What is Terrorism?
December 2001 by Asher Intrater
In light of recent claims that Israeli settlements on the West Bank are acts of terrorism, or that Ariel Sharon is a terrorist, it would be good for us to try to arrive at a simple definition of just what terrorism is.
Terrorism: acts of violence purposely targeted at innocent civilians for the purpose of gaining power or influence through widespread intimidation.
Terrorism is usually preceded by indoctrination in order to "demonize" the people who are about to be attacked and to justify those who are doing the attack. It is often performed by groups who have no legal basis of authority.
I. Purposeful Targeting
In Israel last year more people were killed in car accidents than terrorist acts. However, accidents are not purposefully planned and therefore do not reflect an evil intention in the heart of the person who did it. There is grief at car accidents, but there is not a deep repulsion at the hideous evil that caused the act. It is the degree of hatred behind terrorism that makes it so horrible.
Earlier this year five Palestinian children were killed when they kicked an undetonated Israeli explosive. This horrible event brought an immediate apology by the Israeli government. Investigation will probably show that the army was negligent in leaving the explosive so close to a Palestinian school area. But no one who knows Israeli sentiment could entertain the thought that innocent children were purposely targeted.
II. Innocent Civilians
In the U.S. attacks against El Kaida, many civilians will unfortunately be killed. The U.S. forces must exercise restraint to keep the number of innocent civilians injured as low as possible. One of the principles of the Israeli army is "tohar haneshek", which means "weapon purity". The idea here is not the cleaning of the rifle barrel, but making sure that an army weapon is never used against innocent civilians.
Baruch Goldstein's shooting and murder of innocent Arab Muslims at the mosque in Hebron would definitely be considered an act of terrorism. The Israeli government's hunting down and killing of the leaders of the Hamas and Jihad terrorist rings, who themselves are guilty of murder, could not be considered an act of terror any more than the capture or killing of Bin Laden by U.S. or British commando forces.
III. To Gain Power or Influence
Terrorism usually has a political or religious goal. Bin Laden is after the destruction of Western society. Hamas and Hizbollah are out to destroy the Zionist enemy. A jealous husband, who kills his wife's supposed lover, is guilty of murder, but that is not an act of terrorism, because there is no religious influence or political power being leveraged. A husband beating his wife to maintain control over her is quite similar to terrorism, but not technically the same.
The plane hijackings of the 70s and 80s were designed to put political pressure on certain nations. Terror is committed by tyrants, such as Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein, for the purpose of strengthening their political control of the country. The many instances of Islamic terror and the few instances of orthodox Jewish terror both have obvious religious goals behind them.
IV. Mass Intimidation
Terrorism is a kind of psychological warfare. The goal of the terrorist attack is not so much on the victims themselves, but on the people who will hear about the event afterwards. Terrorism therefore is much enhanced by modern mass media.
The power of terrorism is its ability to create fear in a large number of people. It accomplishes its goals by spreading intimidation through mass psychology. Therefore terrorist attacks are often today accompanied by video or radio broadcasts with exaggerated claims of destruction. Those claims may have little connection to the actual capability of the group, but the intimidating words are part of the terrorism itself.
V. Illegal Authority
Terrorist groups usually start without any constitutional or duly-elected basis of authority. The terrorism is to gain power and influence through illegal means. After a reign of terror these groups are often able to gain control of the government institutions. Hitler started with terrorism and eventually was elected. The same was true of certain communist regimes. Arafat started as a terrorist without governmental authority, but now has been elected as chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
With an unauthorized group it is difficult to hold someone accountable. Whom do you punish? Whom do you attack? If a duly authorized government agency commits an atrocity against another nation, it could be considered an act of war. The Syrian government, although it supports Hizbollah, maintains that it is not responsible for its actions. The Palestinian Authority maintains that it is not responsible for the terrorist acts of Hamas and Jihad.
In the more advanced stage where a government directly holds power through terrorist acts on its own people, that government should be considered renegade, and worthy of destruction.
Since human beings have a certain degree of God-given moral conscience, terrorist acts would be naturally abhorrent to the normal person. Therefore brainwashing must take place to prepare the ground for the terrorist to reverse his moral human instinct. Timothy McVeigh was indoctrinated in libertarian extremism. The Germans were brainwashed that the Aryan race was superior, and that the Jews were a demonic race. Stalin was able to seize power and reign through terror because of Marxist propaganda. Yigal Amir, who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, was brainwashed by ultra-orthodox rabbinic teachings and by right-wing political extremism. Today millions of Muslims have been indoctrinated that Jews are evil, that Palestine is holy land to Islam, and that America and Israel are manifestations of Satan.
Political propaganda or religious indoctrination is part of the terrorist process. This brainwashing creates a "demonized" image of the people who are potential victims, and a heroic image of the terrorist himself. Thus he justifies his own act of murder and glorifies himself in the eyes of his friends. Hamas and Jihad raise money to support the families of suicide terrorists, so that the terrorist can feel he is doing an heroic act to help his destitute family members.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.
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