Monday, 5 January 2015

Let's retire "terrorism"

Nothing in this post should be taken as endorsing violence, by which I mean deliberately and actively inflicting physical injury or death on sentient beings.  I aspire to veganism and therefore  won't be endorsing violence, as that is a non-vegan approach to life.  Therefore I am not by any means approving of anything which is taken to fall under the umbrella term I'm about to use.  Having said that, there is a word which is heavily over-used nowadays.  That word is "terrorism".

My definition of terrorism is that it is violence committed for political ends by people whose actions are not overtly sanctioned by any government.  I've already said what I think violence is.  Politics is something else.  I would say it's the exercise of power relations and that everything has a political aspect, which makes it difficult to distinguish terrorism from other activities.  However, I would also say that simple organised crime is not terrorism, so something like Boko Haram is not really a terrorist organisation as its main focus seems to be profit rather than achieving a broader political end.  That said, clearly terrorist activity is criminal and there may be mixed motives in some activities.  Terrorist activity can also give less politicised groups ideas, such as spreading rumours of contaminated food products in order to extort money from the manufacturers.

Now to the overt sanctioning by governments.  The important word here is "overt" because of false flag operations and the like.  A violent act can be done in the name of a cause or a group without actually being done by that group or for that purpose, and in fact it may be committed in order to discredit that cause.  For instance, it has been claimed that bombs planted by animal liberation groups are in fact planted by their opponents.  Whether or not that specific claim is true, the idea is out there.  The UK has some very questionable allies which do appear to be funding terrorist activity, even against the West, but of course covertly.  Therefore, covert sanctioning by government needs to be included.  Incidentally, this of course means that the idea of a terrorist state is close to being incoherent as that would be a state engaging in activity which it does not engage in, although clearly authoritarian states which lack the consistent rule of law could do something like that.  In fact, if a state is authoritarian or totalitarian, much of its activity may well be fully and openly endorsed, but where it includes the likes of conscription, judicial murder, torture and police brutality, the fact that it is activity endorsed by the state is not likely to be of any comfort to its victims.

So let's remember, shall we, what we mean when we say terrorism?  It isn't good, but nor is it necessarily different from a lot of other things morally speaking which are not sufficiently disapproved of.

Suppose, though, there is such a thing as terrorism and we want it to stop.  There are clearly aspects of terrorism where there is a profound conflict of values, so it might seem at first that this could only occur after the fact and that the urge to commit such acts is deterred by strong action against acts which do occur.  Scanning people before they step on planes or making it harder to post Anthrax or ricin come to mind, although it doesn't take a genius exactly to work around those measures so I can only presume they exist to prevent panic or to be seen to be doing something which really amounts to nothing.

One of the things I dislike about being a herbalist is that I usually find myself dealing with pre-existing medical problems.  Healing people when they actually have a condition is a rear-guard action.  It can mean that something has already gone wrong.  Turning to crime, I was very disappointed when I researched the prevention of stalking, because what that seems to be about is finding people who are potential stalkers and stopping them in spite of their urges to stalk still being in place.  Would it not be better for people not to have got ill in the first place and for people to have the emotional intelligence and maturity not to want to stalk people?

This applies equally to terrorism.  'Les Damnes de la Terre' if I remember correctly, and it isn't exactly bedtime reading, says that all other avenues should be explored before violence is considered.  If there are in fact very few such avenues, as might be the case where the main political parties are mere clones of each other, it's not terribly surprising if terrorism is on the rise.  That clearly does not account for the likes of people who behead the victims, yes, the victims, of crime or kidnap children to use as slaves or child soldiers.  Here the value system seems to differ considerably from mine and I can't pretend to be able to sympathise with it.  However, I would say this situation is at least sometimes exacerbated by poverty and lack of education along with the perceived exploitation of the areas in question by Western powers.  If a different state of affairs was in place, it would at least be an interesting experiment, which has never been tried, to see if non-state sanctioned violent activity for political ends happened less often, and I suspect it would in fact decline.

All of this has come up because of a recent news item which claimed that the new "anti-terrorist" legislation will include expectations that childminders will spy on their charges for potential signs of "terrorist" activity.  What would be good is if there were real anti-terrorist legislation, i.e. legislation which made governments more accountable to the people, ensured a fairer deal for the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet and so forth, but instead we have this.  Hence the word "anti-terrorist" is a misnomer.  It does not actually refer to measures likely to reduce terrorism at all.

Therefore, maybe it's time to place the word "terrorism" into the category of a slur word like "bitch" and the N word.  Maybe when we hear the word terrorist we should replace it mentally with "violent activity pursued for political ends without the overt sanction of any government" and see if it still makes sense, or whether it's just being used as a word to paralyse thought and replace it with a mob mentality which doesn't do anything to address the actual problem.