[Home]Anatoly Vorobey/Old talk

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AV: I still haven't got a response from you on this, so I'm writing it again here in case you missed me. If terrorism only applies to acts against civilians, then how come the U.S. government and the world media have referred to the Cole bombing and the attacks on U.S. troop barracks in Saudi Arabia terrorism?

Because the attacks were indiscriminate and anonymous, two qualities that are typical to terrorism and not typical to military attacks. Compared with this, Israeli military operations, and yes, this includes assasinations of terrorist leaders, are neither indiscriminate nor anonymous. If anyone wishes to retaliate, they know where to find the perpetrators.

Anatoly, while I agree that terrorism can be defined properly, I disagree that indiscriminate and anonymous acting should be part of that definition. Terrorists often discriminate (when they assassinate heads of state) and rarely act anonymously (because they want to further their cause). The recent attacks on the US are somewhat atypical in that regard. --AxelBoldt

Fair enough; let me rephrase. Terrorism works by propagating the feeling of terror inside the country as a whole; that is its purpose - to scare, to intimidate, to, well, terrorize. Organised military action, e.g. war between two states, obviously isn't terrorism; activities ordered by a state and carried out by its official agents (e.g. police or army) will rarely be characterised as terrorist acts; any other action which attempts to terrorize a whole society, usually by indiscriminate killing, might be characterised as terrorist activity, unless there's already an established pigeon-hole to file it into. So for instance a serial killer who kills many people is still not a terrorist, while those who tried to blow up the WTC in '93, with far less casualties are obviously terrorists. Does this look better? --AV
If we believe the British and the Americans, the Lockerbie bombing was ordered by the Libyan government and carried out by Libyan intelligence agents. If "activites ordered by a state and carried out by its official agents (e.g. police or army)" aren't terrorist attacks, then the Lockerbie bombing (presuming the British-U.S. explanantion for it) was not terrorism.

It was indiscriminate and meant to terrorize. See above.
Was the assasination of Zeevi indiscriminate and meant to terrorize? It certaintly wasn't indiscriminate. I wouldn't call Israel's assasination policy indiscriminate either, but it certaintly is meant to terrorize -- even if only to terrorize Palestinians into not attacking Israel. -- SJK

Here's a challenge for you, Anatoly: write down a definition for terrorism which clearly includes everything which is normally called terrorism, and clearly excludes everything which isn't. I bet you'll find you can't do it. -- SJK

I'm game, but first you do the same for the following words (selected randomly, really): "love", "homosexual", "country", and "science". I bet you won't be able to do it for any of them, which by your logic means that we shouldn't use these words on Wikipedia, right?

Again, absence of a rigorous and all-encompassing definition doesn't render a concept useless. --AV
No one is claiming that the meaning of words like "love", "homosexual", "country" or "science" is vague because they are used politically, I mean, certaintly they are vague, but no one has claimed that these words are vague because they are little more than political boo words for violent action (or political boo or yay words for anything else, for that matter). People have claimed that for the word 'terrorism'. The fact that the concept is not clearly defined does not in itself mean the concept is useless; but my argument is that the concept is useless because it is primarily a politicial value judgement, and a lack of a clear definition would be evidence for that. Regards, SJK.

It appears that the world terrorism, as commonly used applies to attacks on military targets also. Hence, by that definition (used by the U.S. government), the Government of Israel is a terrorist.

No, the analogy doesn't hold. As I wrote earlier, certainly there are borderline cases. And perhaps the two incidents you mentioned should be counted among them. They're said to be terrorist simply because of a common false dichotomy. I see no great harm in their being called terrorist, however, and I certainly don't see how this renders the concept unusable.

If tomorrow private American citizens will e.g. blow up an army base in Syria for political reasons, that will also be called a terrorist act in the papers, etc. On the other hand, if the US military does that, it won't be so called. There's a clear difference.

Secondly, even if only attacks on civilians are terrorism, government leaders aren't really civilians. They may not directly participate in military operations, but they order them and hence are responsible for them. So if terrorism is only attacks against civilians, then the assasination of Zeevi was not terrorism (let's ignore the question of whether Zeevi, as tourism minister, actually had that much to do with military decision-making).

First, no, let's not ignore that question. Zeevi wasn't in a position, under Israeli law, to order anything except tourism-related acitivities. Whether the prime minister listened to him on other occassions or not (and he didn't, really), the responsibility for military decisions rests with the prime minister and minister of defense.

Second, government leaders are civilians, even though they oversee the military. This is how it works in democratic countries.

Now if Zeevi was the prime minister of Israel, maybe there would be a point in what you're saiying; I'm not sure about it.

Or, you might insist that government leaders are civilians even though they are responsible indirectly for military action. In which case Israel is a terrorist, for many of the Palestinian leaders it has assasinated did not directly participate in attacks against Israel, they merely ordered them. So using your definition (terrorism excludes civlians) either the assasination of Zeevi wasn't terrorism, or Israel is a terrorist.

First of all, a state can't be a terrorist, it can engage in terrorist activities. Whether or not Israel, as a state, engages in terrorist activities is debatable, whether or not Palestinian groups engage in terrorist activities is not debatable. Next, Israel claimed that it only assasinated leaders who actually sent the terrorists into action and oversaw the execution of terrorist acts, not political leaders who may have okayed or ordered such actions. On the Israeli side this would correspond to an army general in charge of a military operation (even though, again, whether such operation is terrorist is debatable).

As I have said here, my point is not that Israel is or is not a terrorist, or that the assasination of Zeevi or of Palestinian leaders was or was not terrorism -- my point is that the word 'terrorist' has no real meaning: a terrorist is whoever you don't like, and other definitions of terrorism put forward are simply rationalizations. -- SJK

And I still disagree. To say that a terrorist is whoever you don't like is simply absurd. I don't like my uncle, but I'm not saying he's a terrorist. If you reflect on that example, I trust you'll see that at least some objective conditions are necessary before you call someone a terrorist - and in fact as I claim there's a perfectly adequate and widely used definition, or a set of definitions - and if they're sometimes blurry, so are virtually all of labels we use to call other humans. --AV

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Last edited November 14, 2001 11:10 pm by Anatoly Vorobey (diff)