17.07.2018 Author: Catherine Shakdam

Who’s Terrorism? The Politics of Terror and Those Terrorists We Label Friends


Although ‘terrorism’ has become a term our media, state officials, and politicians have grown accustomed to throw around – an expression, more often than not, of their respective world views, the word has yet to be defined objectively, and more to the point under terms the international community as a whole could get behind.

Terrorism, because of its intrinsec subjective nature sits today a euphemism for political coercion – the covert expression of political thoughts, powers seek to impose through violence and bloodshed while arguing impunity. A political label used to single out those deemed unfit, unworthy, or altogether unwelcomed, the word terrorism has been often grossly misused to reflect opinions as opposed to facts.

Just as beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, terrorism is tied up to one’s subjectivity and political interests.

Admitting to such impartiality in judging what constitutes terrorism, or rather, what makes a group a terrorist entity, does not take away from its nature. Terrorism exists outside moral and ethic. It stands in a space of rationalised violence and crimes to serve hegemonic ambitions. Whomever wields it, stands indeed guilty – particularly those hands which, from behind convenient curtains play patrons to Terror.

The real issue lies not so much in the existence of terrorism – like war, it is a reality the world has had to contend with for as long as memory stretches, but in our inability to recognise Terror for what it is at its core today: a global political tool of oppression, a mean to distort truths, and a weapon used to malign designated enemies by rallying public opinion against them.

Professor Jonathan Matusitz from the Nicholson School of Communication in the United States defines terrorism as follow:

  • It serves ideological or social objectives.
  • It can be committed by governments, non-state actors, or undercover personnel serving on the behalf of their respective governments.
  • It reaches more than the immediate target victims and is also directed at targets consisting of a larger spectrum of society.
  • It is both mala prohibita (i.e., crime that is made illegal by legislation) and mala in se (i.e., crime that is inherently immoral or wrong).

There are many reasons as to why there is no universal consensus regarding the definition of terrorism. Angus Martyn in a briefing paper for the Australian Parliament has stated that “The international community has never succeeded in developing an accepted comprehensive definition of terrorism. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United Nations attempts to define the term foundered mainly due to differences of opinion between various members about the use of violence in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self-determination.”

These divergences have made it impossible to conclude a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that incorporates a single, all-encompassing, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism.

This of course has not hindered political powers from actively and vehemently using the term to justify their aggression against certain groups or nations, and of course rationalise their ideology under the premise that they seek to ‘protect’ communities from the ruthlessness of terrorism.

If the word terrorism lacks consensus in its definition, all agree that it remains a violent expression of one’s socio-political or religious thought. One may consider adding: “against the legitimate expression of a nation’s sovereignty, or a group/community’s independence of thought and/or religion.”

While most decry terrorism, few have had the courage to denounce its real expressions – self-interests, and political opportunism have vastly contributed to such reality. Terrorism for the most part has become self-serving since directed to serve geopolitical ambitions, as opposed to denouncing the crimes it has sowed, and identifying its architects.

The case of the MKO serves a perfect example of such manipulation.

Founded in 1965 as a left-wing Muslim group the Mujahideen-e Khalq, also known as the MKO, MEK or PMOI, the group initially landed its support to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary movement to see the regime of the Shah topple. While the group initially endorsed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s rule in 1979, it soon retracted after its attempt to grab power was vexed.

The nature of the group would then become defined by its willingness to shed blood – to such an extent that its very existence has been tied to its ability to wield violence as a justifiable political argument.

Having admitted to countless assassinations and other acts of violence against Iran and Iranians, the MKO’s propensity to wield Terror to advance its political agenda has been not only excused, but often rationalised on account its terrorism targets Iran, and Iran’s system of governance.

Such determination to see Iran fall has put the MKO on par with Western powers.

In an article published in CounterPunch, Robert Fantina summarises the paradox of world politics in its approach of terrorism most eloquently. He writes: “The MKO was once listed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, but that designation was removed in 2012. This was a puzzling move when looked at on the surface. According to one report, by early 2016, “…out of the nearly 17,000 Iranians killed in terrorist assaults since the victory of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, about 12,000 had fallen victim to MKO’s terrorist attacks.” Some estimates put that number, and the number of MKO victims, much higher. Should an organization that has killed this many people in one country through terrorist activities not be designated a terrorist organization?”

Protected, funded, and hailed a ‘reasonable’ alternative to Iran’s Islamic Republic, the MKO sits comfortably in Paris, the French capital – a new ally to Western capitals’ hunger for regime change in those regions they seek control over.

The MKO is objectively a terrorist organisation. If anything, by the very tools it has used to exert pressure onto Iran’s sovereignty.

Regardless of what governments, and more to the point: western governments may think of Iran’s politics, one should remember that Iran, as an independent and sovereign nation is as much entitled to its views and fashion of governance than any other nation, and that as such, any and all attacks against its integrity fall within the definition of terrorism.

Acts of terrorism cannot exist in convenient political vacuums – we ought to be systematic in our condemnation and honest in our assessments.

The MKO has been used as a convenient platform to front revolting and criminal policies on account its target: Iran, has been declared fair game by the likes of the United States and its allies. In 2006, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief spoke at a MKO conference, clearly signaling that the organisation had now powerful patrons and supporters to its cause.

A report published by the RAND Corporation, clearly exposes Washington’s ‘complacency’ towards the MKO as it offered the terror group both financial and political protection while it remained in Iraq so that it could stage attacks against neighboring Iran.

The RAND report noted that from the early weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq until January 2009, US forces detained and provided security to MKO terrorists to prevent the Iraqi government from expelling them to Iran.

“Among many resulting complications, this policy conundrum has made the United States vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy in the war on terrorism,” the report read.

It also noted that Washington accepted the MKO’s request for a ceasefire and designated its members as civilian “protected persons” under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

“It has proven to be extremely controversial because it appeared that the United States selectively chose to apply the Geneva Conventions to a designated terrorist organization and, further, to grant it a special status,” it added.

Terrorism we may learn remains for it has become a convenient asymmetrical weapon of war, more so in the hands of those who claim to stand for Democracy and Freedom.

Catherine Shakdam is the Director of Programs of the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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