Saturday, July 16, 2005

I say terrorist, you say insurgent 

Little Green Footballs commends this "Dallas Morning News" editorial:
Today, this editorial board resolves to sacrifice another word - "insurgent" - on the altar of precise language. No longer will we refer to suicide bombers or anyone else in Iraq who targets and kills children and other innocent civilians as "insurgents."

The notion that these murderers in any way are nobly rising up against a sitting government in a principled fight for freedom has become, on its face, absurd. If they ever held a moral high ground, they sacrificed it weeks ago, when they turned their focus from U.S. troops to Iraqi men, women and now children going about their daily lives.
Most of the media chooses to call them insurgents (or variants of that term), while most of the right-wing blogosphere and commentariat calls them terrorists. I have tried to keep both terms separate and in circulation. It seems to me that there is a broad distinction that can be made between the neo-Baathists and Al Qaeda, both in terms of ultimate objectives and immediate methods. The neo-Baathists are local Sunnis, who in short term want to make the Coalition forces leave, ensure significant Sunni influence in the new Iraq, and ideally return to the good old days of Sunni hegemony over the Shia and the Kurds. The neo-Baathists largely target Coalition and Iraqi security forces.

Al Qaeda jihadis, on the other hand, combine some of the more radical and religious oriented local elements with a fair admixture of foreign mudjahedin. The short term aim is also to expel foreign forces from Iraq and to promote the influence of Sunni Arabs as the guardians of Islamic orthodoxy, but the ideal long-term outcome is a Talibanized Iraq rather than more secular national socialist state Iraq used to be under Saddam. Al Qaeda also targets military and security personnel, but in addition it also targets civilian population as a terror tactic to make normal daily life in Iraq unbearable, and frighten and turn the population against the authorities. Neo-Baathists seem to prefer roadside bombs, while Al Qaeda goes for suicide attacks.

There is, of course, a great deal of overlap and cooperation between the two groups, even if because they both share common short term objectives. But a case can be made that those who essentially fight the guerilla war against those they see as occupiers can be described as insurgents, guerrillas or rebels, while those who indiscriminately bomb civilians can be properly termed terrorists.

One can maintain this distinction without being in any way sympathetic to any of the aims of either group. Neither group can be termed freedom fighters, as they are not fighting for freedom in any positive sense this word can be understood, but merely freedom to oppress the majority. Both are resisting a democratically elected government, both draw their membership not from the representative cross-section of Iraqi community but from a sub-group of a minority comprising about 20 per cent of the population. They're not in any way representative of the aspirations of Iraqi people as a whole. Neither group is fighting for Iraqi independence, as Iraq is already a sovereign nation with a legitimate government (in which by choice they currently play no role), or for greater sectarian autonomy, as they both strongly oppose the idea of a federal and decentralized Iraq.

In other words, both the neo-Baathists and Al Qaeda are scum, but just because the media can't bring themselves to call some of them terrorists, it doesn't mean that we should call all of them terrorists.


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