Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Perceived Wisdom

After reading various 2005 summaries it seems to me that many people portray terrorism in grotesquely simplistic terms (I've highlighted this before in the post linked below but feel it's worth repeating). The abuse heaped on anyone who uses the phrase "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is the prime example. Ridiculing something you don't understand is clearly not in anyone's best interests, not least because it's going to make you look slighty silly. There seems to be this idea floating around that all "lefties" are somehow sympathetic to terrorists and that this phrase has something to do with that. Oh dear...

The problem encapsulated by the phrase is that terrorism has, so far, been impossible to define objectively. That's why, for example, the BBC have generally prefered to avoid using the word. They have a duty to be objective so they have a policy of avoiding words with no commonly accepted definition (a policy which sometimes gets overlooked in the heat of the moment). It's not rocket science. To attach another motive just demonstrates a lack of understanding of the concept of terrorism or a deliberate attempt to mislead. The debate seems to have moved so far away from reality that the BBC doesn't even have the room to explain this anymore and have, I think, given up trying.

I've already written a post explaining how hard it is to define terrorism so won't bother writing another one. The challenge still stands: define terrorism objectively. Haloscan has now deleted the 30+ comments that post generated because I don't give them any money (well, I am Scottish). No-one succeeded last time but don't let that put you off if you think you've got one or you don't believe me.

This one seems to be a favourite among the simplistic brigade (also mentioned in the linked post).
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
Unlawful? As in international law? Isn't that concept a big grey area? Invading Iraq was illegal according to half the population of the UK so it was terrorist act under this definition. No, it wasn't illegal at all, according to the other half. They argue that international law is a big soggy mess and the Iraq war wasn't illegal because of resolution 1441 anyway. Hardly objective, is it? Whether you believe the invasion of Iraq was unlawful depends on your point of view. So can we objectively say that it was or was not terrorism? Obviously not. (You will, I hope, understand that it doesn't matter one jot if you think I'm a barking moonbat for even suggesting that invading Iraq might be a terrorist act.)

Anyone got anything which might actually be a step towards something more objective? This really isn't an attempt to pick a scrap. It's an attempt to challenge what I believe is a classic example of collective wrongheadedness. If you don't understand the concept, it's hard to see how you're going to be able to combat it effectively.

Initially, this post was going to have links to a couple of examples to demonstrate the point. In the end, I decided it looked too much like an attempt at a flaming so took them out before posting it. I'm still torn as to whether I should have linked or not. Having studied terrorism, I'm as certain as I can possibly be that it's an impossible challenge and have a good idea as to how best to explain that in a debate so there's no fear of being shown to be wrong here. I genuinely believe that this half-baked understanding of terrorism is making the world a more dangerous place. So should I set the linky challenge? Would it be a waste of time anyway? I still can't decide.

Note: if anyone wants to call me an apologist for terror then they haven't got the faintest idea what they're talking about. But feel free. I could use a little light relief. Other than that, I enjoy polite healthy debate.

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