Who are the Global Terrorists?

The following is an article from Noam Chomsky. It is an article looking at a wider definition of terrorism. It is part of a book from Ken Booth and Tim Dunne eds., Worlds in Collision: Terror and the Future of Global Order (Palgrave/Macmillan) (UK, May 2002; US, September 2002) and was reposted on the ZMagazine web site. You can see the original article at http://www.zmag.org/content/ForeignPolicy/chomskyglobeterr.cfm1.

Who are the Global Terrorists?
By Noam Chomsky,
May 19, 2002

After the atrocities of 11 September, the victim declared a "war on terrorism," targeting not just the suspected perpetrators, but the country in which they were located, and others charged with terrorism worldwide. President Bush pledged to "rid the world of evildoers" and "not let evil stand," echoing Ronald Reagan's denunciation of the "evil scourge of terrorism" in 1985 -- specifically, state-supported international terrorism, which had been declared to be the core issue of US foreign policy as his administration came into office.NOTE{_New York Times_, Oct. 18, 1985.} The focal points of the first war on terror were the Middle East and Central America, where Honduras was the major base for US operations. The military component of the re-declared war is led by Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Reagan's special representative to the Middle East; the diplomatic efforts at the UN by John Negroponte, Reagan's Ambassador to Honduras. Planning is largely in the hands of other leading figures of the Reagan-Bush (I) administrations.

The condemnations of terrorism are sound, but leave some questions unanswered. The first is: What do we mean by "terrorism"? Second: What is the proper response to the crime? Whatever the answer, it must at least satisfy a moral truism: If we propose some principle that is to be applied to antagonists, then we must agree -- in fact, strenuously insist -- that the principle apply to us as well. Those who do not rise even to this minimal level of integrity plainly cannot be taken seriously when they speak of right and wrong, good and evil.

The problem of definition is held to be vexing and complex. There are, however, proposals that seem straightforward, for example, in US Army manuals, which define terrorism as "the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature...through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear." NOTE{_US Army Operational Concept for Terrorism Counteraction_ (TRADOC Pamphlet No. 525-37), 1984.} That definition carries additional authority because of the timing: it was offered as the Reagan administration was intensifying its war on terrorism. The world has changed little enough so that these recent precedents should be instructive, even apart from the continuity of leadership from the first war on terrorism to its recent reincarnation.

The first war received strong endorsement. The UN General Assembly condemned international terrorism two months after Reagan's denunciation, again in much stronger and more explicit terms in 1987. NOTE{GA Res. 40/61, 9 Dec. 1985; Res. 42/159, 7 Dec. 1987.} Support was not unanimous, however. The 1987 resolution passed 153-2, Honduras abstaining. Explaining their negative vote, the US and Israel identified the fatal flaw: the statement that "nothing in the present resolution could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom, and independence, as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, of people forcibly deprived of that right..., particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation..." That was understood to apply to the struggle of the African National Congress against the Apartheid regime of South Africa (a US ally, while the ANC was officially labelled a "terrorist organization"); and to the Israeli military occupation, then in its 20th year, sustained by US military and diplomatic support in virtual international isolation. Presumably because of US opposition, the UN resolution against terrorism was ignored. NOTE{See my _Necessary Illusions_ (Boston: South End, 1989), chap. 4; my essay in Alex George, ed., _Western State Terrorism_ (Cambridge: Polity/Blackwell, 1991).}

Reagan's 1985 condemnation referred specifically to terrorism in the Middle East, selected as the lead story of 1985 in an AP poll. But for Secretary of State George Shultz, the administration moderate, the most "alarming" manifestation of "state-sponsored terrorism," a plague spread by "depraved opponents of civilization itself" in "a return to barbarism in the modern age," was frighteningly close to home. There is "a cancer, right here in our land mass," Shultz informed Congress, threatening to conquer the hemisphere in a "revolution without borders," a interesting fabrication exposed at once but regularly reiterated with appropriate shudders. NOTE{Shultz, "Terrorism: The Challenge to the Democracies," June 24, 1984 (State Dept. Current Policy No. 589); "Terrorism and the Modern World," Oct. 25, 1984 (State Department Current Policy No. 629). Shultz's congressional testimony, 1986, 1983, the former part of a major campaign to gain more funding for the contras; see Jack Spence and Eldon Kenworthy in Thomas Walker, ed., _Reagan versus the Sandinistas_ (Boulder, London: Westview, 1987).}

So severe was the threat that on Law Day (1 May) 1985, the President announced an embargo "in response to the emergency situation created by the Nicaraguan Government's aggressive activities in Central America." He also declared a national emergency, renewed annually, because "the policies and actions of the Government of Nicaragua constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

"The terrorists -- and the other states that aid and abet them -- serve as grim reminders that democracy is fragile and needs to be guarded with vigilance," Shultz warned. We must "cut [the Nicaraguan cancer] out," and not by gentle means: "Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table," Shultz declared, condemning those who advocate "utopian, legalistic means like outside mediation, the United Nations, and the World Court, while ignoring the power element of the equation." The US was exercising "the power element of the equation" with mercenary forces based in Honduras, under Negroponte's supervision, and successfully blocking the "utopian, legalistic means" pursued by the World Court and the Latin American Contadora nations -- as Washington continued to do until its terrorist wars were won. NOTE{Shultz, "Moral Principles and Strategic Interests," April 14, 1986 (State Department, Current Policy No. 820).}

