By Elavalagan, December 16, 2016
From the individual nations to the United Nations, the message is clear: terrorists are evil! There is no second guessing on that, period. Every human of the world is expected to stand up against terrorists, reject them, and stop them. That is the expected resolve of a civilized world. But here is a dilemma. Can one ask for the ‘binding’ definition of ‘terrorists?’ No, absolutely not! That is the trick of the (terrorism) trade. In this trade unfortunately, the act of terror has been traded for the benefits of foreign policies.
Even the UN will not provide you a binding definition of ‘terrorist”. It is possible the UN is not allowed to do so. Instead of a definition, depending on whom you ask, a LIST of chosen terrorists will be given to identify what is and isn’t a terrorist. And if one goes around the world and collects these lists, even the names on those lists will not match each other.
From East to West, from North to South, nations have been using terrorism as a foreign policy enforcement tool. This is shown in how the term ‘rebel’ intermingles with the term ‘terrorist’. If the UN is to provide a binding definition of ‘terrorist’, then it will also be forced to provide a binding definition of ‘rebel’. That is not going to happen since having a binding definition of ‘terrorist’ would eventually illegalize all the proxy wars. And the leading beneficiaries of the proxy wars are the big powers of the world, mostly the stakeholders of the UN.
The latest in the terrorist/rebel saga was staged when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on November 02, 2016, expressed his anger for Germany’s support of FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization). Erdogan and his Turkish government sees FETO as a terrorist organization. Even though Germany and the West also designated FETO as a terrorist group, they allowed the group to run bases in the west for the benefits of foreign politics. The armed Kurdish group PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) have also been seen as terrorists by Turkey, yet they are darlings of the West.
“We are concerned that Germany, which for years took the PKK and DHKP-C under its wings, has become the backyard of FETO,” said Turkish president Erdogan. After all, Germany and Turkey are members of NATO, one of the tight-knit military alliances. Still, the undefined term ‘terrorist’ allows them to apply totally opposing interpretations.
This undefined terrorist/rebel term, on the other hand, also allows Turkey to see the militant group Free Syrian Army (FSA) as rebels, while the Syrian government labels FSA as terrorists. So, it is clear that Turkey is also one of the countries using the interpretation of terrorist/rebel to enforce its foreign policies.
Not just Turkey, every nation that has active socio, economic, and political interests beyond their borders have terrorist/rebel in their foreign policy enforcement tool box. Deploying proxy armies is an easy and cheap way to have a fighting force against the enemy without sending the army in harm’s way. A war against another country may require an explanation to the UN. A war against another county through a proxy needs no explanation.
America and most of the western countries also see Free Syrian Army as ‘rebels’. The West supplies heavy arms to these groups, trains them, and provides logistical and intelligence support. For the West, a regime change in Syria deserves a full-scale war because of terrorists/rebels. But for them on the other hand, Palestine taking arms to get back their lost country doesn’t deserve any militancy. For the West’s socio, political, and economically oriented foreign policy, FSA is a rebel group, while PLO and Hamas are terrorist groups.
Since 2014, Russia has been supporting Russian-speaking Ukrainian armed groups after the West removed the democratically elected pro-Russian government, and implanted its own government in the capital Kiev. Russia sees the armed groups in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine as ‘rebels’. But the West sees these groups as ‘terrorists’. Russia on the other hand was seeing Chechen armed groups as ‘terrorists’ because they wanted to separate Chechnya from Russia. In other words, Russia’s foreign policy sees the Ukrainian separatist armed groups as rebels, but the Chechen separatist armed group as terrorists.
Saudi Arabia too is enforcing its foreign policies by the means of rebels/terrorists in the Middle East. The Saudis are one of the primary supporters of Free Syrian Army which, as said earlier, is considered a terrorist organization by Syria. But on the other hand, the Saudis are engaged in a prolonged war against Houthi armed groups in Yemen. Houthi is fighting against the pro-Saudi government in Yemen. The Houthi group is said to have been nurtured by Iran, an adversary of Saudi Arabia. It is a cycle of governments to rebels to terrorists that needs no explanation in the UN.
Use of rebels/terrorists to impose a proxy war on an enemy, especially a foreign government, has been with us for a long time. During the Cold War, proxy wars through rebels/terrorists had been the primary tool for the nations within the UN, especially between the members of the security council.
India also had its fair share of rebel/terrorist-mingled foreign policy. India is lashing Pakistan for harboring terrorists since Pakistani-based armed groups have been attacking India. But ironically, about 30 years ago, India did to Sri Lanka what Pakistan has been doing to India. India took more than 1,000 Sri Lankan Tamils, gave them military training in India by retired Indian military personnel, and sent them back to fight against Sri Lankan forces when Sri Lanka leaned towards America. Sri Lanka called the Indian trained groups ‘terrorists’.
As of now, the global non-binding understanding of terrorist/rebel is ‘my enemy militant is a terrorist, but my enemy’s enemy militant is a rebel’. Therefore, one would expect me to love a rebel/terrorist while another would expect me to hate them. The act of terror is immaterial here.
The insult to injury part of this drama is that sometimes countries list a group as a terrorist and then love them as rebel. PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by NATO, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. But then PKK is the most trusted party in the war on terrorism in the Middle East. Not a surprise, PKK is not listed as a terrorist group under the UN.
Even Nelson Mandela, who waged a lifelong battle against apartheid in South Africa has been legally identified as a terrorist. He had been on the U.S. terrorism watch list until 2008. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He was a terrorist who got the Nobel Peace Prize. If the international community had a binding definition for terrorist, would this have happened? So, one mustn’t be surprised to see some of today’s terrorists eventually being seen as rebels and vise versa in the future. It is all in transnational politics.
As a further insult to the terror victims, today’s members of the modern media enterprises, the so-called “journalist”, can fill hours of their airtime and pages of articles talking about rebels/terrorists without defining these words. They too don’t look at what an armed group did, but to whom they did the terror. These members of media enterprises are willfully filtering the news to promote friendly armed groups as a ‘rebel’ group, and adversarial armed groups as ‘terrorist’ groups. The members of media enterprises are too in the trade of terrorists/rebels.
Unless the UN and the international community define the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘rebel’ and identify the militancy per those definitions, we will continue to use them as foreign policy enforcement tools. Until those days come, if they come, we will continue to shed crocodile tears for the victims of terror.