Defining Terrorism

What are we talking about? I’ve said it before, but it bears repetition, given the way political leaders constantly come out with bombastic tautologies, such as ‘Terrorism is terrorism,’ in order to conceal the self-serving nature of their implicit definitions: we cannot fight against, much less eliminate, terrorism, unless we define it rigorously and explicitly. Acts of terrorism are acts or threats of violence against ordinary, unarmed civilians, carried out in the pursuit of a political objective. It is irrelevant whether the perpetrators are state parties or non-state parties, and other characteristics of the perpetrators and victims are likewise irrelevant. Further, the stated objective should not come into the picture either. A murderer’s claimed motive does not change the fact of a murder.

We also need to dispense with another term: ‘collateral damage’. In the context of terrorism as defined above, it makes no sense, because the purpose of terrorism is not to kill or injure people: that is merely a means to some political end. When Timothy McVeigh referred to victims of the Oklahoma bombing as collateral damage, Americans were rightly outraged. But they should be equally outraged when Bush, Blair and their cohorts justify the killing of civilians in Afghanistan as ‘collateral damage’. ‘According to Michael Tonry, Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, “In the criminal law, purpose and knowledge are equally culpable states of mind. An action taken with a purpose to kill is no more culpable than an action taken with some other purpose in mind but with knowledge that a death will probably result” Murder is murder, and mass murder is mass murder. Terrorist acts which result in mass murder can additionally be defined as crimes against humanity.

According to a strict definition, therefore, the entire U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan has been nothing but a series of terrorist acts and crimes against humanity. In the words of Michael Mandel, professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, ‘the U.S.-U.K. attack on Afghanistan…violates international law and the express words of the United Nations Charter. Despite repeated reference to the right of self-defence under Article 51, the Charter simply does not apply here. Article 51 gives a state the right to repel an attack that is ongoing or imminent as a temporary measure until the UN Security Council can take steps necessary for international peace and security. The Security Council has already passed two resolutions condemning the Sept 11 attacks and announcing a host of measures aimed at combating terrorism…Neither resolution can remotely be said to authorize the use of military force…They do not say military action against Afghanistan would be within the right of self-defence. Nor could they. That’s because the right of unilateral self-defence does not include the right to retaliate once an attack has stopped…Since the United States and Britain have undertaken this attack without the explicit authorization of the Security Council, those who die from it will be victims of a crime against humanity, just like the victims of the Sept.11 attacks.’ They are likewise victims of terrorism, just like the victims of the September 11 attacks.

The scale, in terms of direct deaths, is similar. As Seumas Milne reports,

Now, for the first time, a systematic independent study has been carried out into civilian casualties in Afghanistan by Marc Herold, a US economics professor at the University of New Hampshire. Based on corroborated reports from aid agencies, the UN, eyewitnesses, TV stations, newspapers and news agencies around the world, Herold estimates that at least 3,767 civilians were killed by US bombs between October 7 and December 10. That is an average of 62 innocent deaths a day – and an even higher figure than the 3,234 now thought to have been killed in New York and Washington on September 11.

Of course, Herold’s total is only an estimate. But what is impressive about his work is not only the meticulous cross-checking, but the conservative assumptions he applies to each reported incident. The figure does not include those who died later of bomb injuries; nor those killed in the past 10 days [i.e. after December10]; nor those who have died from cold and hunger because of the interruption of aid supplies or because they were forced to become refugees by the bombardment. It does not include military deaths (estimated by some analysts, partly on the basis of previous experience of the effects of carpet-bombing, to be upwards of 10,000), or those prisoners who were slaughtered in Mazar-i-Sharif, Qala-i-Janghi, Kandahar airport and elsewhere.’

The real number of terror victims is, of course, much higher in Afghanistan; people are still dying, less now as a direct result of bombing, more due to the massive destruction of their country and disruption of aid which has resulted from U.S. terrorist attacks. In just one refugee camp at Maslakh, ‘hundreds of thousands of people are starving, dozens dying every night from cold and starvation,’ and aid agencies estimate that the total number of deaths from starvation and exposure could be up to 7 million. All this was known before the bombing campaign began, so this is an outcome that was expected by those who undertook it. In other words, we are looking at an atrocity of genocidal proportions. And while almost every government in the world condemned the attacks of September 11, very few are willing to name this even worse crime against humanity for what it is.

