When most of us hear the word terrorist this is the picture that forms in our heads because it is the most flagged stereotype.
A long bearded man, wearing a flowing robe, with a keffiyeh-Islamic headscarf- for men or a hijab for women and most probably a practicing Muslim. Yet this image and perception is fraught with inaccuracies. It is neither perpetually true nor justified.
I am also greatly concerned by the skewed reporting by the wider press on incidences whose consequences are grave and whose nature is terroristic. For instance the recent killings by Anders Breivik of 87 of his fellow Norwegians earned him the labels a ‘far-right Norwegian nationalist with ardent -anti Muslim views’, ‘a right wing extremist’ (Wikipedia), a far right extremist (BBC News) a mad man (The Time World), a ‘Norwegian mass killer’ (The Telegraph) and a self confessed mass killer (The Guardian). Yet when Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab tried to detonate a bomb aboard a Detroit bound flight headlines such as these were all over the news:
- Detroit terror attack: profile of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab – The Telegraph
- Source: Terror suspect’s father tried to warn authorities – CNN Justice
- Flight 253 terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab led life of luxury in London before attempted attack – Daily News UK
- Terror suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab Investigations still to be completed reveal he visited Houston in 2008 – The Examiner, Texas US
Clearly attaching the label ‘terrorist’ to Mutallab was an easier task for the press than it was with regard to Breivik. Worse still Breivik actually carried his act through yet Mutallab only had the intention but his plans failed. Do not get me wrong, Mutallab’s failure to detonate the bomb does not in any way make him less of a terrorist but one can not help but wonder what the cause and reasoning behind the differential labelling could possibly be.
Two days ago, my friend, Sarah Dorman, was reading a book called ‘The First Terrorists.’ I could not read it because it was in Arabic and my Arabic is still very much elementary but I did ask what it was about. She said it is an analysis of the origins of terrorism from an Islamic point of view. The book apparently identifies the Israelis as the first terrorists, arguing that the Zionist movement, which saw the Israelis trying to set up a nation and in the process displacing Palestinians began the war on terror. The book argues that had Israel not started the war against Palestinians, Arabic Islamists would not have had a reason to retaliate. And so it appears that blame shifting, labeling and in some instances misrepresentation is the order of the day when it comes to identifying who is a terrorist. It is with this struggle to define a terrorist in mind that I reached my conclusion and it is as follows:
The word terror existed before the terms terrorist or terrorism were created. The Oxford dictionary describes terror as ‘a feeling of extreme fear.’ The Cambridge Smart Thesaurus explains it as violent action which causes extreme fear. The Cambridge Thesaurus goes on to explain that terror is synonymous with fear, panic, fright, horror and dread. The Collins English Dictionary describes terror as great fear, panic or dread inspired by a troublesome person. The definitions of terror cannot get any better than these three sources, or at least my Advanced Level English Literature teacher, Miss Mpeti would say so. I believed and do still believe her.
Using these definitions, it means that any person who commits acts or threatens to commit acts that instill fear, horror and panic in people is committing terror and is therefore a terrorist. So from:
- Osama Bin Laden (considered to be the worst terrorist ever) who took out the twin towers and killed many in the USA;
- Al Qaeda who burn whole villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan;
- Joseph Kony who killed, raped and maimed civilians in Northern Uganda and continue doing so in parts of Southern Sudan and the DRC;
- Omar Al Bashir who killed, displaced, and instigated the rape and are still killing, displacing and instigating the rape thousands in Darfur, South Kordofan and South Sudan;
- George Bush responsible for wars that caused and still cause the death and maiming of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan;
- Benjamin Netanyau and his Israeli government who have caused great suffering on Palestinian civilians;
- Retaliating Palestinian Liberation Organisation members who attack Israelis with suicide bombers;
- Genociders in Germany in particular the Holocaust by Nazis, Rwanda 1994, Zimbabwe in the Gukurahundi 1987 and Operation Mavhoterapapi 2008, Cambodia mass killing by the Khmer Rouge, Indonesian slaughter of the East Timorese;
- Al-Shabab attackers on Uganda in July 2010;
- Individuals responsible for the numerous bomb blasts in Nigeria, India, Pakistan;
- Umar Farouk, the Nigerian who attempted to detonate bombs in an aeroplane and;
- Anders Behring Breivik the Norwegian man who killed more than 87 of his own people they are all terrorists.
Terrorists live among us. They do not only wear headscarfs and masks, they also dress in smart suits and pretty dresses. They could be men or women. They could practice Christianity, Islam or any other religion. They might have a reason for their actions driven by certain ideologies or philosophies or they may just terrorise others out of a sadistic character complex.
So despite the many specific definitions provided in UN Conventions against Terrorism, and despite the fact that genocide is defined differently in the Convention on the prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide from terror, when we go back to the basic description of the feeling in the people against whom these acts are committed; it is terror. And it does not matter if the individuals committing the act are seating heads of state, power hungry tyrants, ambitious drug-lords, war mongering warlords, religious fundamentalists or common thieves. In my view, they are all terrorists and should be treated with the highest condemnation and disdain!