by Stephen Gowans
In a December 5 paean to Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Globe and Mail journalist Paul Koring
writes, Sharon "has been a fighter since the age of 14, when he first
joined the Haganah, an underground military group that opposed British
If your eyes pass over the sentence
quickly, nothing seems amiss. But pause for a second, and ask yourself
this: How is Haganah, "an underground military group that opposed
British rule," different in principle from Hamas, the Palestinian
military group that opposes Israeli rule? And why is Haganah, a
terrorist group, called an underground military group, when Hamas, a
terrorist group, is called a terrorist group?
Here’s another question: Why is
Sharon, once a member of a terrorist group fighting British rule, called
a "fighter," while Osama Bahar and Nabil Halabiyeh, the two Palestinians
who blew themselves up and took 15 others with them, are called
"terrorists"? Both belonged to terrorist groups, yet Sharon is admired
as a "fighter" while Bahar and Halabiyeh are reviled as terrorists.
Shouldn’t all three be reviled as terrorists?
The contras, the mujahadeen, the KLA,
and the KLA offshoot in Macedonia, the NLA, are called freedom fighters,
rebels, an underground military group, never terrorists -- until they
change sides. Whether terrorist or rebel depends on who the target is.
The KLA was once a terrorist
organization in the eyes of the US State Department, until it became one
of Washington’s principle tools in ousting former Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic. Then it became a band of fighters, defending itself
against the Serbs (who, themselves, had been made-over from the vigorous
antifascists they are into the Nazis they never were.)
The mujahadeen, Washington’s tool to
bog the Soviet Union down in a military quagmire, were freedom fighters.
The mujahadeen were responsible for expunging the pre-Taliban days that
Laura Bush now waxes lyrical about. Some former mujahadeen are now
decried for sponsoring terrorism (the Taliban), while others are admired
as liberators (the Northern Alliance.) Yet, whether Taliban or Northen
Alliance, their tactics are the same. The difference is the interests
Osama bin Laden, elevated to the
status of master terrorist, was not always so. He too was once admired
as a "freedom fighter." And yet his methods have survived his
transformation from hero to goat. Only his targets have changed.
Writer William Blum says a terrorist
is anyone who has a bomb but not an airforce, emphasizing that those who
are called terrorists use the same methods as airforces, but don't have
the sanction of the state. Kill others with a bomb strapped to your
chest in a suicide attack and you’re a terrorist. Kill others with a
bomb dropped from 30,000 feet and you’re a fighter in the war against
Political scientist C Douglas Lummis
puts it this way: "It is a scandal in contemporary international
law...that while the wanton destruction of towns, cities and villages is
a war crime of long standing, the bombing of cities from airplanes goes
not only unpunished but virtually unaccused. Air bombardment is state
terrorism, the terrorism of the rich. It has burned up and blasted apart
more innocents in the past six decades than have all the anti-state
terrorists who ever lived."
Listen to Haji Khan, who fled
Kandahar, which has been subjected to "around-the-clock bombing raids
designed to shatter the nerves and morale of the people," as The Globe
and Mail reported on December 4. "It was like being inside a nightmare.
Everyone was crying. There were dead people everywhere. It never ends.
It was boom, boom, boom, boom, and then boom again." This is state
terrorism, carried out under the direction of the state terrorist
extraordinaire, George W. Bush. Bush orders the wanton destruction of
towns, cities and villages, oversees a military that commits war crimes
against Taliban prisoners at a fortress outside of Mazar-i-Sharif, and
is hailed in fluff pieces as having the moral courage to rid the world
of the scourge of evildoers, a task that, if truly carried out, would
engender a host of self-referential paradoxes.
But while there’s a double standard
in excusing regular military forces for their terrorism, there’s another
double standard: Who’s denounced as a "terrorist," and who’s admired as
a "fighter," depends entirely on whether the target is friend or foe,
apart from the issue of whether the terror is state-sanctioned or not.
The only way to avoid the
double-standard is to recall Margaret Thatcher’s, "terrorism is
terrorism is terrorism." In that vein, let me begin: Sharon is a
terrorist. He was then. He is today. Call him a fighter, but he’s still
a terrorist, no different in the days he was a member of Haganah, than
Osama Bahar and Nabil Halabiyeh were last Saturday as members of Hamas;
no different today, as a state terrorist, than he was at the age of 14
as an anti-state terrorist.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.