So what signal does this send out to the world? Basically, that mass murder is all right, so long as you are powerful enough to carry it off. That horrific acts of terrorism are justified when a state engages in them. That neither ethical considerations nor international law are of any relevance. That might is right, as the saying goes. And this is why you have a bunch of megalomaniacs in the Pentagon and White House preparing for a bombing spree: the targets include Iraq, of course, despite the absence of ‘a single piece of evidence’ implicating Iraq in the September 11 attacks – or, despite all their efforts, in the anthrax attacks – but ‘since when have American administrations respected evidence?’, Somalia, where intervention has already begun; and around 60 other countries, including Libya, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, North Korea and Cuba. The terrorist attacks on Afghanistan are only the first step in a grand plan to establish total world domination by the United States, as outlined in a book by Council on Foreign Relations member and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Former German Defence and NATO official Dr Joannes Koeppl described the book as ‘a blueprint for world dictatorship,’ and the present US war as ‘a war against the citizens of all countries…a move to implement a world dictatorship within the next five years’ – and, moreover, a war planned long before the attacks of September 11, which only provided the immediate pretext for starting it. Hitler’s dreams look puny compared to this.

The terrorist war has pushed other regions of the world, including the Middle East and South Asia, into heightened conflict, which in the latter case brought us to the brink of nuclear war. But before looking more closely at these situations, it is important to complete our definition of terrorism.

Once we acknowledge the existence of state terrorism – directed against either its own people or the peoples of other nations – we also have to recognise the possibility of legitimate resistance to state repression or occupation by an imperialist power. Armed struggle directed against the military personnel or installations of a repressive state, or against the forces of a foreign occupying power, is not terrorism. It becomes terrorism only if attacks are directed against unarmed civilians. The confusion has been compounded by ultra-left groups who justify attacks on unarmed civilians in some circumstances as a necessary part of a freedom or revolutionary struggle, but we should reject this strategy as one which corrupts and destroys liberation struggles, as it has in the case of the LTTE. At the other extreme, strict Gandhians or pacifists may reject armed struggle altogether, but this too should not lead us to blur the distinction between armed resistance to state terrorism or imperialist domination on the one hand, and terrorist attacks on unarmed civilians on the other. If we do so, we are, in effect, legitimising terrorism by outlawing resistance or self-defence against it. This, of course, is what is happening on television screens all over the world in the context of the US terrorist attacks on Afghanistan: a massive strengthening of state terrorism of all types, achieved partly by a refusal even to admit the existence of justified resistance movements and liberation struggles. What docile news channels call a ‘war against terrorism’ is actually a ‘terrorist war’. We will come back to this point in each specific context.

Land of cowards and home of slavish conformists

What has the US gained by its war against Afghanistan, and the image purveyed to the world by its politicians and media? First, let us be clear that the war has been a resounding defeat for the US. After September 11, President Bush ranted ceaselessly about the guilt of Osama bin Laden, and the determination to ‘smoke him out,’ ‘drain the swamp’ and get him ‘dead or alive,’ etc. etc. Months later, after bombing an entire country into rubble, killing thousands of civilians and driving millions out of their homes to starve in refugee camps, the awesome firepower of the most powerful nation on earth had not succeeded in its objective. They burned down the whole haystack but failed to find the needle. The Taliban government was toppled, yes, but that was never a goal; no one has produced any evidence whatsoever that they were involved in the September 11 attacks. The only purpose of attacking them, ostensibly, was in order to get hold of Osama.

Even the claim to have installed a regime qualitatively superior to that of the Taliban is empty. A large part of the new regime consisted of warlords whose orgies of rape, looting and killing in the early 1990s actually led the population to welcome the Taliban when they initially took over. We still looked in vain for unveiled women – or, indeed, for any women – in TV reports from Afghanistan, and the reason, as RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) activists repeatedly told us, was that ‘The Northern Alliance was no better than the Taliban.’ The bulk of the Taliban either melted into the population or simply changed sides. The Al Qa’ida network was never concentrated in Afghanistan, nor is it the kind of organisation which can be destroyed by bombing.

All the US state has proved by carpet-bombing Afghanistan is that it is still the biggest terrorist power in the world. This is nothing new, of course; we have known it ever since possibly the worst terrorist attacks of all time, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which even today are claiming new victims. But presumably they thought our belief in their invincibility would be shaken after the September 11 attacks, and needed to be shored up by new acts of mindless brutality. It doesn’t seem to bother them that bullies are hated and feared, not loved or admired (except by perverts). I still have an old postcard with a slogan that was popular from the 60s onwards: ‘Yankee go home’. Around the world, from Latin America to the Far East, ‘Yankees’ were synonymous with fascist dictatorships, torture, rape, death squads and massacres. No wonder people hated the sight of them. For a while that image of Americans had softened, and the attacks of September 11 were an opportunity to put it to rest forever. But that was too much to hope for. It seems that psychotic killers are still very much in power in the US.

