23 January 2009

Hypocrisy, the handmaid of terrorism

In his inaugural address, President Obama laid out a powerful warning for certain types of evil-doers: "And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." The irony of his warning, of course, is that one of America's closest allies and dearest friends has just concluded an attempt to advance it aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents.

Israel's assault on Gaza sent a clear message to Gazans: if they support Hamas, they will be severely punished. That of course defines what terror is: the application of extreme fear to coerce a civilian population into adopting a certain political posture. But President Obama would never apply the word "terrorist" to Israel. When it's one of your friends doing it ... well, they're your friends, and it's rude to call a friend a terrorist, even if it's true. And it gets worse. Many Americans not only condone Israeli terror but support it. As do many Canadians, including most of our press and both the two leading political parties. And why not? They are our friends.

At the same time, we wonder why the Arab street is so anti-American. It is, of course, because of the hypocrisy. The Third World generally, victims of Western imperialism for centuries, understands and so, often to our frustration and dismay, generally supports the Arab view on Palestine.

There are hypocrites on that side, too, of course, who support suicide bombings and other violent acts by Palestinian militants. Although, to be fair, the Palestinians are the victims. They are the refugees, the ethnically-cleansed, and therefore deserve a bit more slack. Terror is sometimes referred to as the weapon of the weak. The Palestinians, unlike the Israelis, have no army, navy and air force, no nuclear weapons, and aren't supported by the most powerful nation on earth. If anyone is justified in using terror, it is those who have nothing else.

Personally, I still don't believe they are justified. I believe that if they have nothing else, that is to say no instruments of violence, then they should rely on non-violence, on the methods of Gandhi. These can be immensely effective -- Gandhi freed India, the second most populous nation on Earth, employing passive resistance. I suspect that if the Palestinians had employed passive resistance all along, they would have made much more progress. But that's me. How many people anywhere actually believe this? How many people believe, as Christ advised, that if you are smitten on one cheek, you should turn the other also? Not many Christians, certainly. So we can hardly expect the Palestinians to believe it. Nonetheless, I don't agree that that makes violence against innocents acceptable.

The West's problem is convincing the Third World to take it seriously when it condemns actions such as those of the Sudanese government in Darfur while at the same time condoning the actions of Israel in Gaza. Why are the Sudanese so bad? Because we don't like them? Because they go further and commit torture and gang rape? That is a matter of degree, and of course, degree is very important, but if terrorism is wrong in principle and not just in the details, it deserves condemnation whatever form it takes.

If we want to be taken seriously in condemning terrorism for its own sake, not just because of who does it or how they do it, we need to be consistent. It's wrong when religious fanatics do it, it's wrong when insurgents do it, it's wrong when governments do it, and it's wrong when democratic governments do it. It was wrong when Islamic extremists bombed New York and it was wrong when the United States nuclear-bombed Japan.

Or was it ? Do we, in truth, believe terrorism is appropriate in certain places at certain times? If we do, let's say so and stop acting as if it is wrong in principle. Let's identify when it is acceptable and when it isn't, and who is allowed and who isn't. Let's end the hypocrisy. And for heaven's sake, let's stop talking about a war on terror if it's really just a war on people we disagree with.

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