In the 1930s and 1940s, the Jewish underground in Palestine
was described as TERRORIST. Then new things happened.
By 1942, the Holocaust was occurring, and a certain liberal
sympathy with the Jewish people had built up in the Western world.
At that point, the terrorists of Palestine, who were Zionists, suddenly
started to be described, by 1944-45, as freedom fighters. At least two
Israeli Prime Ministers, including Menachem Begin, have actually, you
can find in the books and posters with their pictures, saying Terrorists,
Reward This Much. The highest reward I have noted so far was
100,000 British pounds on the head of Menachem Begin, the terrorist.
Then from 1969 to 1990 the PLO, the Palestine Liberation
Organization, occupied the center stage as the terrorist organization.
Yasir Arafat has been described repeatedly by the great sage of American
journalism, William Safire of the New York Times, as the Chief of Terrorism. Thats
Now, on September 29, 1998, I was rather amused to notice
a picture of Yasir Arafat to the right of President Bill Clinton. To
his left is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Clinton
is looking towards Arafat and Arafat is looking literally like a meek
mouse. Just a few years earlier he used to appear with this very menacing
look around him, with a gun appearing menacing from his belt. You remember
those pictures, and you remember the next one.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan received a group of
bearded men. These bearded men I was writing about in those days in
The New Yorker , actually did. They were very ferocious-looking bearded
men with turbans looking like they came from another century. President
Reagan received them in the White House. After receiving them he spoke
to the press. He pointed towards them, Im sure some of you will recall that moment, and
said, These are the moral equivalent of Americas founding
fathers. These were the Afghan Mujahiddin. They were at the time,
guns in hand, battling the Evil Empire. They were the moral equivalent
of our founding fathers!
In August 1998, another American President ordered missile
strikes from the American navy based in the Indian Ocean to kill Osama
Bin Laden and his men in the camps in Afghanistan. I do not wish to
embarrass you with the reminder that Mr. Bin Laden, whom fifteen American
missiles were fired to hit in Afghanistan, was only a few years ago
the moral equivalent of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson! He
got angry over the fact that he has been demoted from Moral Equivalent of your Founding
Fathers. So he is taking out his anger in different ways. Ill
come back to that subject more seriously in a moment.
You see, why I have recalled all these stories is to point out to you
that the matter of terrorism is rather complicated. Terrorists change.
The terrorist of yesterday is the hero of today, and the hero of yesterday
becomes the terrorist of today. This is a serious matter of the constantly
changing world of images in which we have to keep our heads straight
to know what is terrorism and what is not. But more importantly, to know
what causes it, and how to stop it.
The next point about our terrorism is that posture of
inconsistency necessarily evades definition. If you are not going to
be consistent, youre not going to define. I have examined at least twenty official
documents on terrorism. Not one defines the word. All of them explain
it, express it emotively, polemically, to arouse our emotions rather
than exercise our intelligence. I give you only one example, which is
representative. October 25, 1984. George Shultz, then Secretary of State
of the U.S., is speaking at the New York Park Avenue Synagogue. Its
a long speech on terrorism. In the State Department Bulletin of seven
single-spaced pages, there is not a single definition of terrorism.
What we get is the following:
Definition number one: Terrorism is a modern barbarism
that we call terrorism.
Definition number two is even more brilliant: Terrorism is a form
of political violence. Arent you surprised? It is a form
of political violence, says George Shultz, Secretary of State of the
Number three: Terrorism is a threat to Western
Number four: Terrorism is a menace to Western moral
Did you notice, does it tell you anything other than
arouse your emotions? This is typical. They dont define terrorism because definitions
involve a commitment to analysis, comprehension and adherence to some
norms of consistency. Thats the second characteristic of the
official literature on terrorism.
The third characteristic is that the absence of definition
does not prevent officials from being globalistic. We may not define
terrorism, but it is a menace to the moral values of Western civilization.