Today, however, they inspire not just hatred and fear but also contempt and disgust. The war against Vietnam was barbaric, but at least it required some courage from the American soldiers who went to fight there. This is no longer the case. The reason both for the numerous civilian casualties in Afghanistan and for the failure to find bin Laden was the method used: long-range missiles and aerial bombardment, mostly from a great height, against everyone and everything. The only way they could have ensured success was by sealing the borders (which they tried to do) and killing every living being in Afghanistan. Perhaps they feared that even Nobel peace-prize-winning Kofi Annan and the United Nations, who stood by and watched children being butchered and starved to death, might be forced to intervene if they undertook a massacre on that scale, so instead they tried to make us forget that the initial purpose of the war had been to ‘get’ Osama bin Laden. But in the process they managed to commit plenty of atrocities without any significant risk to themselves. In Susan Sontag’s memorable words, ‘if the word “cowardly” is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others… whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.’ She might have added that even more cowardly are those who order others to kill from beyond the range of retaliation.

Hailed as a great technological advance by weapons manufacturers, this new no-risk strategy has an unexpected consequence; at one stroke it takes all the heroism out of waging war, and reveals cold-blooded murderers as what they are. The effect on young people is likely to be profound, as two recent incidents in the US demonstrate. One is the crashing of a small plane into an office building by a fifteen-year-old boy, who left a suicide note expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden. The other is the suspension from school of a fifteen-year-old girl, Katie Sierra, who came to class wearing a T-shirt on which she had written, ‘When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God bless America.’ When we take into account the heavy censorship operating in the USA post-September 11 (more about this later), it is all the more remarkable that what has filtered through to these teenagers is a sense of the heroism of the suicide hijackers and the cowardly brutality of the American defence establishment. The image of the Pentagon and US armed forces, even within the US, will never be the same again after their terrorist attacks on Afghanistan.

Katie’s slogan also reveals a sensitive awareness of the deeply immoral character of the US response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Does killing innocent children provide justice to the victims of those attacks? Of course not. It merely multiplies the evil, as many humane souls who lost their loved ones pleaded. And it reinforces the image of Americans as pathological child-killers, unchanged since anti-Vietman war demonstrators chanted ‘Hey, hey, LBJ, How many kids have you killed today?’ and, more recently, Madeleine Albright came out with her incredible justification of the killing of half a million Iraqi children.

As for the claims of the American state to be defenders of democracy, I wonder how many people are left in the world who still believe them? Had they adhered strictly to international law after the September terrorist attacks, they might have succeeded in keeping all the dirt of their Cold War exploits under the carpet. As it is, many more people in the world now know that they funded, trained and armed bin Laden and his supporters, and that Brzezinski boasted that he encouraged the use of Islamic fundamentalism even before the USSR invaded Afghanistan, thus setting in motion a train of events leading directly to the terrorist attacks of September 11. Others have been reminded (if they ever forgot) of the US role in bringing in and propping up brutal regimes, from Iran to Chile and Southern Africa to Indonesia, as well their sadistic exploits in places like Vietnam and Nicaragua. More esoteric facts have come to light, like the revelation that the President’s grandfather made the family fortune through a Nazi-controlled bank, and that the war could be a bonanza to Bush senior as well as bin Laden senior due to their business association with the Carlyle group with its investments in armaments.

The nature of a state is defined by its relationship with its own citizens as well as the way it relates to other states and peoples in the world, and in the latter arena, the US posture is the very opposite of democratic. It has flouted all attempts at democratic international regulation, from elimination of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological and chemical), to anti-personnel landmines, to climate change; it has not even made a pretence of obtaining UN authorisation for its post-September 11 actions and has, on the contrary, violated the UN Charter, its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and various other conventions; it has not merely opposed the setting up of an International Criminal Court (ICC) – the only institution capable of dealing with terrorist attacks like those of September 11 – but, incredibly, has passed the American Service-members Protection Act which authorises the US to use force to ‘liberate’ US or allied persons detained by the proposed ICC. “The United States is forging a global coalition against terrorism, and the State Department has just endorsed a bill that authorises an invasion of the Netherlands,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Movement of Human Rights Watch. “This makes no sense. It hardly seems like a good moment for the US to be threatening sanctions against dozens of countries simply because they want to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against humanity.’