Reagan's condemnation of the "evil scourge" was issued at a meeting in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who arrived to join in the call to extirpate the evil shortly after he had sent his bombers to attack Tunis, killing 75 people with smart bombs that tore them to shreds among other atrocities recorded by the prominent Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk on the scene. Washington cooperated by failing to warn its ally Tunisia that the bombers were on the way. Shultz informed Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir that Washington "had considerable sympathy for the Israeli action," but drew back when the Security Council unanimously denounced the bombing as an "act of armed aggression" (US abstaining).NOTE{_NYT_, Oct. 17, 18; Kapeliouk, _Yediot Ahronot_, Nov. 15, 1985. Foreknowledge, _Los Angeles Times_, Oct. 3; Geoffrey Jansen, _Middle East International_, Oct 11, 1985. Bernard Gwertzman, _NYT_, Oct. 2, 7, 1985.}

A second candidate for most extreme act of Mideast international terrorism in the peak year of 1985 is a car-bombing in Beirut on March 8 that killed 80 people and wounded 256. The bomb was placed outside a Mosque, timed to explode when worshippers left. "About 250 girls and women in flowing black chadors, pouring out of Friday prayers at the Imam Rida Mosque, took the brunt of the blast," Nora Boustany reported. The bomb also "burned babies in their beds," killed children "as they walked home from the mosque," and "devastated the main street of the densely populated" West Beirut suburb. The target was a Shi'ite leader accused of complicity in terrorism, but he escaped. The crime was organized by the CIA and its Saudi clients with the assistance of British intelligence. NOTE{Boustany, _Washington Post Weekly_, March 14, 1988; Bob Woodward, _Veil_ (Simon & Schuster, 1987, 396f.).}

The only other competitor for the prize is the "Iron Fist" operations that Peres directed in March in occupied Lebanon, reaching new depths of "calculated brutality and arbitrary murder," a Western diplomat familiar with the area observed, as Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shelled villages, carted off the male population, killed dozens of villagers in addition to many massacred by the IDF's paramilitary associates, shelled hospitals and took patients away for "interrogation," along with numerous other atrocities. NOTE{_Guardian_, March 6, 1985. For details and sources, see my "Middle East Terrorism and the American Ideological System," in _Pirates and Emperors_ (New York: Claremont 1986; Montreal: Black Rose, 1988), reprinted in Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds., _Blaming the Victims_ (London: Verso, 1988).} The IDF high command described the targets as "terrorist villagers." The operations against them must continue, the military correspondent of the _Jerusalem Post_ (Hirsh Goodman) added, because the IDF must "maintain order and security" in occupied Lebanon despite "the price the inhabitants will have to pay."

Like Israel's invasion of Lebanon 3 years earlier, leaving some 18,000 killed, these actions and others in Lebanon were not undertaken in self-defense but rather for political ends, as recognized at once in Israel. The same was true, almost entirely, of those that followed, up to Peres's murderous invasion of 1996. But all relied crucially on US military and diplomatic support. Accordingly, they too do not enter the annals of international terrorism.

In brief, there was nothing odd about the proclamations of the leading co-conspirators in Mideast international terrorism, which therefore passed without comment at the peak moment of horror at the "return to barbarism."

The well-remembered prize-winner for 1985 is the hijacking of the _Achille Lauro_ and brutal murder of a passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, doubtless a vile terrrorist act, and surely not justified by the claim that it was in retaliation for the far worse Tunis atrocities and a pre-emptive effort to deter others. Adopting moral truisms, the same holds of our own acts of retaliation or pre-emption.

Evidently, we have to qualify the definition of "terrorism" given in official sources: the term applies only to terrorism against _us_, not the terrorism we carry out against _them_. The practice is conventional, even among the most extreme mass murderers: the Nazis were protecting the population from terrorist partisans directed from abroad, while the Japanese were laboring selflessly to create an "earthly paradise" as they fought off the "Chinese bandits" terrorizing the peaceful people of Manchuria and their legitimate government. Exceptions would be hard to find.

The same convention applies to the war to exterminate the Nicaraguan cancer. On Law Day 1984, President Reagan proclaimed that without law there can be only "chaos and disorder." The day before, he had announced that the US would disregard the proceedings of the International Court of Justice, which went on to condemn his administration for its "unlawful use of force," ordering it to terminate these international terrorist crimes and pay substantial reparations to Nicaragua (June 1986). The Court decision was dismissed with contempt, as was a subsequent Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law (vetoed by the US) and repeated General Assembly resolutions (US and Israel opposed, in one case joined by El Salvador).

As the Court decision was announced, Congress substantially increased funding for the mercenary forces engaged in "the unlawful use of force." Shortly after, the US command directed them to attack "soft targets" -- undefended civilian targets -- and to avoid combat with the Nicaraguan army, as they could do, thanks to US control of the skies and the sophisticated communication equipment provided to the terrorist forces. The tactic was considered reasonable by prominent commentators as long as it satisfied "the test of cost-benefit analysis," an analysis of "the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that democracy will emerge at the other end" -- "democracy" as Western elites understand the term, an interpretation illustrated graphically in the region. NOTE{For details, see my _Culture of Terrorism_ (Boston: South End, 1988), 77f.}

State Department Legal Advisor Abraham Sofaer explained why the US was entitled to reject ICJ jurisdiction. In earlier years, most members of the UN "were aligned with the U