The Bush Administration has declared a wide-ranging war on “terrorism” – what does this mean?
Terrorism is not a particular ideology or a description of a particular nationality or ethnicity (although the term certainly is laden with racial implications). Thus unlike past wars, a war on terrorism is not a war against any particularly definable group of people. Such a war has no clear “victory”, no geographical limits, nor any conclusion – such a war presumably will continue everywhere and anywhere forever. Perversely, this is seen as a good thing by Bush and his ilk.
At its heart, terrorism is a description used by governments and those in power for violence used by the powerless in any type of struggle. One could say that terrorism is a “tactic”, but such a definition misses the way the term is used; the term “terrorist” is always used to indicate the division between those in power and those who are powerless.
The word terrorist has been applied to a lot of different people, often unjustly in an attempt to smear legitimate struggles for liberation. For instance, the African National Congress, which is now the government of South Africa, was designated as a “terrorist” group during its struggle against apartheid. Other examples are Irish Republicans, Basques in Spain, East Timorese resistance fighters, and the entire Palestinian people. Although many actions are described as “terrorism” and many groups denounced as terrorist, few of these ever plan or carry out actions similar to the September 11 attack. Historically many people have been branded “terrorist” although their activities were in no way aimed at innocent people.
Governments fearful of change label resistance groups as “terrorist” in order to justify state violence against these groups. Certainly even our “founding fathers” – rag tag colonists organized as the Minutemen to resist British Rule during the US Revolutionary War – would have been described as terrorists by the British. What was the Boston Tea Party if not a “terrorist act?”
It is frequently pointed out that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.
Crucially, violence carried out by government is not usually considered “terrorism”, especially if the government carrying out the violence is very powerful. The very meaning of “government” is an organization that has a social monopoly on the “legitimate” use of force – of violence.
Thus when a United States missile slammed into the Chinese embassy in Serbia during the brief war against that nation, killing many Chinese officer workers at their desks, that attack was not “terrorism” – it was an “accident” during a “legitimate” military action. States using violence against civilian areas describe innocent victims as “collateral damage” or merely as a legitimate tactic in war. The US nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed about 200,000 people, most of them “innocent” civilians going about their daily lives. This action was not “terrorism” because it was state action that was part of a war.
It is crucial that Bush’s war against terrorism is not a war against violence or against injustice. Bush takes no general stand against any violence practiced against innocent civilians.
Instead, Bush’s war is only a war against a particular kind of violence – violence practiced by the powerless. Bush’s war, like all wars, intends to use another kind of violence to accomplish its goals – state violence. His statements that violence may be used against states “harboring” terrorists makes clear that Bush’s war will use US state violence against innocent civilians in other lands.
The slippery definition of terrorism and the diverse groups accused of practicing terrorism is of particular concern in the perpetual war against terrorism proposed by Bush.
Bush’s war on terrorism is just the New World Order described in other terms – once again the global capitalist class and its governments around the world intend to use limitless state violence to forever defeat anyone who would dare to fight the global domination of the capitalist order.
It is no coincidence that anarchists and the techno street rave group “Reclaim the Streets” were labeled as “terrorists” by the FBI in May. Bush’s war on terrorism, with its domestic security crackdown and increased surveillance against anti-government groups as well as its foreign military aspect, aims to crush any action perceived as threatening carried out by any non-ruling or non-governmental formation.
Bush’s ultimate aim is a world in which the powerful exercise complete domination, unquestioned and unopposed.
As an anarchist, I could not be more horrified at the attack on the World Trade Center. I’ve shed many tears over the senseless taking of so many lives of people I don’t even know. I suspect many radicals share this feeling.
But the horror of the September 11 attacks must not cause us to lose sight of the horrendous systematic violence killing innocent people across the globe on a daily basis. The global capitalist system and the injustice and environmental destruction it causes remains the greatest impediment to human happiness and freedom.
Destroying this system requires vigorous struggle by millions of people across the globe against the forces represented by Bush. These forces of domination and violence intend to shamelessly use the deaths of thousands of innocent people to justify a perpetual global war against opposition to their system. The power to label those fighting for freedom as “terrorists” is in the hands of our oppressors. Make no mistake – a war on terrorism without end is ultimately a war on all of us and the planet.