Today boys and girls, we're going to talk about terrorism. Don't groan. We must.
There are a lot of problems with this word, mainly because it has lots of meanings. We'll start with its history.
It dates from 18th century France, from "The Reign of Terror", and at that time it referred to the government. It was used again during WWI as part of allied policy against the enemies.
On the other hand it has been used to describe every kind of resistance and guerrilla fighter imaginable.
Back in Victorian times we had a different word which was bandied about everywhere and used for fearmongering, and that was "anarchy". At the time this was a very powerful word, as it meant "bringing down the establishment", and there was no objection to that meaning by either side. The only objection was that the establishment didn't want to be brought down. It never does.
Right now we live in a world where there is much objection to the establishment, and yet many of us benefit from it, not just the wealthiest. We are used, in the west, to talking about the 1% who get all the benefits, while the rest of us miss out. However, on a worldwide scale, most of us in the west are in the top 10%. And we don't want to lose that.
Simply put, if you own a house and a car, you are wealthy. In fact, even if you rent your home and travel by bus, if you have a fridge in that home, and can afford to eat and clothe yourself, you are still doing better than most. Most people on planet earth genuinely struggle to get by. By definition, nobody able to read this blog is struggling. If you disagree with this you need to do some research. Everything is relative but we are very fortunate.
So, quite understandably, we'd like it to stay that way.
What if all the wealth in the world was evenly distributed? This was a question I started asking at a very young age. Before we were married the Methodist minister booked to do the deed required us to attend a series of classes, and as a budding Marxist with the undivided attention of a clergyman, I put it to him that sharing the wealth equally might be a good idea. He smiled wisely and explained to me that it would never happen, because too many people had too much to lose, and that even if it did, it wouldn't stay that way for long.
He reminded me that human behaviour, more than anything else, affected the distribution of wealth. It tended to clump around those who had the abilities to obtain or keep it for themselves in various ways, some more honest than others. Some people simply steal it. But others have skills that are more valuable, including charisma. Intellect and charm attracts wealth, as do leadership skills, and telling lies. Hard work plays a role, but not a huge one. The hardest working people in the world often earn the least.
He went on to explain that once those clumps started forming, they enabled the proto-wealthy to become more wealthy because they could pay for the services they needed to attract more wealth. In other words, it would be just a matter of time before the distribution was back to the way it was.
Yes, this devoutly religious man (and he was a VERY good man, a great example of his calling) truly believed that the uneven distribution of wealth was inevitable.
That of course is assuming a free market. The way to alter distribution is to have rules and limits. These may or may not be ethical, obviously, but that is how it is in reality. The free market means the wealthy are free to accrue as much as they want, and the poor are free to starve.
I gave this a lot of thought at the time, and it knocked the Marxist right out of me. Because it became very obvious that as wonderful as the theory behind it was, it was impossible without oppressive rules and limits, as happened in communist regimes. Not a system I wanted to live under. I confess that I prefer democracy and capitalism, however flawed it is. I hope it matures into a better system, but I'm not into revolution. It would hurt me and mine. I'm not alone here.
Not only that, if you do divide the world's free money (not property or other assets) equally among all people, you end up with under $10,000 each. For most people on the planet this would be an amazing windfall. For me it wouldn't last very long, and I'd be clumping feverishly.
So I'll sit here and confess, that I would lose out if this were done, as would most westerners, and this is why we have no plans to do it. Our perspective in the west, as decent ordinary people, is that we think the distribution is unfair, but at the same time, we'd just like to redistribute money locally, thank you very much.
This perspective is not shared by most of the world. If they have time to think about it at all, they would like it shared around more, and would very much like some of our share. Right now their way of achieving that is limited to selling things to us, or moving here and getting a little clump of their own.
But many of them have a different perspective. They are perfectly willing to live under oppressive rules and limits. It would leave them all better off. Humans are often willing to exchange freedom for security, we do it ourselves in many ways. When you don't even have the security of knowing where your next meal is coming from, it looks like a really good deal.
And some people are perfectly willing to be those who organize this, and impose the oppressive rules and limits. In true utilitarian style, they'll even kill a few to feed the many. If anyone stands in their way, oh dear. Collateral damage.
This doesn't take into account the corruption that goes on within revolutionary governments, of which there is invariably plenty. It could even be questioned whether any of their motives were pure, or whether they are simply offering security in order to obtain power, but the end result is the same either way.
People without any leadership are willing to accept authoritarian leadership.
You don't have to believe me, there are so many examples, and so few exceptions, this is empirically proven. No, it makes no sense. I'd like to think I wouldn't, but maybe, in that situation, I would. Maybe if you are poor and vulnerable you don't have the luxury of sense.
And when I say leadership, that includes representation. There may well be an established government, but if it fails to represent you either because you are the minority or just the huddled masses, then you have no leadership from the government, and you look elsewhere for it. You take what you can get.
