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Friday, October 07, 2005



Tim Frasca, are we really supposed to care about you getting blown up in the subway? I don't even hear apolitical people in my office worrying about this junk. Most of them are smart enough to know that the latest "terror alert" is just an Orwellian ploy to line up people behind Big Brother. It is pathetic that you and Cooper have bought into this. What next? Demanding that the INS deport radical sheikhs from Brooklyn? Also, if somebody blows you up in the subway, it is not because you are leering at girls. It is because a Muslim has become enraged by 100,000 deaths in Iraq. The fact that you can't come to terms with this makes your firing from Pacifica all the more understandable.

Dan O

Reg, I think you raise a very important issuse, namely how to fight the threat at whatever level you ascribe it. But I would suggest that more than a defense is in order here. I ask this in all sincerity: How would you fight it? What makes an adequate defense? This is what the whole debate is about. I also agree that the greatest danger in this is the emergence a sort of calcified cold-warism that can serve as the handy excuse for all sorts of seedy adventures. Still, that doesn't make action less necessary.

But your snide (color me surprised) remark in your second post misses an important point I am trying to make. I know a lot of people who feel exactly what Sheehan expresses in her quote, and I don't understand them. You'll find that I am as critical of our past deeds as many others, but it has not thrown me down the morality hole. In other words, I don't think we are irredeemably vile. There can be hope and good and necessity in what we do. I hear a lot of complaining on this board about Marc's supposed desire for purity on the left, but it strikes me that the demand for purity is on the other side. The United States should not act unless entirely free from stain and without ulterior motive. Well, that's just fantasy, and it always is with every power. In the mean time there is an ideology that fuelled a bunch of men to drive planes into some rather well known towers, and to blow up ocean side tourists, and, well, you know the rest.

Reg, I'm not suggesting you think we should do nothing about this--I don't know what you think on this score--but there certainly are a lot of people who think we brought this on ourselves. If this were the bereaved of El Salvador I might agree. But is not and we didn't. Technology though has removed the luxury of ignoring them and leaving them to benight some area somewhere else, and I'm not sure that we ought to in any case.

It seems to me that the broad humanist left, where I also stake my flag, is exactly what is under assault here, and I believe there is a contingent of the left which does not know any more what those values are so blinded are they by the past misdeeds of the US. I'm not so sure that knowing who to fight is the "really easy part" for them. I wish you could hear the many conversations I have had in this vein. I just think we need to start with first priciples, and many simply want to skip over what they affirm or think there is nothing to affirm at all, which I find pernicious at best. By the way, I also don't get the Trotsky-revolution shtick.

Dan O

Joe: QED. Thanks.


Thanks, Marc. I haven't had time to read all the comments yet, but I think you are spot on. I know just a ton of leftists both in this country and Europe who are exactly as you describe. Please continue to speak out.


Our policy of "killing innocent Iraqis and Afghanis?" Where does this derive from? Embargo colateral damage? Certainly there have been plenty since the invasions, but before that? Come on, she can't mean that.

Julia Stein

I read Abramsky's piece. What's particularly silly and untrue is when she says,
"While on the one hand I agreed with their [leftists] well-reasoned arguments pointing to a certain degree of western culpability for spawning groups like al-Qaida, on the other hand I was saddened by how utterly incapable were those same arguments of generating responses to the fanaticism of our time."

Abramsky's statement is historical nonsense. British right around 1920 started supporting Islamicists in Afghanistan as a couunterweight against the Russians. Starting around the late 1970s Carter regime started arming Islamic fundementalists in Aghanistan--but President Reagan really armed them for years, hailing them as "freedom fighters." After the Reagan-armed Islamic "freedom fighters" won, leaving a devasted country, then the U.S. cut and run from Aghanistan. What the British and then the U.S. did in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Palestine for 50 years now was far more than what Aberamsky belittles as "a certain degree of western culbability." Since Abramsky can't even get basic historical facts straight, then the rest of her argument is rubbish.

