Dr. Zaman Stanizai is Professor of Professor of Political Science at California State University, Dominguez Hills and Professor of Mythological Studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California. He is a Fulbright scholar and has earned a PhD and two masters of art degrees in political science and linguistics at USC and the University of Washington. Dr. Stanizai has engaged in extensive postdoctoral studies in Sufism and mysticism, concentrating on the thought of Ibn Arabi and Rumi. His literary work is published in Persian, Pashto, and English. As a peace advocate he blogs in the Middle East Institute and on. He has lectured widely on Islamic contributions to world civilization.
Terrorism: If Correctly Identified, Can be Cured
Both common sense and scientific procedure would suggest that no problem can be solved unless it is correctly identified. Yet, this very fundamental principle is ignored in attempting to resolve the most devastating, life-threatening problem of our time, terrorism.
With increasing frequency, acts of terrorism have become the ugly face of our 21st century reality. In the past few weeks, bloody explosions have rocked Manchester, London, and Kabul. The attack in Kabul left ten times more dead and wounded than the combined casualties of the two attacks in England, yet it received much less attention and coverage in world press.
These acts of violence, generally described as the hatred of Islamist terrorists for Western democracies, are condemned by public opinion and political pundits. Authorities are defiant and resolute in promising to fight this foreign threat. Some express themselves in a stately manner such as the British Premier, Teresa May: “The whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism, and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities, but as one truly United Kingdom.” Others like Captain Clay Higgins, a Republican congressman from Louisiana, unleash their racist rant openly calling on “all of Christendom” to fight the so-called “Islamic horror.” “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.“
Comments like these about any other group would have ended this lawmaker’s career, but attacking Muslim faith and believers seems to have become fair game in the West, especially since the 2016 election. But bigotry, no matter how politely stated, cannot solve the problem, unless we go soul-searching beyond the rhetoric and seek sensible solutions to this persistent global problem.
At the core of this political and cultural divide is how accurately (or inacccurately) terrorism is defined. Political theoreticians study, analyze, and offer clear, authoritative, and practicable solutions to these seemingly unresolvable problems. They identify all forms of political violence, namely individual, group, and state as terrorism, and establish a cause and effect relationship among them.
Western countries that are aggressively involved in many of these global conflicts re-define the definition of terrorism in order to shield themselves conveniently from political responsibility, social criticism, and moral culpability.
The Webster dictionary defines terrorism as: “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” The Legal Dictionary is more specific in defining terrorism: “The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property in order to coerce or intimidate a government or the civilian population in furtherance of political or social objectives.” This legal definition makes no distinction between group and state terrorisms as a crime is defined by the pain and suffering inflicted upon the victims and not by the political identity or status of the perpetrator(s).
The American Intelligence Community, on the other hand, is guided by Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d) that defines terrorism this way: “The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets bysubnational groups or clandestine agents.” [Italics are mine]. Restricting the term terrorism to apply only to ‘subnational groups or clandestine agents’ deliberately excludes state terrorism and it makes this ideology-specific definition incompatible with the Legal and Webster definitions of terrorism.
In excluding state terrorism from being identified as such we in the West turn a blind eye to the calamities we inflict upon the lives of millions caught in the crossfire. And we cause greater damage due to our superior firepower. As Richard Dekmejian in his critical work Spectrum of Terror writes, “The frequency, magnitude, and destructiveness of violence perpetrated by governments far exceed those authored by anti-state terrorist organizations.”
It is a shame that even the casualties of this political violence are conveniently dehumanized as ‘collateral damage.’ Worse yet, Western armed forces as agents of state terrorism are immune from prosecutions when implicated in crimes against humanity based on the terms of the many ‘bilateral’ security treaties such as the U.S. - Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement.
Public frustration and anger at the tragic loss of life in Western town squares subway stations, and concert halls is understandable, but without taking anything away from the severity of that pain and suffering it all pales by comparison with the carnage in Syria, for instance, that takes the lives of 208 people on any typical day or the rubble that once was Aleppo, or the destructions that Western armed forces have left behind in Ramadi, Haditha, Mosul, Hums, Grozny, Jalalabad, Pajwaii, Helmand and all points in between in this cross-continental war zone once known as the Middle East and North Africa.
In addition to the visible destruction of life, property, history, culture, and economic infrastructure, there is the invisible scaring of the human psyche in these multi-generational military conflicts such as the four-decade-long war in Afghanistan with no end in sight or the five-decade-long Palestinian occupation.
Add to these the fact that the millions terrorized by Western aggressive interventions are flocking as refugees to the lands which produced the bombs—Europe and America—where they are generally met with bans and barbed wire borders, and hostility in makeshift camps.
Because there are some who open their borders, their arms and their hearts to welcome these refugees in humanity, all people of conscience are called upon to look at this 21st century human tragedy through a wide-angle global perspective, establish the cause and effect between individual, group, and state terrorism, and link our tragedies with theirs.
What is called for is an understanding that the solution for terrorism is not in making billion-dollar arms sales for the further expansion of this war zone, but to act upon our human conscience, look at our moral obligation, and resort to our civic duty and sincerely seek practical solutions for global terrorism.
There is no doubt that for the complete elimination of terrorism the Middle Eastern societies will have to meet us half way, but the West should allow for their infantile first steps in democracy with all their shortcomings, instead of frequently intervening to replace them through regime change as a pretext for looting and economic exploitation. We are making suggestions that may be a bit idealistic, but they are not naïve if we seriously want to eliminate terrorism. This calls for a paradigmatic shift in the East-West relationship at this juncture of history:
· Democracy should be viewed as a common human ideal rather than a trait of cultural superiority.
· Muslim-majority societies must be allowed to chose their own path for economic progress and social development even if the chosen path is not to the West’s liking.
· Adhering to principles of universal democracy, the civilized West must side with the people of the Middle East instead of the dictators who suppress them. The West should not act as merchants of death and war-profiteers luring repressive dictators who, at best, hoard military hardware that turns obsolete upon delivery or at worst, use them against their own people.
· We should use restorative diplomacy that calls for security for the weak and stability for the strong instead of the often-practiced coercive diplomacy of the West where the strong threaten the weak through ‘regime change,’ often at the behest of the West.
· And finally, through dialogue and diplomacy the ‘us versus them’ mindset has to be abandoned and ‘otherness’ must be replaced with the wholeness of our humanity.