It is a menace also to mankind. Its a menace to good order. Therefore,
you must stamp it out worldwide. Our reach has to be global. You need
a global reach to kill it. Anti-terrorist policies therefore have to
be global. Same speech of George Shultz: There is no question about
our ability to use force where and when it is needed to counter terrorism. There
is no geographical limit. On a single day the missiles hit Afghanistan
and Sudan. Those two countries are 2,300 miles apart, and they were
hit by missiles belonging to a country roughly 8,000 miles away. Reach
A fourth characteristic: claims of power are not only
globalist they are also omniscient. We know where they are; therefore
we know where to hit. We have the means to know. We have the instruments
of knowledge. We are omniscient. Shultz: We know the difference
between terrorists and freedom fighters, and as we look around, we
have no trouble telling one from the other.
Only Osama Bin Laden doesnt know that he was an ally one day and
an enemy another. Thats very confusing for Osama Bin Laden. Ill
come back to his story towards the end. Its a real story.
Five. The official approach eschews causation. You dont
look at causes of anybody becoming terrorist. Cause? What cause? They
ask us to be looking, to be sympathetic to these people.
Another example. The New York Times , December 18, 1985,
reported that the foreign minister of Yugoslavia, you remember the
days when there was a Yugoslavia, requested the Secretary of State
of the U.S. to consider the causes of Palestinian terrorism. The Secretary
of State, George Shultz, and I am quoting from the New York Times , went a bit red in the
face. He pounded the table and told the visiting foreign minister, there
is no connection with any cause. Period. Why look for causes?
Number six. The moral revulsion that we must feel against
terrorism is selective. We are to feel the terror of those groups,
which are officially disapproved. We are to applaud the terror of those
groups of whom officials do approve. Hence, President Reagan, I am a contra. He
actually said that. We know the contras of Nicaragua were anything,
by any definition, but terrorists. The media, to move away from the
officials, heed the dominant view of terrorism.
The dominant approach also excludes from consideration,
more importantly to me, the terror of friendly governments. To that
question I will return because it excused among others the terror of
Pinochet (who killed one of my closest friends) and Orlando Letelier;
and it excused the terror of Zia ul-Haq, who killed many of my friends
in Pakistan. All I want to tell you is that according to my ignorant
calculations, the ratio of people killed by the state terror of Zia
ul-Haq, Pinochet, Argentinian,
Brazilian, Indonesian type, versus the killing of the PLO and other terrorist
types is literally, conservatively, one to one hundred thousand. Thats
History unfortunately recognizes and accords visibility to power and
not to weakness. Therefore, visibility has been accorded historically
to dominant groups. In our time, the time that began with this day, Columbus
The time that begins with Columbus Day is a time of extraordinary
unrecorded holocausts. Great civilizations have been wiped out. The
Mayas, the Incas, the Aztecs, the American Indians, the Canadian Indians
were all wiped out. Their voices have not been heard, even to this
day fully. Now they are beginning to be heard, but not fully. They
are heard, yes, but only when the dominant power suffers, only when
resistance has a semblance of costing, of exacting a price. When a
Custer is killed or when a Gordon is besieged. Thats when you
know that they were Indians fighting, Arabs fighting and dying.
My last point of this section U.S. policy in the Cold War period
has sponsored terrorist regimes one after another. Somoza, Batista, all
kinds of tyrants have been Americas friends. You know that. There
was a reason for that. I or you are not guilty. Nicaragua, contra.
Afghanistan, mujahiddin. El Salvador, etc.
Now the second side. Youve suffered enough. So
There aint much good on the other side either. You shouldnt
imagine that I have come to praise the other side. But keep the balance
in mind. Keep the imbalance in mind and first ask ourselves, What is
Our first job should be to define the damn thing, name
it, give it a description of some kind, other than moral equivalent of founding
or a moral outrage to Western civilization. I will stay with
you with Websters Collegiate Dictionary: Terror is an intense,
overpowering fear. He uses terrorizing, terrorism, the use
of terrorizing methods of governing or resisting a government. This
simple definition has one great virtue, that of fairness. Its
fair. It focuses on the use of coercive violence, violence that is
used illegally, extra-constitutionally, to coerce. And this definition
is correct because it treats terror for what it is, whether the government
or private people commit it.
Have you noticed something? Motivation is left out of
not talking about whether the cause is just or unjust. Were talking
about consensus, consent, absence of consent, legality, absence of
legality, constitutionality, absence of constitutionality. Why do we
keep motives out? Because motives differ. Motives differ and make no
I have identified in my work five types of terrorism.