Leaders of countries who have criticised US actions have been threatened with bombing (Iraq, Cuba); Sri Lanka President Kumaratunga’s mild observation that the causes of terrorism need to be addressed was met by insistence that the government negotiate with LTTE terrorists whose civilian victims number many more than those of the September 11 attacks, and include former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, while Venezuelan President Chavez’s comment that the war against Afghanistan constituted ‘fighting terrorism with terrorism’ sparked fears of a US-backed coup against him. There is no ‘clash of civilisations’ whatsoever between this imperialist terrorism, which differs from earlier empires only in being more global, and the brand of fundamentalism represented by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban: they are both equally barbaric.

Nor has this outburst of global tyranny failed to have its effect on the domestic scene. Freedom of expression was one of the first casualties of the September 11 attacks, with a McCarthyite spate of victimisations and public attacks on anyone who dared to criticise the president or the US in any way. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explicitly warned that “All Americans need to watch what they say, watch what they do”, and the media obediently did their best to ensure that all Americans would not merely say and do but even think only what they were allowed to, the ultimate pinnacle of slavish conformism. Barbara Lee, the member of Congress who on September 15 cast the sole dissenting vote against a bill to grant the president dictatorial powers, was inundated with complaints and threats. And on 15 November 2001, the International Secretariat of Amnesty International issued a news release explaining why they were ‘deeply troubled by the Military Order signed by President George Bush on 13 November allowing for the trial by special military commissions of non-US citizens suspected of involvement with “international terrorism.”’ They pointed out that this procedure could easily result in innocent people being condemned to death, and concluded, ‘The organization considers that in proceedings undertaken pursuant to this order, justice will neither be done nor be seen to be done’. In a more general sense, gratuitous violence directed against ‘others’ leaves its mark on ‘us’. The film The Accused ended with a horrifying statistic – that in the US, a woman is raped every six minutes, and around a quarter of these are gang rapes – and this is only one form of violence that is endemic in US society.

If, as claimed, it was Osama bin Laden’s objective to destroy American democracy (or what was left of it after the rigged presidential election), he is succeeding brilliantly, with George Bush Jr and Attorney-General John Ashcroft as his willing agents. US citizens need to consider whether it is worth losing their civil liberties and gaining an ugly reputation outside their country simply in order to be the foremost terrorist power in the world – especially when that dominance does not translate into economic prosperity or personal security but into widespread unemployment, homelessness and violent assault. And those who do not think so should join forces with the courageous minority who are already opposing the autocratic policies carried out by their political leaders and endorsed by the mainstream media. However, the international community too has a responsibility to work for a democratic global system, where relationships between nations and peoples are governed by principles of equality and mutual respect rather than naked military might. The United Nations may not have the power to check US depredations militarily, but that does not absolve it of the responsibility to uphold international law and its own Conventions in its pronouncements. If it allows a rogue state to silence it, its whole raison d’etre is called into question.

Where have all the anti-imperialists gone?

The second Palestinian Intifada and Ariel Sharon’s brutal repression of it were of course well under way before the US terrorist attacks on Afghanistan began, but those attacks provided Sharon with an ideal opportunity to present to the public an inverted picture of reality. It became that much easier to present Israeli terrorist attacks as ‘self-defence’, even as legitimate acts of Palestinian self-defence were categorised as ‘terrorism’. The mainstream media colluded in the attempt to wipe out from the collective memory of the world’s people the history of the conflict. For example, that Israel was established as a settler colony in 1947-49 through terrorist attacks on the native Palestinian population intended to drive them out of their homes and land: e.g. in July 1948, ‘approximately 50,000 civilians (Arabs) were expelled under Mr Rabin’s orders, both from Lydda and Ramleh. To provoke the flight, hundreds of civilians were killed by Zionist forces. The expulsions were part of a large campaign by the Zionist forces to reduce as much as possible the number of non-Jews in the incumbent Jewish state’; in October 1948, ‘In Safsaf, after its inhabitants hoisted a white flag and the soldiers entered it, they gathered the men and the women separately, tied the hands of fifty Arab farmers and shot them on the spot, and then buried them in one hole in the ground. They also raped several women. Near the local forest he (Friedman) saw some dead women, one of them holding a dead boy in her arms. In Eilabum and in Faridiya the inhabitants received the soldiers with white flags and banquets…but they opened fire on the villagers and after thirty persons were killed, the rest were marched to Mount Meiron’; and so it goes on. ‘In the 1948 War, Israel performed one of the biggest transfer operations in history. [The terrorist group] Gush Emunim is the child of this transfer.’

