Controversies about labeling terrorism
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Many definitions of terrorism exist, but there is no consensus on a single, universal definition. For example, Kydd and Walter define terrorism as "the use of violence against civilians by non-state actors to attain political goals." The US Department of State defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents." On the other hand, the FBI's Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as "The unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives. The lack of a universal definition of terrorism has led to controversies, making it sometimes difficult to label a certain attack as a terrorist incident. For example, Tarik Kafala, head of BBC Arabic insists journalists must stop using the term "terrorist", because it is a "value-laden" term. Furthermore, there have been controversies, such as Obama's refusal to use the phrase, "Islamic terrorism", with political implications.
Vagueness of definitionEdit
There are several problems with the definition of terrorism.
No universally accepted definitionEdit
There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. In his paper "Defining Terrorism: Is One Man's Terrorist Another Man's Freedom Fighter?", Boaz Ganor points out the urgency of an internationally accepted definition of terrorism due to the ambiguousness of the term. Even within the country of the United States, the US Department of State and the FBI have different definitions of terrorism, which can lead one institute to classify an event as terrorist while another does not.
Another issue with the definition of terrorism is its vague wording. Navin Bapat, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and expert on terrorist campaigns, points out the subjective nature of words used in definitions of terrorism, such as "non-combatant" and "political purposes". The subjectivity of such words allows for dispute over whether a group is or is not terrorist, as questions such as the degree to which the attack was pre-meditated, the degree to which a subnational group was involved with the premeditation of the attack, or the definition of a "non-combatant" and what ideologies are considered "political" may arise.
Steve Biko was a South African anti-apartheid activist who believed that some violence against whites was inevitable while apartheid remained in place. He was a leading figure of the South African Students' Organization, and participated in founding the Black People's Convention. According to many definitions of terrorism, including the US Department of State and Kydd & Walter as well as the Terrorism Act of South Africa at the time, Steve Biko's activities qualified as terrorism. Steve Biko was arrested under the South African Terrorism Act, and died while in custody. Today, Steve Biko is appraised[by whom?] as a hero. Manning Marable and Peniel Joseph also referred to him as "one of South Africa's greatest fighters - and martyrs - for freedom." In a public vote in 2004, Steve Biko was elected 13th of SABC3's Great South Africans. This example illustrates that some "terrorists" may become "heroes" when alternate perspectives are acknowledged.
Similarly, the Edelweiss Pirates were a group of youth that stood up against the Nazi regime, sometimes using violence. Some of the members were arrested and executed for conspiring to plant a bomb at the Gestapo headquarters. According to the definition of terrorism as outlined by the US Department of State, this group can be categorized as terrorist, as they are a subnational group that planned politically-motivated violence against noncombatant targets. In 2005, however, the German authorities gave official recognition to the Edelweiss Pirates as resistance heroes after 60 years of denouncing them as a criminal organization. That German authorities may recognize as heroes a group that not only was once considered a criminal group but can also presently qualify as a terrorist group, clearly demonstrates the vagueness of the various definitions of terrorism currently used by different institutions around the world.[opinion]
A more recent and more controversial[opinion] example is the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Though it has been established that the shooter, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to ISIS, there is no evidence that ISIS provided operational support. If this incident is to be labeled "terrorist" according to the definition of terrorism as defined by the US Department of State, Mateen must be acting as an agent of ISIS. However, ISIS's lack of direct involvement in the premeditation and execution of the attack provides complications.
Islam and terrorismEdit
Much controversy exists over the association of Islam with terrorism. Since the September 11 attacks, any act of violence has been prone to being labeled as "terrorist" if the perpetrator is Muslim, regardless of the intentions and organization details of the attack, rendering the definitions of terrorism void.[opinion] For example, the 2017 Westminster attack has been described as a terrorist attack by various media agencies. However, as with the Orlando nightclub shooting, no evidence linking the Khalid Massood, the attacker, to terrorist organizations has been found. Similarly, the Charlie Hebdo shooting sparked controversy when Tarik Kafala, head of BBC Arabic, claimed that the attack must not be labeled as one of terrorist nature by the media because the term terrorist is value-laden.
At the same time, Muslims have been subject to particular scrutiny. In their paper, "‘I’m a Muslim, but I'm not a Terrorist’: Victimization, Risky Identities and the Performance of Safety", Mythen, Walklate & Khan highlight the risk, identity, and experience of victimization that British Muslims encounter due to the current discourse on terrorism, which is biased towards Muslims. Kosic and Nordio point out how the discourse on terrorism has created a tension between self and the "Other" in Europe, creating difficulties in communities' acceptance of immigrants. Such isolation of the Muslim community has led to scandalous incidents, particularly in airports and aircraft. For example, in August, 2016, three siblings were removed from an EasyJet flight from Stansted to Naples after being falsely accused of reading ISIS materials. Muslim communities have also experienced hate crimes, such as when an arsonist set fire at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce.
Governments can use the label and definitions of terrorism to convince the public that measures are being taken to protect them. For example, terrorism can be addressed as either a military problem or a criminal problem. President George W. Bush categorized terrorists as militants by declaring a war on terrorism, while President Barack Obama used counter-terrorist measures rather than military measures. Governments can also use the label to isolate groups. Isolated groups may be oppressed, discriminated against, and delegitimized.
The isolation of groups by labeling them as terrorist has led to a division between the in-group and out-group, causing mistrust and caution towards immigration. This phenomenon is leading to the rise of extreme-right leaning candidates in Europe, particularly.
For example, President Donald J. Trump has called for a temporary travel ban from countries next to war zones or with inadequate identification measures from entering the United States, citing terrorism as justification. Reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center claim that President Trump’s campaign contributed to the tripling of hate groups against Muslims from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016 The FBI found that hate crimes against Muslims increased by 67% in 2015; the increase was due to more municipalities recording such incidents and not an actual increase in events. The SPLC documented over 300 bias-related incidents targeting immigrants or Muslims in the first 10 days after Trump’s election; this was also due to more municipalities recording such incidents and not an actual increase in the occurrence.
Another example is Israel's political actions. Israel labels Palestinian political violence against them as terrorist, which allows Israel to reject negotiation. On the other hand, when Israel executed Operation Wooden Leg on Tunisia, leaving 47 dead and 65 wounded, the US's initial statement claimed that it was a "legitimate response to terrorism". However, Benjamin Netanyahu distinguished terrorism as "a deliberate targeting of civilians", "deliberate and systematic murder and maiming designed to inspire fear". Similarly, according to Noam Chomsky, Israel carried out a large number of air and artillery attacks killing civilians during the 2006 Lebanon War, some of which may have deliberately targeted civilians. The war left 1,191 Lebanese civilians and 44 Israeli civilians dead.
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an articulate and visionary black South African intellectual and hero
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