"My Object All Sublime" (Poetic Justice re Terrorism)

The thread title, of course, is by William S. Gilbert, with an assist credited to Sir Arthur Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte (because the carte’s wheeles squeaked, that’s why! ;)):

Now, my understanding of the definition of the term “terrorist” is that it is an individual who does villianous, violent acts to persons who may or may not in objective reality have any connection with the issue incensing the terrorist, but whom he stereotypes into a group “deserving” blame for that issue which incenses him. And his purpose in doing so is, of course, to instill fear in the general populace, to the end that they will support the rectification of what he sees as an evil. Hence the 19 terrorists of 9/11 attacked the WTC, the Pentagon, and whatever the flight brought down in Pennsylvania’s target was supposed to be, not because those whom they killed in fact had any culpability for Americans being in Arab lands, or whatever the particular evil motivating them was in their minds, but because the resulting fear of terrorist attacks might, in their view, move Americans to pull troops out of Saudi Arabia, which they were “desecrating.”

According to Our Government ™, this makes all persons associated with Al Qaeda, other Arab activist groups, and those whom the government accuses of being associated with Al Qaeda or other Arab activist groups, into terrorists ipso facto. And because terrorists are such a danger to America, they are therefore not entitled to the normal rights extended to the accused under our system of justice. Since The Government has pronounced them guilty of terrorism, for reasons it is precluded by national security from making public, they are therefore guilty of terrorism without the need for trial, and must be sequestered indefinitely in a place conveniently beyond the reach of the courts in order to ensure that The American Way of Life is protected from them.

Further, in order to protect us against terrorism, we are obliged to forego some of our historical expectations of freedom (such as traveling on intercity mass transit without submitting to inspection, freedom from wiretapping without warrant issued beforehand and specifying probable cause, etc.). And we are required to support, by our taxes, incursions into other states, principally in the Middle East, because The Government ™ claims that they are, or might be, or had idle thoughts towards someday being, a Serious Threat to America. And once there, any atrocities committed by Our Boys are to be carefully swept under the carpet, because “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

Hmmm. Acts of violence. Against a stereotyped group. For reasons that may or may not be objectively valid. For purposes of instilling fear in the general populace. In order to win their support towards the desired ends of the people commanding the acts of violence.

Damn, that sounds familiar.

I wonder if the policies governing the identification of terrorists and the appropriate treatment of them will still be in place on and after January 20, 2009.

It would be poetic justice.

Wishful thinking. Just because a part of the machine may have a refit now and then – doesn’t mean it isn’t the same machine.

Many years ago (in the late 80’s) I worked at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies, recording a 3-day conference on “terrorism”. Basically the conference broke down because they were unable to agree on a common definition for the term. The academics alone might have, but there was a State Department representative who had certain criteria that the academics weren’t willing to ignore – the gov put lots of money into the Wilson Center, after all.

  1. The definition had to INCLUDE acts like the truck bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut – most of the academics seemed to agree that this act was a “legitimate” act of war, and aimed against combatants. However there were some civilian casualties in and around the building.

  2. The definition had to EXCLUDE the American airstrike on Libya, which had some bombs go astray which killed some civilians, including Quadaffi’s daughter.

  3. The definition also had to exclude the American directed artillery shelling in Lebanon.

  4. The definition also had to exclude the attacks on Nicaraguan infrastructure (ports and power plants) launched by the Contras with American support.

It just couldn’t be done without branding at least some American actisions as terrorism. There was some discussion of excluding acts by state powers from the definition. That too was nixed by the Sate Department rep, because that would mean that the Soviets and various other east block countries weren’t practicing terrorism.

The official US position was, more or less, “terrorism is whatever we say it is, and we don’t practice it.” While the young, naive Boyo Jim was rather shocked at the heavy handed government interference in an academic conference, I was relieved that the academics were’s willing to TOTALLY cave and accept the US position. Instead, they basically produced no reults at all.

I don’t think you can be a terrorist for doing something accidentally. Bombs going astray that were meant for someone else isn’t necessarily terrorism. You can’t take any old horrible crime that you want to politically sensationalize and call it terrorism, otherwise the word doesn’t have any meaning other than “really bad crime”. I’d say that the American and Allied bombing of Japan and Germany was certainly terrorism, but the stray bombs from the Libyan airstrike was not.

I don’t think that the Iraq invasion could be called terrorism, even though I’m strongly opposed to it. Maybe some American soldiers could be called terrorists. Our government seems to honestly want less violence in Iraq, where if they wanted to cause the most panic and chaos and fear in Iraq they’d just let the Shia militias commit genocide.

What stereotype do you believe Al-Qaida has that is not objectively valid, by the way?

Most of these threads don’t go far before someone posts in with the old saying “terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.” which sounds nice until you remember that Bin Laden is richer than a sacher torte and any number of “wars” have been fought similar to the War of the Triple Alliance where half-naked Paraguayan boys were throwing rocks at the Brazillians.

Consider how long it took to draw a clear line between rape and consensual sex, and that was only possible because of laws and courts holding overall authority on the issue. There’s no such oversight over nations and societies.

The problem with America is that you always have to fight for or against some abstract principle. You’re either fighting for freedom, or justice, or international law, or even revenge; or you’re fighting tyranny, or Communism, or terrorism. It’s just the way you are.

Other nations just fight enemies. In WWII, while the U.S. was combating Fascism and bringing freedom to Europe, Britain and Russia were killing Germans.