Of course, this was nothing new; European settler-colonialists had used the same methods centuries before, most notably in the Americas and Australia, while Stalinist Russia used them in Central Asia. However, since the Nuremburg Principles were articulated to prosecute Nazi war criminals, such massacres and transfers of population are internationally recognised as crimes against humanity. It was a crime even within the boundaries of the territory allotted to Israel by the UN partition resolution of 1947, but instead of prosecuting the perpetrators or stopping its policy of expulsions, the Israeli state merely extended it to the Occupied Territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank (including East Jerusalem), which had been allotted to the Palestinians, after the war of 1967. This illegal occupation called forth opposition even from committed Zionist Yeshayahu Leibowitz: ‘He defined Israel the occupier as “Judeao-Nazi”. He called the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] undercover units the “Hamas of Israel” and Gush Emunim was for Leibowitz a “fascist movement”’, and he called the leaders of the Left party Matzpen “rags” after they supported the expulsion of 415 Islamic activists.

Incredibly, and in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the occupation still continues, 35 years later. In violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 194, 237 and 2252, calling for the return of Palestinian refugees of 1948, 1967 and others, Palestinian refugees still cannot return to their homeland. On the contrary, massacres of refugees were carried out, such as the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1800 refugees, a terrorist crime against humanity for which Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was responsible. More and more Israeli settlements were built in the Occupied Territories, while Palestinians continued to be expelled and killed: ‘House demolitions, expropriation, permanent closure and prolonged curfews, restrictions on freedom of movement, induced impoverishment, economic warfare of various kinds (such as clearing agricultural fields, uprooting thousands of olive and fruit trees, prohibiting harvests, confiscating livestock and preventing the marketing of produce)’ combined with the constant expansion and multiplication of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and ‘construction of 450 kilometres of “by-pass” roads which link the settlements but create massive barriers to Palestinian movement’ have ensured that ‘Palestinians have been sequestered by the Israeli army in no fewer than 220 discontinuous little ghettos’. However, it is the terrorist war against Afghanistan that seems to have given Sharon the green light to go in for the kill.

The weekly toll of Palestinians killed by Israelis more than doubled after September 11, with some 150 Palestinians and 18 Israelis killed over the next two months. But even more significantly, Sharon, with his monotonous message – ‘ Arafat is responsible for the violence’ – even when everyone, including Jane’s Intelligence Digest, knows this is not true – sought to blame Arafat for all attacks on Israelis and thereby justify destroying Palestinian Authority installations, police as well as civilian, effectively putting Arafat himself under house arrest and threatening him with the same fate as dozens of other Palestinian leaders assassinated by Israeli death squads. One might ask, why would he want to destroy Arafat, who has been bending over backwards to accommodate Israeli demands in the hope of a peaceful settlement, and thereby strengthen the Islamist groups, who do not even recognise Israel’s right to exist? But that would be a naïve question, because underlying it is the assumption that Sharon wants peace, whereas everything he has been doing contradicts that assumption. For example, the murder of Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud in November 2001 and of Fatah activist Raed Karmi in January 2002 were both carried out in order to provoke a retaliation so as to justify the continued slaughter of Palestinians.

So – ‘Why is it so urgent for them to topple Arafat? Shabtai Shavit, former head of the Security Service (“Mossad”)… explains this openly: “In the thirty something years that he [Arafat] leads, he managed to reach real achievements in the political and international sphere… He got the Nobel peace prize, and in a single phone call, he can obtain a meeting with every leader in the world. There is nobody in the Palestinian gallery that can enter his shoes in this context of international status. If they [the Palestinians] lose this gain, for us, this is a huge achievement. The Palestinian issue will get off the international agenda”’. Their immediate goal is ‘to get the Palestinians off the international agenda, so slaughter, starvation, forced evacuation and “migration” can continue undisturbed’.

In other words, what we are witnessing is the last stage in the destruction of the Palestinian people by terrorist, genocidal imperialism. And whoever does not oppose this crime is guilty of complicity in it. That the USA should endorse and support it, morally and materially, is no surprise; for them, it is merely a throwback to the good old days of the Wild West, when cowboys could kill off the native ‘Indian’ population without bothering about human rights and such irrelevancies. European nations have their own histories of genocide, which makes it easy for them to accept this way of relating to ‘other’ peoples. For Third World peoples who have experienced imperialist oppression, the spectacle is almost unbearably painful, which is why Osama bin Laden was so successful in exploiting this issue for his own purposes. What is disturbing, however, is that the section of the anti-globalisation movement which claims to be anti-imperialist hardly seems to be bothered by this undeniable and brutal example of imperialist oppression. Unless this indifference to the fate of a people is replaced by an active concern, it is likely that the Palestinians will perish.