It's not the left but the right and their apologists like Abramsky who can't deal with the fanasticism of our times--both the fantacisim of the Republican conservatives who've wreaked havoc over large parts of the world as well as the fantacism of their offspring like bin Laden. Give credit where credit's due: bin Laden was nurtured and supported by conservative Republicans. Then Bush did bin Laden the great favor of invading Iraq. Saddam Hussein as a secularist was a long-time enemy of bin Laden,so U.S. helped bin Laden out by 1.) getting rid of their enemy Hussein 2.) inflaming millions in the Arab world against us, helping him to recuit; and 3.) giving his followers recent battle training.

Bush as a leader making us "safe" is an absurd idea, really absurd. Bush has a great capability for blunder--he blundered in Iraq, he blundered on our economy, and he really blundred in New Orleans. Bush and his fanatics are making us really unsafe. If Abramsky et al.
want to deal with "fanaticism of our times," then she can start dealing with Bush. Anything else is sheer idiocy.

Virgil Johnson

I'm sure that a good portion of the "let's get em" left, are very pleased with us being in Iraq - I mean, we should really get to the bottom of terrorism in Iraq, right (sarcasm)? The question is simple, how many innocents are you willing to waste to get "dem bad guys!" Also, Bush must be able to justify his current actions in some equally brain dead fashion - but I guess that's acceptable to the "let's get em" left. Do you really think that in this present political climate that the left has any voice, whatsoever, to influence the direction of this reprobate administration?

In the mean time why don't you go to a train station and do a citizens patrol, or a bus station - maybe you can catch a terrorist.


I don't think anyone is claiming fighting Al Queda isn't a worthy cause or necessary, but the conflation with this enormous flop in Iraq is the real boondoggle. Moreover, Afghanistan is in a bigger mess than ever. There simply is no end to it. These Islamo-whacko groups are just that, and should be dealt with with separate CIA covert operations only. Major miltary campaigns only make us weaker. It sucks are resources dry and alienates the majority of the populations we seek to help. Help them take of their own mistakes. That's the ticket.


Dan O., I have never denied the reality of the threat from Al Qaeda, or viewed them as 'freedom fighters' of any description. In fact, I based my opposition to the Iraq war on how severely it was likely to inflame the threat of fundamentalist Islamic terror, rather than reduce it. My worst fears have been borne out. We are well and truly screwed.

What I object to is left-bashing, the pretense that no one on the left _is_ taking the position that the threat is real _and_ that BushCo are exploiting it.

My first comment, I'll grant, had something of the quality of talking past the issue, but this is what I was trying to communicate: serious disagreement over the relative importance of Al Qaeda's actual political objectives versus their fanatical ideology is not the same thing as denying the threat.

Given that, to characterize the left as _responsible_ for the the truly catastrophically inadequate response of Bush & co. is outrageous. Just as outrageous as the view that somehow this country brought the September 11 attacks on itself.

Abramsky's (and Marc's and your) whole straw man argument is muy, muy 2002. Liberal interventionists, centrists, and terrified left liberals made possible Bush's grotesque exploitation and mishandling of the threat -- not Naomi Klein. And not me.


Dan...you ask what I think should be done. It's a bit of a stretch to think that I'd have some sort of deeply insightful analysis or strategy. But the question is valid in so far as I've found myself marveling at how much more my raw instincts have proven prescient as opposed to the crap emanating from this administration. For one thing (and you can ask my wife about this) it's been obvious to me for over a year that the big winner's in Iraq would be the Iranians. Now I'm reading really smart people like Peter Galbraith making this point with precision and hard evidence. Scares the shit out of me...being right about some of this stuff. I'm a loudmouth standing on a virtual streetcorner and I'm asking smarter questions than the goddam President ? Sheesh...

My basics on this would have been to launch a serious offensive against al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan with the goal of capturing their high command, something which we failed to do. Taking advantage of the Afghan civil war was a no-brainer, but farming out the money shot to some of the most corrupt warlords on the planet was as clueless as it gets. I'm increasingly convinced it was deliberate, bizarre as that seems. Iraq? Sticking to verifiable intelligence and not letting looneytoons clowns like Cheney's guy in the Office of Special Plans (name escapes me) cook shit up would have been nice. The litany of why Iraq was both a bad idea and badly done is long and familiar by now. Star Wars Don Rumsfeld as military strategist...holy shit! Let a war profiteer chair the Defense Policy Board? Uh, no. Princeton Professor ensconced at the Pentagon plans to reshape the Middle East? I don't thing so. Shinseki, etc. etc. Sy Hersh, ouch. Larry Diamond, blah, blah. George Packer, yadda, yadda.

