Saturday, January 01, 2005

One man's terrorist is another man's definitional nightmare...

I found this posted up at James Joyner's website.

Al Qaeda is engaged in a revolution against us. How can one see it any differently? His concept of 9/11 being an Islamist “shot heard round the world” seems dead on, as does his rhetoric describing calls for global Muslim mobilization.

What Americans need to realize is that there really is no such thing as terrorism; there are revolutions you support (freedom fighters) and those that you don’t (terrorists). But to label a person or a group “terrorist” is to say nothing more than that you disagree with their claims and their cause. For Alam to eschew the terrorist label when dealing with al Qaeda is quite accurate in actually quite helpful.

This is an interesting viewpoint. However, I must say that I don't agree with it. To simply state that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter is trite. Not that it is in any way universally untrue, there's some truth in it in some situations - but it isn't adequate by itself. Are we really to believe that al Qaeda and, say, the French Resistance are pretty much the same? Does the way in which they pursue their objectives not make a difference?

Questions of definition rarely produce satisfactory and conclusive answers and the argument over how to define terrorism, or even whether it is a concept worthy of definition, has been long, noisy and unending - the debate is covered well in Bruce Hoffman's Inside Terrorism and Walter Laqueur's The New Terrorism.


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