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All terrorists are NOT the same

  • Sunday, July 24 2011 @ 10:37 AM CEST
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There has been a considerable amount of discussion on the net recently about the attacks in Noway and the rush to judge them as the work of "(Islamic) terrorists", much of it thoughtful, if perhaps not particularly "new". I suggest that it is not "new" because it has been obvious at least since the 1980s that "one man's 'terrorist' is another man's 'freedom fighter'" (though I don't recall where I first read that). What is new is the way that 'terrorist' has become linked to 'Islam' in the Anglo-American media in this century, as Glenn Greenwald illustrates in his The omnipotence of Al Qaeda and meaninglessness of "Terrorism".

That said, in a generally well-considered article, Greenwald, like some others goes too far in seeming to equate Breivik's attacks in Norway with the attacks of organizations. This goes too far because there really is a difference between an individual and an organization.

In his otherwise well-considered article, Greenwald asks:

Will tall, blond, Nordic-looking males now receive extra scrutiny at airports and other locales, and will those having any involvement with those right-wing, Muslim-hating groups be secretly placed on no-fly lists? Or are those oppressive, extremist, lawless measures -- like the word Terrorism -- also reserved exclusively for Muslims?
I've also seen similar sentiments expressed elsewhere.

I submit that, regardless of the legitimacy of "no-fly lists" and the like, this sort of thinking is mistaken, for it fails to make the very real distinction between an individual and an organization.

This is not a difference in "terrorism"; I note, for example, that the BBC reports that "Mr Breivik has been charged with committing acts of terrorism".

This is also not a difference between left and right, or domestic an international. In both Europe and the USA, the state has taken action against various violent/terrorist organizations, including the Red Brigades, Neo-Nazi organizations, the Weather Underground, and KKK and "militia" groups.

But there is a truly fundamental difference in that organizations, by their nature, can be monitored. Large operations can possibly be disrupted. Individuals acting as individuals cannot, at least not without the institution of the most extreme sort of police state (if even then). At least so far, it appears that Breivik was not actually a member on any violent or even extremist organization, and that he only posted on various web fora. Should the authorities take action against individuals on the basis of their comments on the web expressing or sympathizing with unpopular positions?

But if such actions are not to be taken, then there is very little that can be done to prevent the actions (even violent or terrorist actions) of individuals. But this hardly means that terrorist organizations must be left alone. It does not seem to me out of line that an organization that has endorsed, planned, or even carried out violent attacks (whether they be referred to as 'terrorism' or not) should be monitored.

I would also note that such a position is not limited to 'terrorism'. In normal police activities, the activities of criminal organizations and their members are dealt with in a very different way than are those of individual criminals or possible criminals.

Thus, one can justifiably condemn both the leap to judgment regarding the attacks in Norway and the apparent double standard regarding 'terrorism', but one should be careful to avoid erasing critical differences when doing so.


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