Peace and Conflict

Should We Fight Terror?

Terrorism is bad. OK. But how bad? And is it all bad? Or is it more like saying bacteria is bad — in other words, dependent on the situation?

First we need to look at what terrorism really is. Yes, it is the intent to cause terror, but it’s actual definition is widely accepted to be the intention of military groups to cause terror amongst a civil populace. Occasionally the definition is modified to include state military action against an enemy populace (eg: the RAF aircrew were referred to by the Germans in WW2 as “Terrorfliger” or terror flyers). However, when looked at analytically, terrorism is merely a means to an end, a weapon in conflict; usually (but not invariably) employed by small groups against a vastly more powerful foe — as a last or only method of attack.

Therefore, anyone faced with terrorism is seemingly justified in fighting it with all means at their disposal — from direct military action, to financial action, to the passing of new legislation to prevent terrorism.

However, history also teaches us that definitions change, and that the ‘terrorists’ of the French Resistance are today seen as freedom fighters; just as the Afghan mujahideen have had their designation changed from ‘freedom fighters’ to ‘terrorists’. So are we justified in clamping down on terrorism per se, knowing full well that in the future terrorism might very well be a means we need to utilize in order to gain some justifiable end?

The JVP that now advocates the harshest measures against the Tamil separatist terrorists once relied on those self same terror tactics themselves. The terror tactics now being fought worldwide by the US and the UK were first put into action by the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) when they trained resistance groups in German-occupied Europe.

Today we see much legislation being passed worldwide in order to make it harder for terror groups to arm and finance themselves. Should such laws be supported by us? Is it not logical that one day we might very well need such freedom in order to overthrow a dictatorial regime? Shouldn’t we preserve some of our alternatives? Right now we’re handing over the powers of revolt to the state, and removing the possibilities of successful revolution in the future. It’s sort of like helping to outlaw union action. Should we really be doing this?