Monday, June 26, 2006

On terror & terrorists

The following is an AIM conversation between myself and LkwdGuy.
(Jameel, please don't kill me)

Shtender: You there?
LkwdGuy: Yeah, what's up?
Shtender: I'm considering posting something very controversial regarding the terrible story of the the attack on the army base in Israel.
LkwdGuy: What do you want to say?
Shtender: I'm thinking of writing that the attackers cannot be called terrorists, because they attacked an army base, not civilians, and that's called war. Sure, they are the enemy, but not terrorists. Terrorists attack civilians.
LkwdGuy: If they kidnapped and God forbid, if they kill him, they are terrorists. That's not part of war.
Shtender: Kidnapping is another word for a POW. If they harm him they may be breaking the Geneva Convention, but terrorist is still the wrong word.
LkwdGuy: No it's not. The point is to create terror through murder.
Shtender: A terrorist is someone who attacks civilians to create terror in the population so as to achieve a political objective.
LkwdGuy: Where did you get that definition? If they capture a soldier and then dismember him limb from limb on video, they are terrorists.
Shtender: By your logic the IDF are terrorists.
LkwdGuy: How does that follow?
Shtender: The IDF scares the population. They break the sound barrier over civilian areas and scare everyone to achieve an objective.
LkwdGuy: They don't kill people to instill fear.
Shtender: Who said they have to kill? Fear is fear. Terror is terror.
LkwdGuy: That's fine, I would have no issues with Hamas making loud noises.
Shtender: The point is not what you have issues with, but how you define a terrorist. What's the difference between a terrorist and a soldier? In my view, a terrorist is someone who attacks civilians to achieve a political goal.
LkwdGuy: Is making loud noises considered an attack?
Shtender: No, but you defined terror as instilling fear in a population, not an attack. The IDF scares people.
LkwdGuy: So do teachers.
Shtender: Hey, it's on you to draw the line in your definition, not me.
LkwdGuy: If they break the conventions of warfare with the intent of achieving political goals, they are terrorists. And don't tell me that Israel also does, because while I might agree that they sometimes do, they are doing it for security, not political reasons.
Shtender: Were the Vietnamese terrorists? How about the Japanese in WWII? No, they were just plain lowlife soldiers.
LkwdGuy: It's silly to argue about what label to give them. The word has no technical meaning. It can be loosely or strictly applied and it makes no difference.
Shtender: Aha! It's a buzzword, and it has alot of purpose. It's meant to rile up people and to delegitimize the attackers, which is fine, but in this case I think it's wrongly applied. As I said, it would be a very controversial post.
LkwdGuy: The attackers are not legitimate because they are part of a terrorist organ. If you want to argue that these members (by their own admission) of a terrorist group are not, in this specific instance, acting as terrorists and the only reason everyone is calling them that is to delegitimize them, be my guest, But I don't think that's a very compelling argument. Your point here is a very technical nitpick on word usage. It's not a correct commentary about what is actually going on there. And I would argue that the only reason people make your argument is to delegitimize what happens there daily.
Shtender: Now you're making a different argument. Either way, word usage is what's in question here. This kind of word usage has a very specific purpose, and calling them terrorists minimizes the effect when you actually have real terrorist attacks.
LkwdGuy: No it doesn't. This was a terrorist attack in my opinion.
Shtender: Yes it does! This was a military operation. They attacked soldiers. And how does this delegitimize what happens there daily? These kinds of attacks are not the norm. If you would just say that you call them terrorists because they belong to a terrorist organization, and stop there you might have an argument.
LkwdGuy: If you believe in moral equivalence between the two sides, then you are right. But no sensible person believes that. We understand that one side is a ruthless murderous group of people that make no differentiation between soldiers and women and children. If in this specific case they targeted soldiers, that does not make them any more legitimate. You are making a differentiation that they themselves would disagree with.
Shtender: Okay, I can buy that. Like I said, they are part of a terrorist organization. Fine. But your definition of terrorist is still wrong.
LkwdGuy: The definition is irrelevant.
Shtender: That's where you're wrong, it is not irrelevant at all. Throwing the terrorist word around lessens the effect necessary when there actually is a terrorist attack.
LkwdGuy: The only reason to make that argument is to give legitimacy to murderers. Once we establish that they don't care about killing babies for their cause, they are 100% terrorists. To point out that on a very technical level, the current attack is not terror only serves to legitimize what they did, when you and I both agree that this attack, viewed through the lens of the history of this group, is not part of war, but part of terror.
Shtender: They have a political objective. They do not have a problem using terror, and they usually do, and yes, they're scumbags. However, this attack was not a terrorist attack and I think if you call it that, you show that anytime you are attacked you run to use the terrorist buzzword to rile everyone up against the attackers, and that lessens the effect when there is an actual terrorist attack. Does this legitimize the attack? Perhaps. But maybe it IS a legitimate military attack. Were the Haganah terrorists? I don't think so, they attacked military objectives. LkwdGuy: You are arguing that this attack should be looked at by itself and that based on looking at it that way, it doesn't fit the definition of terror. I would respond that it makes no sense to judge them based on one case. If you look at the stated objectives of Hamas, and the means that they consistently employ to achieve those objectives you would understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are terrorists, regardless of whether or not the current attack fits a technical definition. To call them terrorists does not cheapen the word, because they are terrorists even if this attack does not fit the definition. They don't claim to exclusively target military objectives (as the Haganah did).
Shtender: Okay, fine. But now you are making an entirely different argument. I think I'll post this whole AIM conversation on Hayom.