I have never before thought about the word terrorism and why and how it is used by the media and the government. But in class we started discussing this, and since then, I haven’t gotten it out of my head, it has felt like I saw something and after that I couldn’t look away. Every time I saw the word in the media I felt uncertain about its meaning, definition and its influence on me and others. What my concern is in this article is how we use the word terrorism and my thesis is that the word terrorism is used randomly and that even though two incidents can have the same components one will be called terrorism and the other will not.
So, how to define terrorism? Can only a non-state-actor do terrorist acts? Is terrorism physical violence against civil people? There are many different definitions on what terrorism is, wide and narrow. If we take the definition on terrorism by Igor Primoratz:
“the deliberate use of violence, or threat of its use, against innocent people, with the aim of intimidating some other people into a course of action they otherwise would not take”,
or the definition by Kofi Annan:
“Any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act”,
then we can state that even a government can commit terrorist acts.
So if we agree that terrorism can be performed by a state, then it gets tricky. I find that the term terrorism is used very arbitrarily, and the media and governments do not have to explain themselves when and how they use the term. So I have the impression that many people use the term how it suits them the most. As the famous saying goes
“one persons’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”.
One time when I was listening to a lecture by Amnesty International, they were talking about the US-American government using drones in Pakistan. It was very interesting and the main question was, if drones were against human rights. Now I have started to feel that maybe you could even classify drone attacks as terrorism? Because if you take the definition from Primoratz that terrorism is about using violence against innocent people, to intimidate other people in taking certain actions, to my mind, this is the goal of drone attacks. Or, what else would we call it? And if we don’t call it terrorism, then why not? What is the difference and what are the reasons why it is not named for what it in reality is? I would go so far to state that the word terrorism is used as a propaganda tool to awoke certain feelings and foremost fear in the readers and the main population. To create a we versus them. A we versus terrorists.
To take an example of an act which, today, is not called a terrorist-act, but to my sense is one by definition, is the drones strikes initiated by the US. Looking at numbers that Reprieve, a British organization which works worldwide to protect human rights, has published concerning the drones strikes initiated by the US, you really have to ask yourself, what is this if not terrorism? That the US-American government can kill so many innocent people in the name of catching dangerous men and women, is just frightening. And to not call it by its nature, is in fact fooling people. I don’t want to accuse anybody for being a terrorist or not, that is not what this article is foremost about. My concern is about how and when the word terrorism is used, I believe it is often used to create fear and labeling groups and acts of violence. So if a bus is bombed in Iraq it is terrorism but if a house with innocent people in it is bombed by US drones it is not called terrorism, but rather a strategic act of war against terrorism, and is justified with the belief that there was evidence that there was a dangerous person living in that house. And the fact that drone strikes aren’t labeled as terrorist acts, legitimizes the violence of drones in the world and in different nations. I think that if the media called drone attacks terrorism, it would evoke more resistance. If an act, person or group is labeled terrorism or terrorist, the violence caused by this act, person or group will loose its justification and reduce its legitimacy.
As we might want to remember, even Nelson Mandela was once labeled a terrorist, so what I want to say is this: what and who is a terrorist is in the eye of the beholder. And I think that this is crucial to remember when reading the news and getting information about the violence in the world today: “one persons’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”.
My question, which I unfortunately cannot answer is: how aware are governments and the media of the terminology of the word terrorism and how intentionally do they use the term to awoke certain feelings and thoughts and to what degree does the word actually influence peoples thoughts?