Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

Three of the major news stories of recent weeks have got me thinking.

In no particular order I refer to the following: the Israeli invasion of Lebanon; David Cameron's denunciation of Thatcher's policies towards the African National Congress; and Gerry Adams's meeting with members of Hamas. There seems to be a tendancy among the more wild-eyed members of the Right to refuse to attempt any understanding of terrorist groups' stated aims. For those of us more willing to cultivate a breadth of view the questions posed are rarely as simple as the 'good versus evil' claptrap spouted by people such as George W "Bring 'em on" Bush and the good Doctor Paisley.

Hezbollah, the ANC and the IRA it may be argued all have and had identifiable goals and objectives. The increase in radical Islam is more difficult to pin down. The 7 July bombers cited events in Iraq and Afghanistan as the principle motives for their dread actions. But what objective has it fulfilled? What change has it affected? Global Jihad has no leadership, no detailed political demands, no coherent game plan. It survives by preying on those with the slightest sympathy for its cause who some designated 'Mr Big' has considered first rate fodder. And yet more would-be suicide bombers emerge unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the abject pointlessness in the deaths which preceded their own. Impending. The bombers of July 7 all enjoyed relatively comfortable lives and a wealth of opportunity. But they misdirected their anger and paid with their lives. Their grievances lay in Iraq and Afghanistan; one wonders why they didn't choose to end their lives there.

The other groups I have mentioned fought local battles. They were predominantly interested in localised conditions (sounds like a weather report, but bear with me). Hezbollah rose up from the previous Lebanese conflict with the intended aim of protecting Palestinians in that area, in the face of Israeli attempts to wipe out the PLO. The ANC fought against apartheid in South Africa, the IRA fought against the presence of a foreign invader in the 1920s and the persecution of Catholics in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and onwards. The common bond is that all three took to violent protest in the face of perceived repression by much larger and better equipped forces.

Now, before the vast waves of disagreement pour in, let me try and elaborate. I cannot say what Catholic Irish, or Lebanese, or Palestinians who consider themselves to be living in a occupied country should do. Write a letter to the UN, perhaps (I think Chuck Berry did once, he said so in a song. Unfortunately, he didn't write another one detailing the reply). Burn their adversaries' flags might be another option, but that goes on quite alot and it upsets people, including people whose flag it ain't.

I suspect their best bet is to align themselves with another nation of comparable size and strength as the enemy. That way they can attempt a stand-off at which point everyone can get around a table and talk. But even this approach is bedevilled with problems as sanction upon sanction is meted out by the UN. And it may come back to bite you on the arse as the Americans will testify on Afghanistan.

It is always easier to condemn than to listen and consider. One of the main difficulties is that these 'conflicts' are decades old. As each combatants are killed new ones are born and each grows up with a primordial desire to win future battles to balance the lost ones of old. And it is true of both the terrorist and the uniformed soldier. I do not hold the answers. I believe dialogue must be embraced, not matter how far off it glimmers; laying waste to entire nations is not the answer.



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