Terror and anti-terror have departed from the land of reason, and found their mythological haven. There they stand, on top-heavy pedestals, staring down on us with ice-cold eyes: twin towers of faith, unquestioned and unexamined. There is not a single analytical tool that can explain the globalisation of bias that has been infused into these two terms. And there is no moral ground to justify the linguistic apartheid that is now the trademark of US foreign, and domestic, policy.
As it stands now, the concept of terror depends on who you are, not what you do. The murder of civilians for political purposes may be called terror. Or it may be called violence, acts of war, or even legitimate resistance. It all depends on whether the perpetrator is, or is not, listed as terrorist. Forget equality before the law. Forget proof of guilt. Terror is not a crime unless committed by a so-called “terrorist.” And everyone is making sure we all know who the terrorists are.
Unlike theft, embezzlement, first- degree murder or traffic offences, you cannot commit terror unless you’re a born terrorist, a licensed villain. Otherwise, your worst atrocities will have to be called something else, perhaps an act of survival against ethnic marauders, perhaps a part of the war against terror. Terror today is an act perpetrated by an organisation that has been designated as terrorist by powerful decision makers. If violence is committed in defiance of the existing regime, it is terror. If it is committed by the regime’s security forces or an affiliated militia, it is not.
The world, we are told by powerful politicians, is made up of two groups: terrorists and anti-terrorists. This division has ethnic undertones, and a dollop or two of racism. It is this division, not terror, that is new to the international scene. In all cultures, there are groups and religious movements that sanction the wanton murder of civilians for political purposes. In the United States, in Arab countries, and almost everywhere else, people have committed political violence against their own kin, against their ethnic and cultural compatriots. These acts have been designated, rightly, as terrorist. And they are no longer an international concern.
Right now, the international community is less concerned with the definition of the crime than with the individual or group that commits it. Globally speaking, you are either a terrorist or anti-terrorist. If you are not designated as a terrorist, you can, literally, get away with murder.
The underlying premise of the war against terror is that there is a conflict between liberal values and certain cultures, or between liberal cultures and non-liberal (terrorist-breeding) ones. The implied racism is thinly veiled. Cultures are not independent, organic entities. They only transpire through real people, with real interests. These interests can be in conflict, not the cultures. To think otherwise is folly, or bigotry. Unfortunately, this is just the line of thinking favoured by George W Bush.
Since 11 September, the US president, by default and with a fair amount of arm-twisting, has become the world’s leading authority on terror. And he has divided the world into good and bad: The good guys (anti-terrorists) are fighting the bad guys (terrorists). Ironically, this is just the kind of attitude that fundamentalists (literally) would kill for. This is the universal rift they always preached and fantasised about: an infantile, untenable, and racist moral dichotomy has become a thriving, globally sponsored, earth shattering policy.
In the past, only fundamentalists and Israeli politicians prayed for this totally idiotic war of good against evil to materialise. Former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, when he was still Israel’s young, ambitious emissary to the United Nations, tried, and failed, to get this mad point across. Now, he and the like- minded from across the political and cultural divide need not worry.
As an occupying country, Israel has a vested interest in depicting its quest to oppress another nation as something else, something detached from reality, preferably a mythological fight against terror. The oppression of national movements, colonialist doctrinaires have always attempted to prove, is in the general good of humanity. The natives are often portrayed as somehow genetically violent, inherently dangerous, and ethnically deranged. The quarrel, therefore, is not about land stolen from its true owners. It is about values, of which the natives have none. This is racism at its finest, and it has just been globally packaged, promoted, and acted upon.
The 11 September attacks, with their unspeakable horror, were the brainchild of similar bigotry. The terrorists who launched these attacks subscribed to the dichotomy of good and evil that inspires the current war against terror. These attacks have been Israel’s front seat ticket to the international anti-terror show. In this deranged show, the undeniable justice of the Palestinian cause has been sidestepped. Israel has just joined ranks with such nations as Spain, India, Russia, Turkey, and China in an international endeavour that vilifies all violent, secessionist movements.
What everyone has conveniently forgotten, however, is that the Palestinians, endlessly quashed by the most voracious forms of colonialism, are not even secessionists. Israel has not once deigned to propose that the Palestinians live with the Israelis as full citizens in the same state. Israel does not want the Palestinians to be part of the same country, or have their own.
Until they are granted self- determination, the Palestinians are entitled to national resistance. Some of their acts of resistance may be questionable, morally or politically, but not their right to resist. And there is hardly a resemblance between Palestinian struggle and the kind of global terror that has been launched by Al-Qa’eda and the Taliban. The actions of the latter can only be understood as a fundamentalist quest, a throwback to the Cold War era, a knee-jerk reaction to globalisation and the deformed modernisation it has brought about.
What the Palestinians are grappling with is much more immediate than the abstract concepts of morality and justice. They are faced with a daily reality of colonialist oppression, of an occupation that gets uglier with every passing moment. The Israeli occupation is not a traders’ bridgehead that might go away, or an international mandate that might relapse one day. It is an attempt by one group of people to replace another. Israel’s violence against the Palestinians is both structural and endemic. This is why Israel is so desperate to win anti-terror approval for its worsening acts of violence. It can only do that by branding the Palestinians as culturally violent, ethnically deranged. After 11 September, the world, spearheaded by the United States, created just the right mythology for such mad views to prosper.
But crude distortions of reality cannot last. Democracy, when applied to the colonial community but denied to the natives, is not worth its name. Ethnicity, when it supersedes citizenry, is a recipe for disaster. The current distortion of language, and the concomitant debasement of an entire nation, is licence for murder. In the current uproar of the anti-terror chase, fairness and justice may have been forgotten. But they remain the only hope for ending the nightmare.
The writer is a Palestinian Israeli and member of the Knesset.