Oh, and bombing the shit out of Zarqawi's camps in northern Iraq, which could have been easily done but was over-ruled for reasons of propaganda about "al Qaeda ties" might have been a clever precautionary move, ground war or no.

Also, how about a domestic security and emergency response program that isn't run by cronies and/or incompetents ? Seems like a pretty basic concept to me, but....

And, the most obvious evidence that this administration doesn't give a shit about me, my fellow Americans or the future of the country is the fact that the little creep at the head of their parade didn't make a major appeal to the American people on about September 15th, 2001 announcing a Manhattan Project/Apollo Mission approach to vastly increasing our energy independence over the coming decade. We'd be four years in now. One of the biggest problems we face in the Middle East is that we're hooked to some of the worst bastards by an oil umbilical cord. At least begin the process of cutting that, or we can never have a rational policy.

As for defense vs. offense, you know what they say. But the phrase is "good offense", not any crazy scheme that's already on the backburner. The truth is that very targeted special ops, intel and stuff that, yes, looks more like aggressive police work in the best sense will yield better results in capturing and isolating al Qaeda operatives and networks than invading Arab countries that have little or no connection. Oh...and "More Democracy", while it should a long-term goal, isn't necessarily the answer to the question of how we keep the pro-al Qaeda types from gaining greater influence and political space in the near term. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt are cases in point. Democracy also isn't an imperial project - that approach will hurt us, here and there. Not a nice bit of news, but part of the reality we must deal with.

Also, the Bushniks have done a terrible job on nuclear proliferation, and that's an even bigger long term problem that it's folly to tack onto the kind of blunderbuss approach represented by the foolish war in Iraq. Frankly, the people behind this war suffer from a form of political narcissism and, as has been said by smarter folk than me, imperial hubris that has resulted in some psuedo-strategic moves that might as well have been scripted by bin Laden.

It's funny...I don't need to have a highly refined obsession with "the things I hate most" (Hitchens) or Berman's exegisis of Islamic extremism as the new Stalinism to come up with at least a decent handful of better solutions to some of what we're facing than the useless allies that certain ostensible "leftists" with their laser-like focus on Terror have chosen.

Semi-coherent, but the best this amateur - who really would like to be able to delegate most of this to smart, competent, experienced, pragmatic adults but finds them in short supply among the powers that be - can do. And given my limited time and energy, I think I'll mostly beat up on those bastards and the loudmouths who front for them, rather than marginal folk like Naomi Klein and Robert Fisk who I may have some issues with were I to read their work obsessively or ascribe it some significance that it doesn't have. I don't, so I won't.

Marc Cooper

I am dumbfounded, but no longer shocked, that some commenters argue that someone like Sasha and his arguments are a degense of the Right. All I have to say is good luck to you if u ahve so marginalized urself-- ur politics are dead in the water if you cannot embrace someone like Abramsky as an ally, even if u disagree.

In discussion of the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and Bin-Laden in particular, it's one thing to rob them of all historical agency and continue to insist they are western creation. But even if u cling to the false notion that they are purely a reactive force well...then... it seems to me u left out one TEN THOUSAND POUND ELEPHANT from the historical formulas. I believe there was something called the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan-- an event a thousand times more important in the development of BIn Ladenis. Let it also be noted, for the record, that the casualties from that overlooked episode racked up more than ONE MILLION DEAD AFGHANIS. Maybe this will offer some perspective on the knee-jerk charges of the US bombing the people of Afghanistan.. though I doubt it. That's all Im going to write for now.. Ive a headache and stomache..no doubt a result of Anglo-American Imperialism.

richard lo cicero

Look, it is quite possible to support the action in Afghanistan and still have grave reservations due to the people persuing the policy. In their first year in office the Bush "Grown-ups" managed to:

a) pull the rug out from under the S. Korean President and roil the world's most dangerous place and

b) try their damndest to pick a fight with the Chinese including provocative EP-3 flights that led to the showdown over the downed plane.