What is the alternative? It is abundantly clear by now that Arafat’s policy of appeasement has failed, and that it is necessary to return to the programme envisaged by UN Security Council Resolutions of a secular, democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital and complete Israeli withdrawal from these Occupied Territories, as a first step. A new intiative recently launched to carry out precisely this programme, as well as the growing Israeli peace movement calling for an end to the occupation, should receive unstinted international support. Among other things, we need to take a very clear stand on what is and is not terrorism in this complicated scenario. Attacks on unarmed civilians in Israel proper are clearly terrorist, while attacks on occupying armed forces are not. But there are grey areas, like Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories. They should have the option of moving to Israel or applying for Palestinian citizenship, visas or residence permits. If they insist on staying as a hostile occupying force, then attacks on adult settlers may not count as acts of terrorism. Likewise the assassins of Rehavam Ze’evi, a practitioner of the Nazi policy of transfer of populations, need not be kept in custody unless the Israeli state reciprocates by arresting those responsible for over 75 assassinations of Palestinian leaders.

But more is required. This alone will not bring peace unless there is simultaneously a campaign to create a secular, democratic state in Israel. As Israel Shahak, a survivor of the Belsen concentration camp and citizen of Israel, writes, ‘In my view, Israel as a Jewish state constitutes a danger not only to itself and its inhabitants, but to all Jews and to all other peoples and states in the Middle East and beyond,’ just as the self-definition of other states as ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim’ also constitutes a danger. He points out that this racist definition resulted in close relations between zionists and anti-semites: ‘Perhaps the most shocking example of this type is the delight with which some zionist leaders in Germany welcomed Hitler’s rise to power, because they shared his belief in the primacy of “race” and his hostility to the assimilation of Jews among ‘”Aryans”‘. Secularisation of the Israeli state would also be a prerequisite for compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions on the right of return of refugees, as well as for making it a genuine democracy, as Arab Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara argues: equality between citizens, on which a democracy is based, is incompatible with a state which is identified with any particular religious or ethnic community.

Israel has overwhelming military superiority in this conflict, thanks to large-scale US supplies of military hardware. But the use of this to grab more and more land from the Palestinians has not brought it peace, neither will terrorist attacks on it end even if Palestine is destroyed. Moreover, the brutalisation required to prolong the occupation has produced an internally brutalised society, measured, for example, by a dramatic increase in violence against women. Israelis need to reflect whether the occupation and discriminatory policies are really in their best interests. Once both Palestine and Israel have been established as secular, democratic nations in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and others live together without discrimination or persecution, it would be possible to have open borders between them. But only by heeding the prophet Micah’s warning – ‘Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong’ – would it be possible to achieve his vision of peace and the absence of fear, where ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’.

Weep no more, Gandhari

Like Sharon, the Indian government too saw an opportunity in the US ‘war against terrorism’ to further its own agenda; indeed, Law Minister Arun Jaitly and others explicitly referred to the US and Israel as role models. Subsequent terrorist attacks on the Assembly building in Srinagar on October 11 and parliament in Delhi on December 13 helped to build up justification for threatening Pakistan with military attack unless they took the demanded action against terrorists operating from their soil. But the politicians in Delhi had overlooked one small problem. Unlike defenceless Afghanistan and even more defenceless Palestine, Pakistan is a nuclear state. To threaten military action against it is to initiate the build-up to a nuclear war. Which is exactly what happened.

Like the Palestine-Israel conflict, the India-Pakistan conflict, with Kashmir in the middle, dates back 55 years. The Kashmiri independence struggle against Maharaja Hari Singh began long before India and Pakistan were formed, but he still retained power in the princely state in 1947, when he was given the option of acceding either to India or to Pakistan. As he dithered, Pakistan invaded, and he fled, sending India a formal letter of accession. On 1 January 1948, India lodged a complaint against Pakistan with the UN Security Council, at the same time undertaking that once the conflict ended, Kashmiris would be able to decide whether to remain with India, accede to Pakistan, or remain independent. A plebiscite to decide the status of Kashmir was part of a UN resolution on Kashmir in August 1948, accepted by both India and Pakistan. In 1949, another UN resolution called for a plebiscite. It never took place, largely because of Indian opposition. Kashmir continued to be occupied partly by India and partly by Pakistan, with the ceasefire line, referred to as the Line of Control or LoC, constantly subject to the outbreak of fighting.

