Fun and games with the "terrorism" label

Yet more evidence that this is the most meaningless and manipulated word in the political lexicon

By Glenn Greenwald
June 28, 2010 8:29PM (UTC)
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FILE - This Oct. 2008 file photo provided by Muhammad ud-Deen shows Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Al-Awlaki, an American-Yemeni cleric whose Internet sermons have helped inspire attacks on the U.S. is advocating the killing of American civilians in a new al-Qaida video posted Sunday, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Muhammad ud-Deen, File) (AP)

(updated below - Update II)

I've written numerous times about how "terrorism" is the most meaningless and most manipulated word in the political lexicon; the best demonstration of this dynamic is the work of NYU's Remi Brulin, whose dissertation documents how Western governments and media outlets have applied the term so inconsistently and self-servingly.  One of the principal dangers of the Supreme Court's recent, free-speech-decimating decision in Humanitarian Law Project -- which held that the Government has a sufficiently compelling interest to restrict citizens' First Amendment rights by criminalizing even political speech made to designated Terrorist groups -- is that Terrorism means whatever the U.S. Government says it means:  they create the list of off-limit Terrorist groups and they essentially have unfettered, un-reviewable discretion to do so.  That's because the word is so ill-defined and manipulated that it's impoverished of any real meaning.


I happened to come across a typical though highly illustrative example of this manipulation when reading this NYT interview yesterday with Israeli politician Tzipi Livni.  After railing against the Terrorists in Gaza, Livni said this:

NYT: Your parents were among the country’s founders.

Livni:  They were the first couple to marry in Israel, the very first. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.

If any group meets the definition of "terrorism," the Irgun does.  In July, 1946, the group (led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin) notoriously bombed the King David Hotel, which housed British government offices, killing 91 people (Irgun claimed they warned of the bombing in advance, a claim denied by many British officials).  Israel and its defenders love to point to the naming of a public square after a Terrorist by the Palestinian Authority, while ignoring the fact that the current Israeli Prime Minister, in 2006, actually led a celebration of the King David Hotel bombing with an official commemorative ceremony and plaque outside the building.  Irgun also perpetrated numerous armed attacks on civilian structures, train stations, government buildings, and bridges.  On December 30, 1947, the first paragraph of The New York Times read as follows:


A bomb thrown by the Jewish terrorist organization Irgun Zvai Leumi from a speeding taxi today killed eleven Arabs and two British policemen and wounded at least thirty-two Arabs by the Jerusalem Damascus Gate, the same place where a similar bombing took place sixteen days ago.

In reporting on a plot egged on by Begin to kill the German Foreign Minister, The London Times wrote that the Irgun "used terrorist tactics against the British occupation of Palestine."


It was once commonly accepted that Irgun members were Terrorists.  But that was then and this is now.  Bombings, stealing and killing in pursuit of statehood by some groups is Terrorism and by other groups it is "freedom fighting."  And thus does Israel, which justifies the most extreme brutality and violence based on the pure evil of Terrorism, celebrate those acts as "freedom fighting" when done by its own side.  This would be all tolerable if it were merely about rhetorical inconsistencies.  But since our wars are justified, our laws are enacted, and our rights increasingly restricted based on this term -- see Leon Panetta justify the Government's targeting of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki based on his unchecked decree that Al-Awlaki is a Terrorist due to his constitutionally protected advocacy of Muslims fighting against the U.S. (video below: Trial By CIA Director, just like the Constitution guarantees) -- the malleable, manipulated, meaningless nature of this all-justifying term deserves much more attention.



UPDATE:  I'll be on MSNBC with Dylan Ratigan at 4:00 pm EST today talking about the presidential assassination program.


UPDATE II:  The MSNBC segment I did is here (note the vastly improved technology for TV appearances via Skype):

Glenn Greenwald

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