First, state terrorism. Second, religious terrorism ;
terrorism inspired by religion, Catholics killing Protestants, Sunnis
killing Shiites, Shiites killing Sunnis, God, religion, sacred terror,
you can call it if you wish. State, church. Crime. Mafia. All kinds
of crimes commit terror. There is pathology . Youre pathological. Youre sick. You
want the attention of the whole world. Youve got to kill a president.
You will. You terrorize. You hold up a bus. Fifth, there is political
terror of the private group; be they Indian, Vietnamese, Algerian,
Palestinian, Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigade. Political terror of the
private group. Oppositional terror.
Keep these five in mind. Keep in mind one more thing.
Sometimes these five can converge on each other. You start with protest
terror. You go crazy. You become pathological. You continue. They converge.
State terror can take the form of private terror. For example, were all familiar
with the death squads in Latin America or in Pakistan. Government has
employed private people to kill its opponents. Its not quite official.
Its privatized. Convergence. Or the political terrorist who goes
crazy and becomes pathological. Or the criminal who joins politics.
In Afghanistan, in Central America, the CIA employed in its covert
operations drug pushers. Drugs and guns often go together. Smuggling
of all things often go together.
Of the five types of terror, the focus is on only one, the least important
in terms of cost to human lives and human property [Political Terror
of those who want to be heard]. The highest cost is state terror. The
second highest cost is religious terror, although in the twentieth century
religious terror has, relatively speaking, declined. If you are looking
historically, massive costs. The next highest cost is crime. Next highest,
pathology. A Rand Corporation study by Brian Jenkins, for a ten-year
period up to 1988, showed 50% of terror was committed without any political
cause at all. No politics. Simply crime and pathology.
So the focus is on only one, the political terrorist, the PLO, the Bin
Laden, whoever you want to take. Why do they do it? What makes the terrorist
I would like to knock them out quickly to you. First,
the need to be heard. Imagine, we are dealing with a minority group,
the political, private terrorist. First, the need to be heard. Normally,
and there are exceptions, there is an effort to be heard, to get your
grievances heard by people. Theyre not hearing it. A minority
acts. The majority applauds.
The Palestinians, for example, the superterrorists of
our time, were dispossessed in 1948. From 1948 to 1968 they went to
every court in the world. They knocked at every door in the world.
They were told that they became dispossessed because some radio told
them to go away - an Arab radio, which was a lie. Nobody was listening
to the truth. Finally, they invented a new form of terror, literally
their invention: the airplane hijacking. Between 1968 and 1975 they
pulled the world up by its ears. They dragged us out and said, Listen,
Listen. We listened. We still havent
done them justice, but at least we all know. Even the Israelis acknowledge.
Remember Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, saying in 1970, There
are no Palestinians. They do not exist. They damn well exist now.
We are cheating them at Oslo. At least there are some people to cheat
now. We cant just push them out. The need to be heard is essential.
One motivation there.
Mix of anger and helplessness produces an urge to strike
out. You are angry. You are feeling helpless. You want retribution.
You want to wreak retributive justice. The experience of violence by
a stronger party has historically turned victims into terrorists. Battered
children are known to become abusive parents and violent adults. You
know that. Thats
what happens to peoples and nations. When they are battered, they hit
back. State terror very often breeds collective terror.
Do you recall the fact that the Jews were never terrorists?
By and large Jews were not known to commit terror except during and
after the Holocaust. Most studies show that the majority of members
of the worst terrorist groups in Israel or in Palestine, the Stern
and the Irgun gangs, were people who were immigrants from the most
anti-Semitic countries of Eastern Europe and Germany. Similarly, the
young Shiites of Lebanon or the Palestinians from the refugee camps
are battered people. They become very violent. The ghettos are violent
internally. They become violent externally when there is a clear, identifiable
external target, an enemy where you can say, Yes, this one did it to me.
Then they can strike back.
Example is a bad thing. Example spreads. There was a highly publicized
Beirut hijacking of the TWA plane. After that hijacking, there were hijacking
attempts at nine different American airports. Pathological groups or
individuals modeling on the others. Even more serious are examples set
by governments. When governments engage in terror, they set very large
examples. When they engage in supporting terror, they engage in other
sets of examples.