The National Liberation Front, later to become the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was founded in 1965, but gained momentum only after rigged elections in 1987 convinced the people of Kashmir that they could not hope for recognition of their democratic rights under an Indian government. Its programme was ‘Azadi’: independence from both India and Pakistan. But ‘In the name of “patriotism” and “security of the nation”, the government of India has always suppressed those who have used even peaceful means to express their demands for self-determination.’ Kashmiris on the Indian side of the border were subjected to occupation by military forces that engaged in mass rapes, rampant torture, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and indiscriminate firing, for example on unarmed demonstrators or unfortunate bystanders. The attitude of Indian governments is expressed in their constant refrain that Kashmir is a bilateral issue, to be resolved between the governments of India and Pakistan: there is not even a mention of the people of Kashmir, making it sound as if the dispute is over a piece of real estate rather than the home of millions of people. On their side, Pakistani governments pay lip-service to the democratic rights of the people of Kashmir, but their real agenda is revealed by the way in which they subverted the Azadi movement, inspired by sentiments of Kashmiriat (i.e. secular Kashmiri nationalism), and fostered a pro-Pakistani brand of extreme Muslim militants in the latter half of the 1990s.

Any understanding of the problem in Kashmir must begin with the acknowledgement that Indian state terrorism against Kashmiri civilians has resulted in tens of thousands of instances of torture, rape and murder. This is well known to anyone familiar with human rights reports, but may come as a shock to many ordinary Indians outside Kashmir, since the media so sedulously avoid any mention of this topic, thus helping politicians to conceal the truth from their own people. In this respect, as Chomsky pointed out in an interview with Star News reporter Sreenivasan Jain, Indian mediapersons are no better than their US counterparts. Secondly, it is important to distinguish between (a) terrorist groups which engage in attacks against civilians, (b) militants whose armed struggle is directed solely against military targets, and (c) those who engage in non-violent struggle for self-determination, including large numbers of women. While the Indian state treats all opposition as terrorism, it is crucial to recognise that (b) and (c) are not terrorists. Thirdly, any solution must recognise the democratic right of the Kashmiri people to decide their own future. Realistically, given the circumstances, there are only two options: (1) converting the LoC into a permanent international border, with Kashmiris on each side being absorbed into Pakistan and India respectively, and (2) a separate state, independent of both India and Pakistan, democratic and therefore necessarily secular, in order to accommodate the rights of Hindus, Buddhists and other minorities as well as those of secular Muslims. The long-denied plebiscite under the auspices of the UN would need to be carried out in a free and fair manner to decide between these, with India and Pakistan undertaking not to interfere and to respect the outcome.

However, neither of these solutions would work so long as India and Pakistan persevere in their antagonism to each other. Indeed, the problem of Kashmir is only a symptom of the conflicting nationalisms which date back to the horrific violence of Partition. Millions of people butchered in the most barbaric manner, around sixteen million displaced from their homes, countless women and girls raped, mutilated and branded while countless others committed suicide to escape this fate: this was only the beginning of a hot-cold war which has continued for over fifty-five years at infinite cost to both countries. One is reminded of Gandhari’s lament over the corpses of those needlessly slaughtered in the fratricidal war recounted in the Mahabharata, but this conflict is even worse. Strenuous efforts are required on both sides to bring it to an end.

General Musharraf’s crack-down on extreme Islamist elements is a promising beginning, but it is not enough: it fails to tackle the fundamental problem posed by the definition of Pakistan as an Islamic state. The claim to represent the Muslims of South Asia was vitiated from the start by the decision of millions of Muslims to remain in India, and undermined further by the war of 1971, which ended in East Pakistan breaking away to form Bangladesh. It has resulted not only in intense persecution of minorities such as Hindus and Christians, but also in sectarian violence between Muslims, and the authoritarian version of Islam sought to be followed has trampled on the rights of women and denied the rights of other sections such as workers and political dissidents. Under these circumstances, it is only by pointing to an external enemy (India) that any semblance of nationhood can be preserved. The transformation of Pakistan into a secular, democratic nation would be a precondition for peace.

On the other side, India is in name a secular state, but the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is part of the ‘Sangh Parivar’, the family of organisations headed by the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a Hindu nationalist organisation banned for a while after one of its members murdered Mahatma Gandhi. Its ideology of ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hindu-ness’ (to be distinguished from the religion, Hinduism) identifies Hindus as a race, culture and nation; its attitude to minorities can be judged from the words of one of its founders, Golwalkar: ‘To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the Semitic Races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here… a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by’. This ideology is being taught to children in lakhs of schools resembling the madrasas which produced the Taliban, while any other version of history is sought to be ruled out by re-writing textbooks and a vicious campaign against secular historians. This goes along with the undermining of other human and democratic rights, especially of minorities. The Indian demand for Pakistan to extradite Dawood Ibrahim, accused of master-minding the Bombay bomb blasts of 1993 which killed over 300 civilians, conveniently glosses over the fact that Hindutva terrorists who master-minded the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent riots, which killed over a thousand civilians in Bombay alone and were halted only by the bomb blasts, are still at large today, and some occupy positions of state power. The attitude to such terrorists can be judged from the fact that Dara Singh, accused of several atrocities against Muslims and Christians – including the barbaric burning alive of leprosy doctor Graham Staines and his two young children – recently announced he was standing as a candidate in the UP elections. Freedom of expression and association are being undermined by a creeping authoritarianism, and many fear another bloodbath will result from the campaign for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Clearly, a recommitment to secularism and democracy is required in India too.

