becoming jaded by the term "terrorism". I worry about Ami's discussion of "root causes", as if terrorism has a specific source that can be traced to illness within the perpetrators.

When Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (of New York) spoke at the Adelaide festival of ideas he was challenged by a direct question. "Does the Quran contain any verses that are twisted to seem like incitement to terrorism, no matter how obscure these might be?" I really liked his answer, which addressed the real question rather than getting upset at the slight to the holy book of his faith. He inarguably demonstrated the sad fact that X% of people are prepared to end their life at any given time for varying reasons, and if offered some kind of reward for their family or a promise that they'd be remembered in a positive light would be doubly willing to do so. This might seem obvious, but what we can gain from it is that it's illogical to pretend terrorism starts as an illness which doesn't exist in other societies or is attached to some religion, ethnicity or nationality. I'd suggest that terrorists are born out of a certain unhappy/negative environment and lack of education/understanding rather than something inherently "evil" inside them or their society.

And there is a second aspect to consider, following on from my post about the recent Bali bombings... At the back of my mind I'm questioning if the term "terrorism" is unhelpful if it excludes other instances of indiscriminate violence or killings, or other targeted atrocities perpetrated not by terrorists but by national defence forces with the seal of approval from their leaders? It seems that because these often cannot be named under a single umbrella term like "terrorism" that it can become difficult for people to condemn them, especially as news of these actions is sometimes filtered through a supportive media (unlike the case with the majority of terrorist attacks - though Al Jazeera and other media outlets may be an exception).

USA terroristNotably, many people have taken the opposite tack and used the word terrorist to name these other instances of violence and killing I mentioned. But the term ends up sounding inappropriate and seems to backfire on the groups, making them appear too radical and too fringe to be worth listening to.

Your thoughts?

Image (top) derived for Desert Pea from The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893, and images of the Abu Ghraib tortures from 2003-2005. Image (bottom) courtesy of Manila Indymedia
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Blogger Anthony said...

That's very thought-provoking. It's something I want to give some thought to. I do believe that people jump to use the term 'terrorist' too quickly. I am also concerned when the word is used to describe people with unusual, uncommon views. Someone who attempts to understand where terrorists are coming from, rather than simply labelling them as 'evil', is at risk of being labelled a terrorist and suffering for it.

November 12, 2005 4:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The recent Bali bombing.
Most of the Indonesian, they feel lucky if they can have a good meal once a day. A good meal, that is rice and salted fish cost about 4000 Rupiah, is equivalent to 40 Cents US. If somebody comes to poor Indonesian and offer them $Usd 100- USd 200, to strap a bomb and walk ta a restaurant where a shot of liquor cost 15,000 or 20,000 rupiah and detonate the bomb , they will do it happily. At least their family will survive with 1 or two million rupiah. That is about more for a year the family will have food to eat. Is this terrorism, or the side effect of kapitalism.

November 13, 2005 1:40 pm  
Blogger Lisa said...

Anon, I think you are illustrating the point the Imam made.

All the same, I just read a very interesting article which looks specifically at the muslims living in an adopted Western country. It makes the case that terrorism (of the suicide bomber type) stems from their lack of ability to deal with struggles there (which go beyond what I described as "a certain unhappy/negative environment and lack of education/understanding").

To be blogged... A pity I didn't read it in time for this post.

November 14, 2005 3:25 pm  
Blogger Dima said...

Wow, that's a huge issue to talk about. Right now I just wanted, to bring up another point to think about in this regard: isn't the term 'terrorism' being abused these days? I mean, different people/groups put differnet meaning into the word. If few decades ago by saying 'terrorism' you most probably referred to a single meaning, today you have to clarify whethere you mean "suicide bombing", "state terror", "cultural terror", etc. - any kind of violent behavior you can think of. Take a look at the dabate in Wikipedia over the term...

In my eyes, the quesiton raising is if it not driving the attention from the problem itself to semantics? Or we cannot treat/discuss the problem untill we know how to define it?

Also, I didn't really read Ami's post, but even approach suggested by the anonymous's comment here suggests that there is a root cause to Bali terrorism - poverty... or I am missing something?

November 15, 2005 2:52 am  
Blogger Lisa said...

These are important points you raise, Dima.

What Ami wrote was "The root causes of terror, like the root causes of genocide and similar crimes, are the megalomania and cruelty of the perpetrators and the forgiving or indifferent attitude of everyone else" which I think is completely fair to say, but I worried about it because it started to seem too simplistic, perhaps an incomplete definition. And in the Israeli-Palestinian, that definition completely leaves out the fact that it really does appear to be driven at times by the need for retaliation.

As you mentioned, Dima, it's a huge issue and I think my blog post struggled to articulate my thoughts so there will be another one coming.

November 15, 2005 10:18 am  

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