Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Terrorism is Vulgar

As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
Oscar Wilde - The Critic as Artist, Pt II

The ‘War on Terror’, while embraced by some, is ridiculed by others. Those who embrace it tend to call for war against the terrorists “on their turf” (in other words, the battlefield), those who do not condone it tend to prefer dialogue with presumed representatives of terrorist factions. Both of these views are flawed.

Terror is, by definition, a state of mind. A Terrorist is someone who utilizes systematic violence and intimidation to perpetuate this terror. As real-life examples, 22 theater-goers are killed when a bomb goes off on the first night of the season, or an airport is attacked with assault rifles and grenades, with 24 people killed and 80 more injured. These, however, were not acts performed by Al-Qaeda, its sympathizers or even, for that matter, Muslims. The first was performed by anarchists in Bologna in 1893, the second by members of the Japanese Red Army faction in the Lod Airport Massacre of 1972. In fact, long before Bin-Laden ever picked up a rifle, many terrorist organizations had brought about widespread havoc.

The anarchists of the late 19th century utilized the telegraph and newspaper as a means of modernizing their terror. Focusing on targeted killings, they were able to assassinate President Carnot of France (1894), King Umberto I of Italy (1900), United States President William Mckinley (1901) and Spanish Prime Minister José Canalejas (1912), among the most well-known. This, in addition to many violent acts and threats throughout Europe and the United States, as well as the calls to violence by several anarchist publications, made the Anarchist movement, or at least its violent wing, a full-fledged terrorist organization.

The RAF (also known as the Baader-Meinhof group) of Germany, the Red Brigades and Ordine Nuovo in Italy, the Japanese Red Army (JRA) and the Communist Combatant Cells (CCC) in Belgium all contributed to the terrorist attacks some older generations may still remember. These groups would at times work in conjunction with the PLO and Carlos the Jackal, among others, and they contributed to a multitude of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, Japan and North Africa. These led to the Lod Airport Massacre (1972), the German Autumn (1977), the assassination of Aldo Moro (1978), the attempted assassination of Alexander Haig in Belgium (1979) and the Bologna Massacre (1980), among many others.

These similarities may well be interesting, but what do they have to contribute to solving current problems and with today’s terrorists? Well, for starters, these groups no longer exist. The ones that do are now either mainly peaceful, such as the anarchists, or simply irrelevant, such as with the Red Brigades. How did these groups dissipate? Was it through tough military action, or through two-way dialogue? The truth is that it was neither. They merely went out of style, so to speak.

The world forgot about anarchism with the advent of the First World War, while most pro-communist terrorists lost their raison d’ĂȘtre with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Does this mean that Islamist terrorists will cease to exist only when a great historical event occurs? Possibly. The fact is, these historical events also made people less enthralled with the movements (the Ordine Nuovo was a far right-wing movement and should have therefore strengthened with the collapse of communism, but it died out like the rest). Therefore, it stands to reason that Oscar Wilde may have been right. Only when people stop viewing them as fierce freedom fighters and start seeing them as vulgar street thugs will terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda lose their appeal, and the world will be ready to move on. Unfortunately we cannot know when that will happen nor, more importantly, what will happen in the meantime.

This article can be found on the helium website.

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