My point? Don’t fight al-Qaida because they’re terrorists. Terrorism is a red herring. Fight them because they’re your enemy.

That’s just substituting one kind of bullshit for another. You’re confusing the marketing of a war with its content: the U.S. government says its fighting terrorism and supporting liberty or whatever it is, but ultimately it’s doing what it thinks is in its best interest. That’s the same thing every other government always does. There difference in WWII sloganeering was because the Germans were not a direct threat to the U.S. and were athreat to the U.K.

First of all, I’m pretty sure that many - if not most - people believe what they’re selling. That’s what makes the U.S. so maddening, and so wonderful.

Second of all, why is it bullshit? I’m not talking about Iraq, here, I’m talking about al-Qaida. They’ve defined themselves as the enemies of the U.S (it’s basically their raison d’etre). They’ve shown the capacity to hurt U.S. citizen and interests. Letting them do this with impunity sets a bad precident that’ll hurt U.S. interests. All those are perfectly good reasons to hunt them down and kill them. Who cares if they were terrorists? If they all wore uniforms and flew fighter jets, would that make them less of an enemy?

I’m failing to see what’s wonderful about this. Most people may indeed believe the kind of stuff we’re talking about, but the issue isn’t whether most people, it’s about who believes it.

Which means you’re talking about Iraq. The U.S. ended up in Iraq because Al Qaeda provided a convenient excuse for going in there, and terrorism was repeatedly stressed as a reason for that invasion. That’s bullshit by definition. And a government can use Al Qaeda as an excuse for an underplanned, unneeded misadventure like that, just how serious is this enemy threat anyway?
And, of course, the people who ended up being Al Qaeda weren’t always the enemies of America. “Enemy” is pretty much whatever somebody wants it to mean.

See, this is where omitting a couple of words can change an entire sentence. What I had meant to write was, “I’m pretty sure that many - if not most - *people in government * believe what they’re selling.”

For instance, I’m pretty sure President Bush actually believes that he’s fighting a war on terrorism. He’s an idiot, of course, but a sincere idiot.

First of all, while there may have been other, more nefarious or more Machiavellian reasons for the invasion of Iraq, I belive that many, even most of the people involved in the planning and execution of the war truly believed that they were protecting America against terrorist threats. This doesn’t excuse the fact that they were wrong, or that they bungled the job.

But I don’t get the rest of your question. “Enemy” has a very specific meaning - it means someone that has declared himslf to be your enemy, or that you have declared *him * to be your enemy. Yes, lots of people weren’t part of AQ before you invaded Iraq. What difference does that make? Once they joined, they became your enemy. Now, obviously, if the U.S. were smart, it would make efforts to prevent people from joining AQ ranks, or to get them to quit. But if someone wants to hurt you, he’s your enemy, right?

Look, I’m Israeli. A couple of summers ago, my country cmae under attack from an orginization called Hizballah. Did we fight them because it served some sort of politcal purpose? Did we fight them because they were terrorists? No, we fought them because they were firing missiles at us, and we wanted them to stop!

I’m not convinced of that. Well, I mean, I’m not convinced of the sincerity part. This is an argument that’s gone on here for years, so with your permission I’d like to bypass it and get to what I think is the main point:

And part #2 is where it turns to mush. Why do “you” declare somebody your enemy? You can pick just about any reason. So it’s somewhat empty, and “Fight someone because they are your enemy” is basically a tautology; it sheds no light on why you decide someone is your enemy. Similarly, “Fight for freedom” is a slogan and doesn’t necessarily explain why the U.S. fought in World War II or is involved in Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s why I’m saying one is not preferable, or really different, from the other.

It is different, because when you fight an enemy, you an end the fight by defeating him, or by being defeated, or by making peace. When you fight for an ideal your fighting thoughts, and that never ends well.

Anyway, you seem to think that “enemy” is a value jugement; that it means “evil”, or “wrong”, or “different”, or “inferior”, but that isn’t how it works. The enemy is the person you’re fighting. Now, you can fight someone for lots of reasons, some good, some bad - but that doesn’t change the fact that the rivalry itself is what makes him your enemy, and you his.

On the most basic level, the enemy is the person who’s trying to hurt you. There are lots of ways to get him to stop from hurting you - to defeat him militarily, to reach a negotiated peace, to stop hurting him, to get out of his country - and each way has its merits, depending on the circumstances, but until you do that, he’ll be your enemy, by definition.

In that case, name me a war that’d been fought for an ideal. Wars tend to be sold on ideals but fought for more specific reasons. Yes, something like “War on Terror” is open-ended and undefined. But the actual fighting involved will be picked and chosen on more realistic criteria.

No, actually, I don’t. I understand the sense you’re using it in. As I said, this is still circular reasoning.

Tell me: what, to you, is a good reason to fight a war with someone? What war could you get behind?

It’s a hard question to answer. But I’ll say self-defense, and stopping mass murder.

Well, if Ryan Seacrest got himself elected President someplace…

So if you were fighting in self-defense, would you see the people you were fighting as your enemies?

What difference would it make? I don’t have a moral opposition to the word enemy, I’m saying that there is no meaningful difference between calling a war “a fight against your enemy” or “a fight for democracy.” They’re packaging. Ask anybody in the U.S. government and I think they would describe the War on Terror as both a fight for ideals and a fight against America’s enemies.

Just as a note in passing, I did not dump an OP here and abandon it, but have been following the discussion with interest, and have seen nothing that requires or provokes a comment from me. Some very inrteresting and valid points have been made, and I thank all participating .