Terror, Terrorists And Terrorism

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

In the 1970s and 1980s, while terrorist attacks were commonplace in Europe, the United States, perched between the Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean, was largely isolated from foreign attacks, foreign aggression and terrorism. And although there were incidences of terrorism against US interests, US nationals and institutions – virtually all these attacks took place abroad. Even so, the history of terrorism in the United States dates back to the US Civil War in the 1860s when many former-Confederates were hostile to the federal government.

In recent memory however, there was the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York; the damage to Amtrak railroad in 1995; the extrajudicial act that maimed dozens of people during the 1996 summer Olympic games in Georgia; the destruction of the Trans World Airlines in New York; and the 1995 Timothy McVeigh car-bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. However, it was the September 2001 heinous acts that made Americans took notice of the insidious acts of terrorists and of terrorism.

Until the mind-boggling events of 9.11, the United States had never acted in a concerted manner when dealing with local acts of terrorism. But instead, it had formulated a set of policies in dealing with international terrorism. The US response included (1) refusal to negotiate; (2) military actions as in when President Reagan launched an air assault against Libya in 1996; and (3) the imposition of economic sanctions as was the case with Syria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. These were some of the countries the US believed fomented trouble and supported extra-judicial and extra-normal organizations.

According to Crenshaw (1981), terrorism serves a variety of goals, both revolutionary and sub-revolutionary. Terrorists may be revolutionaries (such as the Tupamaros); and nationalist fighting against foreign occupiers (the Algerian FLN); minority separatists combating indigenous regimes (such as the Basque movements and the Provisional IRA). However diverse objectives of terrorists, there is a common pattern to their strategy: (1) gain recognition or attention, (2) disrupt and discredit the processes of government, by weakening its administratively and impairing normal operations, (3) it is used as a means to affect public attitudes in both a positive and a negative sense, aiming at creating either sympathy in a potential constituency or fear and hostility in an audience identified as the “enemy”.

Moreover, Crenshaw posited, terrorism is used to provoke a counter-reaction from the government, to increase publicity for the terrorists’ cause and to demonstrate to the people that their charges against the regimes are well founded. In addition, terrorism may also serve internal organizational functions of control, discipline, and morale building within the terrorist group and even become an instrument of rivalry among factions in a resistance movement. Essentially, extremist groups resort to terrorism in order to acquire political influence; however, some groups are less realistic about the logic of means and ends than others.

Not since ancient Rome has a single country been dominant, this preeminent, and indeed this supreme. And because of this unique position in which America finds itself – any one could argue, a position America consciously, deliberately and deliberatively sought and obtained – it is now a target for the jealousy, and anger being spewed by rogue states, extrajudicial organizations and individuals who feel they have been wronged, disrespected and trampled upon. Some of these entities also feel wronged by the excesses, influence, and actions and inactions of the United States.

Today, America’s geo-political location no longer provides the type of protection it once enjoyed. In an era of crude bombs, biological weapons, and suicide bombers – America is racing to protect itself from being a sitting-target. To supplement its defensive and offensive measures against terrorism, it had created new entities like the Department of Homeland Security, and has enacted several legislations to cope with the changing times. Some of the laws enacted were meant to deter, discourage, apprehend, and prosecute terrorist and terrorism — the USA-PATRIOT Act of 2001, for example.

The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) and a host of other privacy and civil liberty groups have vigorously objected to the enactment of these laws, claiming they are too draconian, and violates constitutional guarantees. At the same time, the Attorney General of the federation, John Ashcroft, and a host of other supporting groups have argued that these laws are necessary to protect America’s integrity, American lives and property, and America national security interests.

DEFINITIONAL LIMITATIONS: At the international level, there is no universally accepted definition of ‘terrorism,” hence no international crime of terrorism. Rather, there are treaty provisions aimed at containing aircraft hijacking, criminal acts against the safety of civil aviation, prohibited acts against internationally protected persons including diplomatic agents. Besides being imprecise and ambitious, the term “terrorism” is emotionally charged as demonstrated by the cliché, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” (D’Amato, 1994).

One of the better and more encompassing definitions of terrorism was provided by Jack P. Gibbs (1989), in which he posited that terrorism is illegal violence or threatened violence directed against human or nonhuman objects, provided that it:

  1. Was undertaken or ordered with a view to altering or maintaining at least one putative norm in at least one particular territorial unit or population;
  2. Had secretive, furtive, and/or clandestine features that were expected by the participants to conceal their personal identity and/or their future location;
  3. Was not undertaken or ordered to further the permanent defense of some area;
  4. Was not conventional warfare and because of their concealed personal identity, concealment of their future location, their threats, and/or their spatial mobility, the participants perceived themselves as less vulnerable to conventional military actions; and
  5. Was perceived by the participants as contributing to the normative goal previously described (supra) by inculcating fear of violence in persons (perhaps and indefinite category of them) other than the immediate target of the actual or threatened violence and/or by publicizing some cause.

Still, under Tile 18, section 2331 of the United States Code, terrorism is defined as activities that “involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state, or that would be criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any state; or appear to be intended to intimidate, coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by assassination or kidnapping…”

Global Effort Against Terrorism:

According to the UNDCP (2003), there are 12 major multilateral conventions and protocols related to states’ responsibilities for combating terrorism. But many states are not yet party to these legal instruments, or are not yet implementing them. In addition to these treaties, there are instruments relevant to particular circumstances, such as bilateral extradition treaties, the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

For the United States — the country that has been the most affected by terrorism in the last 5 years — the race is on to have the upper hand on terrorists and on terrorism. In line with its efforts, the US has enacted a series of legislations, and issued dozens of Executive Orders, Decisions and Declarations, and Regulations to apprehend and prosecute terrorists; and in a few instances, has engaged in extra-judicial activities by assassinating suspected terrorists.

It should be noted that in the modern era, the United States “invented” terrorism just that it preferred to name her actions “Covert Operations”. Some of these covert operations took place in places like Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, and Iraq. In fact, some members of the current American administration were engaged in some of those sinister assignments – men like Otto Reich, John Negroponte, and Elliot Abrams. The New York Times of April 18, 2002 reported that “Henry Kissinger may be questioned in investigation of terrorist acts by Latin American governments in 1970s and 1980s”. Kissinger, it should be noted has been an “alpha and omega and ever present” in all Republican administrations in the last three decades or so.

How will the current war on terrorism play out? Well, the fact is no one knows. The “game” has just begun. But how the rest of the world responds to America’s initiatives may decide whether this war is ultimately lost or won. But in a war like this: how does one define “won”?

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