These alternative leaders are not without opposition. The establishment obviously is not welcoming them with open arms. Why would they? These are....anarchists. Not for long mind you. As soon as they are in power they oppose anarchy. See how it works? It's a trap, but it's one that marginalized people have fallen into time and time again, and I guarantee they will continue to do so as long as we fail to figure out this wealth distribution thing. Possibly even then.
At this stage, if you are still unsure that I'm not talking out of my arse, I invite you to read just about anything on the history of revolution, in any place, at any time. You'll find the same scenario play out with a frightening familiarity, and few success stories. Of course the first American revolution was a huge exception (only because of the leaders at the time being exceptional men), but I'm not so sure the next one will be. Anyway, my point is that during the "takeover" from one system to another, those who start the revolution are anarchists, and then afterwards they are not.
What they are, necessarily, is terrorists. You don't get to usurp power by asking nicely. It simply doesn't happen that way. There are only two ways of getting into power, one is by being asked/voted in, and one is by seizing power. There are instances of this being a bit of a grey area (e.g. 1066) but generally, if you wish to take charge, you have to do it by force alone.
All of this so far is assuming that you WANT to be the new government. That you are part of some larger organization or plan to that end. It goes without saying that sometimes anarchists act alone. Sometimes they are just lone crazies. They have big intentions but nothing to back it up. Sometimes they are not alone but still very impotent little organizations with a grievance. They haven't got a hope of achieving their goals but they have enough martyrs available that they can certainly cause havoc (q.v. Red Army Faction, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, BRAT, etc).
So, I emphasize these are not true anarchists. They either have no intention or ability to bring down the establishment, they just have a grudge with it, but they still are a perfect definition of terrorism. Their acts are designed to cause terror, it's really that simple.
But I'm not going to claim that simply lack of intent means that terrorism and anarchism are not synonymous. Quite often the terrorists are the establishment. Terror is the objective, therefore those carrying it out are terrorists. Anarchy is the last thing they have in mind, quite the opposite. These acts of terror are done to protect and save the establishment. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were acts of terrorism, and they worked. They achieved their objective.
I maintain therefore that we use the word terrorism wrongly and too much. What is the official definition? According to Wikipedia (I'm just saving myself a lot of typing here):
In the international community, terrorism has no legally binding, criminal law definition. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts that are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political, or ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (e.g., neutral military personnel or civilians). Some definitions now include acts of unlawful violence and war. The use of similar tactics by criminal organizations for protection rackets or to enforce a code of silence is usually not labeled terrorism, though these same actions may be labeled terrorism when done by a politically motivated group. Usage of the term has also been criticized for its frequent undue equating with Islamism or jihadism, while ignoring non-Islamic organizations or individuals.
(It's not a bad read, that page, why not have a look at the whole thing)
This is a word we use in the same way we use the word pornography. We describe what we disapprove of as terrorism, but if we think the act was justified (usually because "our side" did it) we call it military action, or whatever.
If drone strikes aren't terrorism I'm not sure what is. I won't bother with other examples, find your own, but "we" are pretty good at it.
No, anarchy and terrorism aren't the same thing, but both words have been used in the same way to suit the intentions of those involved.
I've seen two suggestions recently regarding this word.
One is that if we do use it, we should at least use it alone, without a group connection. At the moment the majority of terrorist acts we hear about on the news are by Islamists (please understand, that word does not mean Muslims, if you don't know what it means, look it up) and for this reason the word terrorist has become synonymous in many minds with Islamist, which is silly, because terrorists can be of any persuasion, as I've just explained at length. (Please note: the term Islamist is our term, not theirs, but I'm not going to get into that right now).
Unfortunately so many people have got hold of the idea that Muslim = Terrorist that those of us with half a brain are fed up with explaining the difference, and even using the word alone won't help. It just won't. Once the plebs get hold of an idea they run with it. (My son has been told he looks like a terrorist. What does a terrorist look like then? Apparently they have a swarthy complexion, long nose, dark eyes, and a heavy dark beard.)
The other suggestion is to stop using the word altogether. Good idea, but I think that horse has already bolted too. In any case, what would we use instead? If you found another word that covered all acts like this, it would soon come to be synonymous with whoever was doing it (in the uneducated mind) and if you found a word specific to each group, you'd do no better. Some better educated people are using "Jihadist" instead of extremist/Islamist/Muslim terrorist for political correctness, but that doesn't really work if you have done your homework, as it has corrupted the meaning of the word jihad.
(Jihad is an intrinsic part of Muslim theology, if you are interested, find a normal Muslim to explain it to you)
Does all this sound like I have no solution or alternative? I suppose it does, but I think we can just be aware of what we're talking about, make the effort to understand what words mean, and take care to explain ourselves properly. Like it or not, this IS a big talking point, it IS a big issue, and it isn't going to go away. At the very least we can discuss it carefully.