The Misappropriation of Terrorism

It is irresponsible to confine a debate on what may constitute factors contributing to either radicalism or terrorism to a narrow paradigm as Greg Mills does.

In his article "Make terrorist path uninviting" [Business Day – May 20], Mills presents an entirely faulty perception based on a wrong premise. Common logic would demand that this highly emotive subject not be scrutinized only from the towers of powerful states associated with a relentless global campaign to root out so-called "terrorism".

Indeed by invoking Walter Laqueur’s argument that terrorism is a product of fanaticism where "contemporary ‘pride of place’ is taken by Islamic zealots", Mills confirms my apprehension about his short-sighted opinion.

My concern is further compounded by the fact that his views on Israel are reduced to an over-simplification of the harsh reality of Palestinian life. Acceptance that the Jewish state has "preferred to meet violence with still more violence", is an admission that he has no regard for the cold, hard facts which underpin the Palestinian intifada.

The inability to confront present-day human rights violations which flow from historical injustices will render any and all analysis on Israeli state terrorism inadequate. The blatant absence of any reference to the genesis of the Palestinian crisis – which would identify millions of people in ghettoes as victims and the tyranny of the Sharon regime as aggressors – is itself an injustice. Why is there difficulty to recognise the validity of an aggrieved people to resort to legitimate freedom struggles, including armed struggle to regain looted land and dignity?

It is remarkable that Alan Baker, legal adviser of the Israeli foreign affairs ministry, would complain that the legal environment lacks guidance on how to deal with "asymmetric threats such as suicide terrorism". It is equally astounding that an article which seeks to unpack such threats, ignores the ongoing slaughter of Palestinian civilians despite the existence of an entrenched international legal framework. What does it mean?

Is it okay for states to ignore and defy international conventions, including humanitarian law in pursuit of settler-colonial conquests while innocent victims who courageously resist such regimes need new laws to criminalise their actions as "terrorist"? Seeking symmetry with a bare-fisted population’s recourse to self-defense against a regional bully in possession of nuclear war-heads, is not only insulting, it also reflects the extent of chicanery Baker and his ilk will resort to in order to justify Israeli barbarism.

It is a lack of assiduous analysis which results in Mills allowing Baker’s defective supposition with the emphasis on "on how to deal with nonstate terrorists" to prevail. Not surprising therefore is his tacit support for counter-terrorism, which he argues as having merit. Feeble opinions flowing from the pen of a senior member of the South African Institute of International Affairs will have grave consequences for civic liberties if not challenged.

The danger of allowing SAIIA to advocate making resort to "terrorism and radicalism costly", is the equivalent of allowing powerful neo-conservatives in the Bush administration carte-blanche in its misguided "war on terror".

Ilan Pappe, an academic who teaches political science at Haifa University, castigates establishment academics’ support for the ethnic-cleansing of the Palestinians as a means of solving the conflict. Pappe is alarmed that opinions that used to be considered at best marginal, at worst lunatic, are now at the heart of the "Israeli Jewish consensus".

He recognises what Mills fails to acknowledge: "Israel in 2004 is a paranoid society led by a fanatical political elite, determined to bring the conflict to an end by force and destruction, whatever the price to its society or its potential victims."

The same can be said about the US occupation of Iraq. The protocol to the 1977 Geneva Convention which is invoked to castigate and unfairly incarcerate masses of people in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib without recourse to law, seems to be reserved for victims.

Unless he can distinguish between state terrorism and freedom struggles, Mills will represent a marginal view embraced by the radical right in America and Israel.