How to Define a Terrorist

How to Define a Terrorist


Terrorism. For us who live in the United States of America, I dare say that the word “terrorism” immediately reminds us of the events of September 11th, 2001. Our minds then wander to the “War on Terror” and images of Afghanistan and Iraq come and flood our senses like bitter salt water.

Of course, words like “terrorists” and “terrorism” have been around for a long time. And the practice of terrorism has been around longer than there was a word to describe it.

There’s no doubt that Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are terrorists and criminals. As we know, Bin Laden was killed recently and his clandestine organization is not what it used to be. But my main focus in this blog will be on the actual words “terrorist” and “terrorism.”

An Explosive Term

Nothing gets the attention and sympathy of American audiences that when a nation claiming to be under siege by terrorists. Dictators and tyrants, and their public relations experts, know this very well.

Let’s take a look at Syria. President Bashar al-Assad has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. In August of this year, he used chemical agents against his own population, murdering women and children indiscriminately. According to the New York Times, “A United Nations report released on Monday confirmed that a deadly chemical arms attack caused a mass killing in Syria last month and for the first time provided extensive forensic details of the weapons used, which strongly implicated the Syrian government.” (Forensic Details in U.N. Report Point to Assad’s Use of Gas)

This particular news story was buried deep within the Time’s website on the day it was published. I still don’t know why this wasn’t publicized more. Though I suppose that given the deal made with the Russians, this wouldn’t have looked good for our President, but I digress. The point is that by all definitions, Assad is a terrorist. However, in several statements he has labeled the rebels as terrorists (Bashar al-Assad says Syrian rebels may attack chemical weapons inspectors). I’m not saying that the rebels are innocent and peaceful, but I just find it ironic that a terrorist is calling someone else a terrorist.

Take another example. This is a more personal one. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro who came to power after a coup d’etat in 1959, was engaged in terrorism since the beginning of his “Revolution.” But whenever he wants to vilify a person or group of people, he calls them terrorists, as he has done when referring to the community of Cuban exiles in Miami (Castro Blames U.S. for Execution of Dissidents).

This people Castro refers to, Cuban exiles, which I’m part of, are just regular people. And what I mean by regular is that these are people who go to work, pay their taxes and pursue the American Dream. The only “terrorism” they are guilty of is of disagreeing with Castro’s policies.

So, what are we supposed to make of all this? For one, labeling an opponent as a terrorist or as a sympathizer with terrorists is a good public relations strategy. Ever since 9/11, the word “terrorism” has immediate connotations around the globe. People’s emotions are stirred when this word is used. No one likes terrorists, and labeling your enemy as one is a good start on earning public support.

The challenge for citizens of democratic countries, such as the United States, is to be vigilant that this label does not get thrown around without the full weight of its meaning. I hope that in the future, free thinkers and people who disagree with their government are not labeled as terrorists, such as the case with Cubans.

2 thoughts on “How to Define a Terrorist

  1. Syria is a bit more complicated. It is well known that a big part of the rebels have ties with Al Qeada. In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to define any of the rebels as “secular”.

    Neither is there convincing evidence that regime forces launched the chemical weapons. From the same UN report you’re citing , ““the locations have been well traveled (sic) by other individuals prior to the arrival of the Mission… During the times spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.” This fact was pointed out in the media by Robert Fisk in a recent article.

    At the end of the day, Syria is complicated, and a “war on the minds” is going on in the media. Western media (mostly) says one thing. Russian and Arabic says another.

    1. Thanks for the reply. Syria is complicated, which is why I said that the rebels were not innocent pacifists. But just because they may possibly be worse than the current president, this does not make Assad any better. As it has been pointed out in other articles, it is more than likely that the Assad regime was the culprit.

      “Human Rights Watch said the Syrian military was believed to have M-14 rockets, and one of the three warheads produced for them can carry 2.2kg (4.8lb) of sarin. Rebel forces were not believed to possess M-14s nor the associated BM-14 launching system, it added.”

      The point I was trying to make though is that to label someone as a terrorist is a handy thing for those in power.

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