Absence of revolutionary ideology is central to victim
terrorism. Revolutionaries do not commit unthinking terror. Those of
you who are familiar with revolutionary theory know the debates, the
disputes, the quarrels, the fights within revolutionary groups of Europe,
the fight between anarchists and Marxists, for example. But the Marxists
have always argued that revolutionary terror, if ever engaged in, must
be sociologically and psychologically selective. Dont hijack a plane. Dont hold hostages. Dont kill
children, for Gods sake. Have you recalled also that the great
revolutions, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Algerian, the Cuban,
never engaged in hijacking type of terrorism? They did engage in terrorism,
but it was highly selective, highly sociological, still deplorable,
but there was an organized, highly limited, selective character to
it. So absence of revolutionary ideology that begins more or less in
the post-World War II period has been central to this phenomenon.
My final question is - These conditions have existed
for a long time. But why then this flurry of private political terrorism?
Why now so much of it and so visible? The answer is modern technology.
You have a cause. You can communicate it through radio and television.
They will all come swarming if you have taken an aircraft and are holding
150 Americans hostage. They will all hear your cause. You have a modern
weapon through which you can shoot a mile away. They cant reach
you. And you have the modern means of communicating. When you put together
the cause, the instrument of coercion and the instrument of communication,
politics is made. A new kind of politics becomes possible.
To this challenge rulers from one country after another
have been responding with traditional methods. The traditional method
of shooting it out, whether its missiles or some other means. The Israelis are very
proud of it. The Americans are very proud of it. The French became very
proud of it. Now the Pakistanis are very proud of it. The Pakistanis
say, Our commandos are the best. Frankly, it wont
work. A central problem of our time, political minds, rooted in the
past, and modern times, producing new realities. Therefore in conclusion,
what is my recommendation to America?
Quickly. First, avoid extremes of double standards. If
to practice double standards, you will be paid with double standards.
Dont use it. Dont condone Israeli terror, Pakistani terror,
Nicaraguan terror, El Salvadoran terror, on the one hand, and then complain
about Afghan terror or Palestinian terror. It doesnt work. Try
to be even-handed. A superpower cannot promote terror in one place and
reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place. It wont
work in this shrunken world.
Do not condone the terror of your allies. Condemn them.
Fight them. Punish them. Please eschew, avoid covert operations and
low-intensity warfare. These are breeding grounds of terror and drugs.
Violence and drugs are bred there. The structure of covert operations,
a film about it, which has been very popular in Europe, called Dealing
with the Demon . I have shown that wherever covert operations have been,
there has been the central drug problem. That has been also the center
of the drug trade. Because the structure of covert operations, Afghanistan,
Vietnam, Nicaragua, Central America, is very hospitable to drug trade.
Avoid it. Give it up. It doesnt help.
Please focus on causes and help ameliorate causes. Try to look at causes
and solve problems. Do not concentrate on military solutions. Do not
seek military solutions. Terrorism is a political problem. Seek political
solutions. Diplomacy works.
Take the example of the last attack on Bin Laden. You
what youre attacking. They say they know, but they dont know.
They were trying to kill Qadaffi. They killed his four-year-old daughter.
The poor baby hadnt done anything. Qadaffi is still alive. They
tried to kill Saddam Hussein. They killed Laila Bin Attar, a prominent
artist, an innocent woman. They tried to kill Bin Laden and his men.
Not one but twenty-five other people died. They tried to destroy a chemical
factory in Sudan. Now they are admitting that they destroyed an innocent
factory, one-half of the production of medicine in Sudan has been destroyed,
not a chemical factory. You dont know. You think you know.
Four of your missiles fell in Pakistan. One was slightly
damaged. Two were totally damaged. One was totally intact. For ten
years the American government has kept an embargo on Pakistan because
Pakistan is trying, stupidly, to build nuclear weapons and missiles.
So we have a technology embargo on my country. One of the missiles
was intact. What do you think a Pakistani official told the Washington
Post? He said it was a gift from Allah. We wanted U.S. technology.
