I’ve been stumped ever since the United States decided to defeat terrorism by using “shock and awe.”
“Shock and awe” is the phrase the Bush administration presented to refer to spectacular displays of military force in order to paralyze the will of the enemy. Like terrorism, it relies on spectacle, specifically the spectacle of destruction and violence, to psychologically traumatize (i.e. “terrorize”) an entire population to get the people to capitulate to the will of the aggressors.
The main point of difference between terrorism and shock and awe is the difference between “military”—the defense mechanism of recognized and approved states—and “paramilitary”—an unofficial, criminal, or makeshift military.
One might also question who or what the targets of shock and awe are, vis-à-vis terrorism. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War endorses a strategy of “instant decapitation” of “military and societal” targets. The 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, large urban centers, which were, apart from their occasional usefulness as army depots, of no strategic military importance, is an example of American use of the strategy to cut short the war with Japan. But, then, can the argument be made that the Pentagon and White House as targets in 2001 were likewise military and societal targets—or, for that matter, the World Trade Center?
Were the American colonial minutemen terrorists? I suppose that depends on whom in the late eighteenth century you asked. Was Geronimo a terrorist? Oliver North?
Zionist paramilitary units were “terrorists,” so called in the early twentieth century—first against the Palestinians who lived on the land the Zionists believed God had given to them alone, and then, following the Second World War, against the British, who attempted to block the immigration of European Jews to Palestine, in principle to protect the balance of Palestinian Jews and Arabs.
With the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, supported by the United Kingdom and the United States, Zionist terrorism became nationalized and, dropping the “para-“ prefix, militarized—and then, for the most part, nobody called it terrorism. Longstanding friction between Jews and Arabs heated up—as, after the post-war influx of European Jews, Palestinian Arabs found themselves minorities on their own land, not unlike white settlers’ encroachment on Native American lands in the nineteenth century—and the heat’s been up ever since.
Hamas or the Islamic Resistance Movement is a paramilitary and political organization that the United States and other Western powers now label as “terrorist.” Like the early Zionists, Hamas believes God gave the land to them alone.
Unfortunately, God has kept mum on the matter while millions of Jews and Arabs have slaughtered each other and each other’s children with the kind of zeal only possible when religion and politics mix. If you can look up to a parent who gives a present to two children and sits by and watches while the kids fight each other to the death over it, have we got the Heavenly Father for you!
In 2006, in response to the demands of the US government, Palestinians held democratic elections and thus empowered the political wing of Hamas, who gained a parliamentary majority. However, the United States refuses to accept the legitimacy of this government and has sought to negate the election that brought it to power.
Hamas displaced a rival group, Fatah, a faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization founded in 1954 by Yasser Arafat and others, all of whom used to be called “terrorists,” but now the United States and Israel claim Fatah as a friend and ally. Who could have guessed?
And as the US government has embraced torture, too, albeit under the name of “enhanced interrogation,” I think the distinction between what WE do and THEY do has become even blurrier.
Even once Bush is out of office, the “war on terror,” which has proved such a successful manipulative (and pliable) piece of propagandistic cant, can go on indefinitely, since the locus of terrorism shifts with each new change in alliance—and from different points of view.
Quick, tell me: Libya, terrorist or antiterrorist state? Pakistan? Iran? China? Cuba? Forget that the expression “terrorist state” appears to contradict some part of the fundamental definition of terrorism—unless, of course, terrorist state refers to nations who engage in shock and awe or whose civilian intelligence agencies engage in “black ops”—secret political actions outside ethics, law, and agreed-upon conventions of fair and just war.
Is the United States a terrorist state? Who’s asking?