Debate on terrorism – questions unanswered


It is befitting Jordan’s regional role that the first Arab head of state to visit Washington following the Sept. 11 attacks is His Majesty King Abdullah.

Jordan has a strong message to convey. The heinous attacks were the illegitimate child of an Israeli-American illicit relationship. Had peace been established in the region, neither Ben Laden nor any other so-called “true believer” would have found fertile ground among Muslims who could be brainwashed and sent to the remotest parts of the world to kill, maim and be killed.

Jordan was one of the first targets of international terrorism. Jordanian courts are still pondering a verdict on some of Ben Laden’s accomplices who tried to celebrate the new millennium in Amman by exploding hotels and killing Americans. But the US-declared war against terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington has given a new life to the decades-old debate about the need for a clear and unambiguous definition of who could be called “terrorist,” an Arab demand that has for long been sidestepped by the United States. Today, when we hear the words “terrorism,” “terror” and “terrorist” repeated the world over by officials, commentators and media, we cannot but ask: What constitutes “terrorism”? What is “terror”? Who is a “terrorist”?

At the height of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Washington used to describe the Afghans fighting the Russians as “freedom fighters” and “resistance groups.” While we had no quarrel with the concept, it was a slap in our face that the US stood steadfast against the Arab call to apply the same yardstick in Palestine. Today, we feel all the more humiliated, insulted and frustrated when we hear the US using the term “terrorist” to describe the Palestinians waging a legitimate resistance struggle, exercising the rights granted to the occupied to resist the occupier under international laws and conventions. Beyond that sense of humiliation, insult and frustration is our agony that Israel is given carte blanche to step up its terrorist actions that have killed and maimed thousands of Palestinians and wrecked the life of millions more.

Can the US honestly deny that it is the blind American backing, that appears to transcend all considerations, that emboldens Israel to persist in its effort to terrorise the Palestinians into submission?

Against this backdrop, could anyone blame us for asserting that the American rejection of Arab calls for an international debate to define “terrorism” and “terrorists” was based on its concern that its protégé and “strategic partner” in the Middle East would be the first to be indicted? We, in Jordan, in no way imply that the Sept. 11 attacks in the US were anything but terrorism. We, Jordanians, have been exposed to terror and terrorism and believe that we, as part of the international community, have the moral responsibility to ensure that actions similar to the Sept. 11 attacks are never repeated anywhere in the world. We have to and we will do our share to render what it takes to ensure that the world is safe from such heinous, unjustifiable, undefendable, unpardonable and cowardly attacks. However, amid the shocking thoughts provoked by the attacks, we in Jordan, as of course in other parts of the Arab and Islamic worlds, cannot but feel angry with and frustrated by the selective approach that applies different parameters to terrorism.

No matter what arguments some might put up, it is clear to us that the Israeli actions against Palestinians are state-sponsored terrorism. The marked difference, if you will, is that Israel has a mighty army backed by some of the most advanced hi-tech weapons at its disposal to terrorise the Palestinians under its control and is assured of immunity by its superpower friend against international punishment.

The literal definition of a “terrorist” is simple and straight: “A person who uses or favours violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or community.” The immediate question is: Is Israel not using “violent and intimidating methods” to coerce the Palestinian community? Doesn’t it mean that Israel is a terrorist entity? We wish, since the reality is as simple as that, to allow the acceptance of that definition in the context of Israel and the Palestinian community it oppresses through nothing but sheer terror: summary killings and maimings, detentions, torture, free use of fighter planes, helicopter gunships, rockets, missiles and tanks against unarmed civilians whose only fault is their refusal to accept Israel’s occupation of their homeland and domination of their life.

Does the fact that Israel is a country and has a recognised government exclude it from being classified as a terrorist? Well, it does not and should not, but its status as an ally and “strategic partner” of the US does indeed offer the country the unprecedented and unparalleled luxury of the freedom to continue to practise terrorism without fear of censure or punishment. That is the source for all the Arab and Muslim criticism, warnings, cautions and demands levelled at the US as Washington plans its next moves in its international war against terrorism. Obviously, the US has no intention whatsoever to even “dignify” the Arab demand that the same parameters be used in the case of Israel. That is perhaps why we have not heard any public comment whatsoever from the US on the demand.

Although the US would never admit it, we all know that there would not have been anything called Arab-Israeli peace process had it not been for the Gulf War of 1991 that eliminated Iraq as a strong military challenge to Israel, divided the Arabs, weakened the Palestinians and brought some of the Arab states more into the US fold and sphere of influence. That is not to say that it was the whole objective of the military assault against Iraq, but it was one of the strongest offshoots of the war and the resulting fragmentation of the Arab world.

Washington tends to describe the peace process launched in 1991 as the fruit of its “relentless” diplomacy. But we know differently that the elements of the regional equation suited the Israeli objective of being in a position to dictate the terms for peace, as it happened after nine years of dilly dallying, and that was why the peace process could be launched at all.

At this critical juncture in time, we in the Arab world would like to know whether and how the US would deny its endorsement of Israel’s state-sponsored terrorism and maintain that it is neutral in the Middle East. We would also like to know what it would take for the US to admit in public that Israel should figure high on the list of “international terrorists” and Washington, as the leader of the free world, should have adopted actions to contain the Israeli terrorism decades ago. Not only that. We would also like to know what exactly that admission will lead to and whether the rekindled unofficial debate on terrorism would ever lead to a solution to the Palestinian problem.

Mr. Musa Keilani contributed this article to the Jordan Times.