Now we have got the technology, and our scientists are examining this
missile very carefully. It fell into the wrong hands. So dont
do that. Look for political solutions. Do not look for military solutions.
They cause more problems than they solve.
Please help reinforce, strengthen the framework of international
law. There was a criminal court in Rome. Why didnt they go to
it first to get their warrant against Bin Laden, if they have some
evidence? Get a warrant, then go after him. Internationally. Enforce
the U.N. Enforce the International Court of Justice, this unilateralism
makes us look very stupid and them relatively smaller.
The question here is that I mentioned that I would go
somewhat into the story of Bin Laden, the Saudi in Afghanistan and
didnt do so,
could I go into some detail? The point about Bin Laden would be roughly
the same as the point between Sheikh Abdul Rahman, who was accused and
convicted of encouraging the blowing up of the World Trade Center in
New York City. The New Yorker did a long story on him. Its the
same as that of Aimal Kansi, the Pakistani Baluch who was also convicted
of the murder of two CIA agents. Let me see if I can be very short on
this. Jihad, which has been translated a thousand times as holy
war, is not quite just that. Jihad is an Arabic word that means, to
struggle. It could be struggle by violence or struggle by non-violent
means. There are two forms, the small jihad and the big jihad. The
small jihad involves violence. The big jihad involves the struggles
with self. Those are the concepts. The reason I mention it is that
in Islamic history, jihad as an international violent phenomenon had
disappeared in the last four hundred years, for all practical purposes.
It was revived suddenly with American help in the 1980s. When the Soviet
Union intervened in Afghanistan, Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator
of Pakistan, which borders on Afghanistan, saw an opportunity and launched
a jihad there against godless communism. The U.S. saw a God-sent opportunity
to mobilize one billion Muslims against what Reagan called the Evil
Empire. Money started pouring in. CIA agents starting going all over
the Muslim world recruiting people to fight in the great jihad. Bin
Laden was one of the early prize recruits. He was not only an Arab.
He was also a Saudi. He was not only a Saudi. He was also a multimillionaire,
willing to put his own money into the matter. Bin Laden went around
recruiting people for the jihad against communism.
I first met him in 1986. He was recommended to me by
an American official of whom I do not know whether he was or was not
an agent. I was talking to him and said, Who are the Arabs here who would be very interesting?
By here I meant in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said, You must
meet Osama. I went to see Osama. There he was, rich, bringing
in recruits from Algeria, from Sudan, from Egypt, just like Sheikh
Abdul Rahman. This fellow was an ally. He remained an ally. He turns
at a particular moment. In 1990 the U.S. goes into Saudi Arabia with
forces. Saudi Arabia is the holy place of Muslims, Mecca and Medina.
There had never been foreign troops there. In 1990, during the Gulf
War, they went in, in the name of helping Saudi Arabia defeat Saddam
Hussein. Osama Bin Laden remained quiet. Saddam was defeated, but the
American troops stayed on in the land of the kaba (the sacred site
of Islam in Mecca), foreign troops. He wrote letter after letter saying,
Why are you here? Get out! You came to help but you have stayed on.
Finally he started a jihad against the other occupiers. His mission
is to get American troops out of Saudi Arabia. His earlier mission
was to get Russian troops out of Afghanistan. See what I was saying
earlier about covert operations?
A second point to be made about him is these are tribal
people, people who are really tribal. Being a millionaire doesnt matter. Their
code of ethics is tribal. The tribal code of ethics consists of two words:
loyalty and revenge. You are my friend. You keep your word. I am loyal
to you. You break your word, I go on my path of revenge. For him, America
has broken its word. The loyal friend has betrayed. The one to whom you
swore blood loyalty has betrayed you. Theyre going to go for you.
Theyre going to do a lot more.
These are the chickens of the Afghanistan war coming
home to roost. This is why I said to stop covert operations. There
is a price attached to those that the American people cannot calculate
and Kissinger type of people do not know, dont have the history
Eqbal Ahmad , Professor Emeritus of International Relations and Middle
Eastern Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, also
served as a managing editor of the quarterly Race and Class. A prolific
writer, his articles and essays have been published in The Nation,
Dawn (Pakistan), among several other journals throughout the world.
He died in 1999.