However, even that is not enough. The failure of Nehru’s and subsequent secular governments to solve the problem of Kashmir shows that secular nationalists can be as idiotic as communal ones. The problem, as Rabindranath Tagore saw way back in 1917, lies with nationalism and patriotism themselves, with their built-in exclusivism and supremacism: ‘The nation with all its paraphernalia of power and prosperity, its flags and pious hymns, its blasphemous prayers in the churches and the literary mock thunders of its patriotic bragging, cannot hide the fact that… the nation has thriven long upon mutilated humanity.’

Tagore was writing about Europe, but his remarks apply equally to Third World nationalism. Nowhere in the world is the arbitrariness of national boundaries more evident than in South Asia, where they cut across communities and families, dividing neighbour from neighbour, friend from friend, parent from child, husband from wife. Over ninety per cent of the population of India and Pakistan have everything to gain from peace, friendship and open borders between the two countries. Those near the border, who suffer constant violence and fear of death, would gain security and stability. Those who have colleagues, friends or loved ones across the border, would gain easy and trouble-free access to them. For the poor, who die in their thousands from lack of food and drinking water, exposure to heat and cold, and easily preventable diseases, cessation of the criminal wastage of billions of dollars on military hardware and exercises in favour of more rational uses would be a huge gain. (It costs $10 million per day – and many lives – for India and Pakistan to patrol the icy wastes of the Siachen glacier alone!) Even the middle classes and business people have a great deal to gain from improved infrastrucure and greater stability. On 11 January 2002, while the spine-chilling press conference in which Army Chief Padmanabhan and press reporters talked nonchalantly about the prospects of first and second nuclear strikes was being broadcast, the Bombay Sensex plunged, and uncertainty about the possibility of war kept it low. After all, who wants to invest in a country which is about to be nuked? So the agenda of the peace movement in the two countries must include winning over the majority of the population to secularism, democracy, and the rejection of nationalism. Without that, peace will continue to be elusive.

Monopolising terror

The common thread running through all three situations – the US and Al Qa’ida, Israel and Palestine, India and Kashmir – is not a war against terrorism, but the determination to retain a monopoly of terrorism (in the case of the US, a monopoly of global terrorism) in the hands of the state. However, this cannot possibly work. The use of US state terrorism in Afghanistan would be seen as legitimising all future terrorist attacks on US civilians, firstly by the principle of imitation (if they can do it, why can’t we?), and secondly by bearing out Osama bin Laden’s contention that the majority of US citizens are not innocent, because they are guilty of complicity in terrorist attacks on civilians of other countries. If September 11 demonstrated anything new, it was that not all the wealth, military power and missile shields in the world can protect a population from low-tech terrorist attacks. And the anthrax attacks added an ironic footnote: right-wing white terrorists can use the USA’s weapons of mass destruction against their own society and get away scot free, undetected by the vicious racial and political profiling methods employed currently. Far from ending terrorism, this strategy is likely to lead to escalating violence, as Israel has demonstrated.

What can we do to prevent this? One thing which urgently needs to be done, in the face of lying politicians and mediapersons who, with a few honourable exceptions, gutlessly and mindlessly repeat their lies, is to see clearly and speak and write the truth about what is happening, naming state terrorism for what it is. No doubt these states have the power to harass, arrest, incarcerate and kill us, but let us not allow them to colonise our minds and language or silence our voices! Spreading the truth, if enough people engage in it, can subvert even the apparently infinite power of US global terrorism, especially if it is combined with a more explicit critique of the obsessive pursuit of power which underlies this terrorism. What, after all, is the one truly universal experience, shared by everyone who has ever lived? It is the experience of infancy: of complete vulnerability, utter helplessness, total dependence on others for our very survival. This is the experience which defines us as citizens of the world, and enables us to identify with anyone, anywhere, who is in a similar position of vulnerability, whose humanity is violated or abused. Conversely, the inbuilt exclusivism and supremacism which define imperialism, ethnic and religious communalism, nationalism and patriotism, can develop only by crushing this most fundamental facet of our humanity, and therefore results in psychological disease and spiritual death. Resisting this fate would mean working to create secular, democratic institutions embodying the principle of equal respect and concern for all human beings, both at a national and at an international level.

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