Terrorism is a tactic, not a label

[Note: For whatever reason, MT ate some of the punctuation in the blockquote. Sorry bout that. It is right on Steven’s site.]

For a brief moment, I thought James Joyner had gone over the edge. Then I noticed it was a guest poster Leopold Stotch. I don’t remember a time I’ve disagreed both so intellectually and viscerally with Stotch. I was all set to do some serious keyboard abusing when I saw that Steven Taylor did it for me. Consider this a rant by proxy.

On Terrorism and Revolutions

Leopold Stotch, blogging at Outside The Beltway, hits one of my pet-peeves:

What Americans need to realize is that there really is no such thing as terrorism; there are revolutions you support (freedom fighters) and those that you dont (terrorists). But to label a person or a group terrorist is to say nothing more than that you disagree with their claims and their cause.

I wholly disagree with the whole one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter line of thinking. For one thing, not all who fight for freedom use terrorism, and certainly it would seem that most who employ terror arent fighting for freedom. I see, for example, no freedom fighting in what al Qaeda has done, and certainly the PLOs utilization of terror has hardly resulted in much freedom for anybody.

Terrorism is largely a tactic, and a group is defined by the degree to which that tactic accurately describes its basic operation. I see terrorism (and I defined it online here) as the specific targetting of civilians in order to foment fear, which, is created in hopes of changing the policies of governments. I do not see all collective political violence as terrorismI certainly dont see guerrilla movements as terrorists, per se (although they may engage in terroristic tactics at times, which, granted, blurs the lines a bit). However, if one takes a group like al Zarqawis that detonates car bombs in markets and kidnaps workers and beheads them on camera, one is dealing with something quite different than, say, the FSLN in Nicaragua prior to the revolution (or the Contras after the revolution) or the FMLN in El Salvador during its civil war. In one case you have a very small group that is trying to create terror in the population, in another you have an army that emerges to attempt to confront the state militarily. You know the old line, read the whole thing.

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