I knew that action had to be taken but to blindly trust these clowns was more than I could do. And they proved me right. A bombing campaign to destroy the Taliban's "Command and Control" system? WTF? And the farce at Tora Bora? Instead of the 82nd ABN or the 10th MTN DIV we used locals, with no incentive, to "Capture Bin Laden". I happen to think that an early capture would have taken a lot of the steam out by showing the US had a long arm. Now Osama is a hero to large parts of the Islamic world and we have built him up. All this business of capturing the "number two guy" - or the the #2 or 3 guy du jour - has become comical. Rather like that excess crewman from the Enterprise who gets beamed down, you know he's gonna get it! They must draw straws at Al Queda - short straw gets to be Number Two. Anyway Afghanistan is a mess! Poor mr Karzai is the Mayor of Kabul for all his authority.

And why? Well all the resources were requistioned for the Iraq Adventure and we've seen how swimingly that has gone. Look, is there a terrorist threat? You bet! Are these people making us safer? I really doubt that and all the speechs from the chimp and President Chaney won't change my mind on that. You can go to that well only so often.

Marc Cooper

To Reg, Nell, RLC, Julia, Marky and anyone else. A brief exercise. Let's see if u can comply with what's asked.

You are talking to someone who is rather apolitical and they ask you three questions. Can you please answer them directly in no more than 2-3 sentences each?

1) Do you think the government is making up all these threats or do you think there is any real threat to the American civilian population from Islamic fundamentalists?

2) If the answer is yes to the latter question, could u describe to me what you think the relative scope of that threat is?

3) What sort of measures should we take to counter that threat? Miliary, legislative, policy? Please be specific as possible.

Please keep your answers short. You have all written essays in the past. More of those can come later. But for now, I want to see if any of you can offer short, direct answers (no essays allowed).

P.S. for those of you complaining that you dont like to read criticism of the left, I have a suggestion for you: why don't u simply piss off! The left is a tiny marginal impotent force in this country. Its candidates cant get no more than 2-3% of the Democratic (!) primary vote. If u are happy with that status quo, then please dont bother to read this web site anymore and go burrow urself in the library with some copies of Z and The Nation and comfort urself that all is ok. The notion that criticism from this small website somehow creates damage is just fucking amazing to me. The tolerance and diversity of so many leftists, it seems, does not extend to intellectual inquiry and debate. Fantastic. Almost as fantastic that arguing that someone like Sasha Abramsky favors the right! What vast, almost unfathomable, political ignorance and self-delusion. Staggering, really.

Marc Davidson

Thanks, reg, for your common-sensical analysis of the crap we've been fed for the last five years.
With regard to getting worked up about the "islamo-fascist apologists", Naomi Klein, John Pilger et al... give me a break. I agree with Nell. What a red herring! Bush and Blair are our leaders not Osama bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. I too will reserve my harshest criticism for those who've led us down this disastrous path. Criticizing bin Laden is like cursing the setting sun. Nothing that I say will ever have an effect on his thoughts. That's not the case with regard to criticizing the leadership in a democracy (at least not yet); we have some power to effect change here. This leadership has exacerbated the problem ten fold by making our enemies ever more powerful and dandgerous. And for that they deserve our full contempt.

Randy Paul


The problem, in my humble opinion, is not with the occasional lefty, but this (http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/11407689.htm):

"The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered.

"Several U.S. officials defended the abrupt decision, saying the methodology the National Counterterrorism Center used to generate statistics for the report may have been faulty, such as the inclusion of incidents that may not have been terrorism.

"Last year, the number of incidents in 2003 was undercounted, forcing a revision of the report, 'Patterns of Global Terrorism.'

"But other current and former officials charged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's office ordered 'Patterns of Global Terrorism' eliminated several weeks ago because the 2004 statistics raised disturbing questions about the Bush's administration's frequent claims of progress in the war against terrorism.

"'Instead of dealing with the facts and dealing with them in an intelligent fashion, they try to hide their facts from the American public,' charged Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert who first disclosed the decision to eliminate the report in The Counterterrorism Blog, an online journal."

Simply put, the far greater danger lies in the fact that we are being lied to by this administration to whom facts appear to be so uncomfortable that they choose to pretend that they don't exist.

