Redefining Terrorism

Terrorism, a policy that permits mighty nations to contain 'enemies', has become a term to brand an entire people.

During my stay in one of the princely states of erstwhile British India—Hyderabad, I planned to buy a television set. I asked a sales boy, barely 16, in one of the biggest shopping malls of the city to demonstrate some Television sets as I had to buy one. Before he could get the needful done, he inquired about our identity. My two friends who were accompanying me said that all of us are from Kashmir. The little chap hurled a one-liner. 'Kashmir mein sab atankwadi hain’, every Kashmiri is a terrorist. How come? I retorted. Scratching his head, he said, "Aaj tak kehta hai', Aaj Tak- an Indian Hindi news, channel says. We didn't buy any TV set from that shop, however, the Magic Bullet theory, that mass media has a direct, immediate and powerful effect on its audiences got confirmed. We left the TV and bought the theory instead.

The world wide perception of 'Terrorism' is almost the same. Ask a kid or a toddler who has just finished its cradle ride about who is a Terrorist? The response won't be any different. Bullet theory comes into play, and kids make good copycats. Such is the impact of media. People generally imitate and consider true everything media comes out with. Human nature as they say it. Talk of terrorism and the majority of people around the world tend to think about unshaven faces and turbaned burly men, shouldering AK-47. Names like, Osama-Bin-Laden, Ayman-al-Zawahri, start flashing at the mind. Almost 90% of the audience, says Noam Chomsky, blindly agree on the media material and hence are somewhat akin to the 'bewildered herd’ that is content with grazing only without actually knowing the shepherd who holds the beating stick to steer the herd anywhere he wishes.

'Terrorism' by definition means violent force applied for political purposes. It is somewhat becoming a defining word of this century. Early 1990's witnessed the death of cold war and with this an upsurge of the idea of free will and liberation expressed itself in the form of freedom movements across the globe. However, years later, the same liberation movements eclipsed and faced new challenges. Simply put, they carried a risk of being put under the rubrics of terrorism. And the same continues till date.

A discussion struck with a supporter of democracy on my blog, who strongly opposed any sort of violent activities and wanted Pakistan discontinue pushing terrorism across her borders. I sought the examples of terrorism. They came in a bundle. ETA attacks in Spain, Chechnya, Palestine, LTTE, Taliban. And Kashmir, of course. American independence struggle against Great Britain? Indian Freedom movement, French revolution? I wanted to add to the count but there was a complete silence on the other side.

Anti-colonial and anti- racist struggles, according to Michael Schubert, are legally equivalent to war. And by the same canon, Schubert argues, guerrillas or militants are equal to soldiers in such conflicts. "Most of what is now called terrorism is, in fact, civil war. Such wars are inevitable when disputes within the nation cannot be solved through negotiation, elections or some other peaceful means..." writes Gregory Clark. Digging up the historical roots of the word 'terrorism', it can be traced to the Greek historian and thinker, Xenophone (431-350 B.C), who spoke of fighting against enemy population and for this reason 'terrorism' was first envisaged as something legitimately committed against the people by the state or a similar authority.

However, at present, the situation is reverse. States who keep on unleashing their might on the enemy and native population are allowed to keep the tag of 'true democracies'. And those, who fight against these states, are branded as "Terrorists". The term 'terrorism' lost its bite when U.S fired barrage of devastating bombs on Panama, Nicaragua, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Vietnam, Somalia, Algeria, Iraq and Afghanistan- apart from the sundry CIA led assassination attempts carried on several adversaries and the 'bunker regimes' and 'ad hoc armies' it orchestrated and supported. The term disappeared immediately when South Africa, a U.S ally in the African continent, killed as many as 1.5 million innocent Namibians. Ethiopian ethnic cleansing and brutality against Eritrea and Somalia was conveniently termed as a "crackdown on rebels". India too has labeled the same to its ‘Integral Part’. The meaning of the word terrorism needed to be re-understood when U.S and Israeli planes pounded Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad.

Surprisingly, the expression 'Terrorism' comes into play only when the oppressed people strike at their oppressors. Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas and Kashmir’s guerrillas are the examples. Iraq was certified as a "monster" ready to absorb the whole of Middle East. And now it's the turn of Iran. Sitting somewhere in Tehran, Ahmadenejad might push the world into third Great War! Remember Osama Bin Laden, who once used to be the sweetheart of U.S and its allies. Before the disintegration of U.S.S.R, Osama spearheaded the just cause of Afghan Liberation, and was counted among the true friends and reliable Mujahedeen. Time changed and U.S hounds in Afghanistan are relentlessly chasing the same person and the bounty on his head has been already elevated to U.S $40 million.

September 11was by all means a shocking event, but what of the official U.S-British reaction to it. The announcement by Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of British Defense Staff, that U.S and Britain would continue to pound Afghanistan "until they get their leadership changed". Remember Taliban, who did ask for evidences for 9/11, but the U.S authority dismissed the request. The U.S at the same time also flatly refused to even consider offers of extradition of Mr. Bin Laden to any Muslim country.

Branding those who challenge the authority as terrorists is not a new phenomenon. It is a matter of routine for states to brand outlaws and dissidents as terrorists, even when some of the dissidents didn't commit any acts of violence. The Nazi Third Reich called its dissenters terrorists. Mussolini branded his native opponents as terrorists. To the British, the Indian freedom movement was terrorism. And to the apartheid regime in South Africa, those who fought for the equality of all human beings were terrorists.

One more thing to be deliberated upon is the spurt in the bloody attacks and the subsequent blame game. Britain has bombed itself in the past and blamed IRA for it, while the U.S planned to attack itself in 1962 with operation Northwoods. Israel has its Lavon affair. The Fuhrer burnt the Reichstag govt. building and blamed it on terrorists. Nero burnt Rome and essentially did the same; blamed terrorists. And if Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and sundry conspiracy theorists are to be believed, U.S staged sept.11 attacks itself and shifted the blame where it had to be shifted. Mighty states like U.S define terrorism as it suits them. They forward it to their media and media propagates it.

'Throwing bombs is bad and dropping bombs is good', is fully demonstrated. And all this has brought the world to a point of massive crisis.

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About M. Umar Baba

Mohammad Umar Baba is a Kashmir-based Journalist and blogger and was born in Srinagar in 1982. He has been covering conflict, politics, and human rights in the region for the past several years and can be reached at

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