So there is an even simpler question to ask: are we safer because of the administration's efforts or more at risk. If one makes the logical assumption that based on the empirical evidence that is presented in the article I linked to, we are not safer and the world is not safer.

I have no problem criticizing the left when I think it merits it. But the left is not in power. A radical right-wing conservative government controls both houses of congress and the White House. Criticizing the kookier members of the left may be a long term issue, but it damn sure doesn't make my subway ride any safer. Neither does this president, his acolytes and his policies.

Josh Legere


In ALL honesty, how does criticizing the 'left' make your subway ride "less safe?" That is a bullshit statement if I have ever heard one. I can actually smell it and feel the steam through the monitor. It stinks.
It seems UTTERLY silly for you to actually think that someone criticizing Chomskites is making America less safe. That rhetoric only mirrors the Bush administrations silly "you are with us or against us" nonsense.

The Left's utter lack of self criticism amazes me. Look at how Conservatives are attacking Bush for his latest Supreme Court nominee. Myers is someone that will surely serve the conservative agenda, yet many right wing intellectuals are actually principled enough to still attack her merits.

The same cannot be said for the Left-almost from the mainstream Democrat on over to the nutty Lefties-who have the “with us or against us mentality.” It manifests itself time and time again (including the continued Clinton defense) and it is pathetic.

The Left has been on a 30 year losing streak and NEEDS a good dose of self evaluation at this point. Even with Bush and the Republicans as low as they are right now, most voters would chose them over the Democrats (see the Zogby poll on Democratic approval ratings). The Chomsky left is even more out in the woods right now. Come back to planet earth for god’s sake.

If anybody sounds like “Big Brother” right now it is the chorus of “lefties” that simply parrot the Nation/Progressive/New Left Review/Alternet/etc… party line.

Marc Davidson

Josh, what a crock! That's not what Randy said.

Randy Paul


You must have a reading comprehension problem. Read what I wrote:

"Criticizing the kookier members of the left may be a long term issue, but it damn sure doesn't make my subway ride any safer."

I didn't say that it made it less safe. I simply said that it doesn't make it any safer. Or to dumb it down enough for you: it neither worsens nor improves the situation. Have you ever filled out a survey, for example in which you have three choices such as a.) better than b.) worse than c.) about the same? My answer was c, got it?

Please don't blame me for your piss-poor comprehension and your inability to articulate an argument without hurling invective, that, if you gave it a second's thought you'd realize how thoroughly wrongheaded, misguided and ultimately witless it is.

In any event, you failed to respond to the substance of my argument and the facts I mustered regarding how the Bush administration's record on making the world safer from terrorism. I guess if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with the stuff that appears to be wedged firmly between your ears.

Vai cagar no mato, burrão!

Virgil Johnson

Ok Marc, here you go - the terrorist threat is grossly exaggerated. Yes, there is a fundamentalist threat, but no where near what it is touted to be. Why? So we can have a big enemy, and America can be the savior - to push forward the military industrial complex, and become the answer to any problems in the world order. This admin. has three more years to build a terrorist network by of infamous renown by their policies and violent activity, they are set to do it no matter what it takes. They are hopeful we will not fall apart in the process.

In the Middle East so we can maintain our power over vital resources, and be the arbiter of vitally needed resources to once again maintain our global status as a super-power, the ones you don't want to mess with. I don't agree with it, I just call it as I see it.

The answer to the threat is legislative and targeted. Legislation to change our policies to peaceful solutions in these regions to defuse terrorist need for existence. Targeted in the sense of small team strikes, brief force action, effective but of short duration.

Why won't it happen with this admin.? Because they want more than an address to small terrorist acts, in essense, they want to control the world - lead the pack, keep a global standing second to none, even if it means lies and mass destruction. They will do anything necessary, whether morally reprehensible or not, to be the king of the hill.

I hope that was not too long.

Randy Paul

It's also worth noting the utter disdain that the administration has for the law enforcement component. One criminal conviction has taken place with regard to a participant in the planning of the 9/11 attacks. It happened in Spain last month, in an open criminal trial. The hawks may choose to poo-poo law enforcement, but Imad Yarkas is in jail in Spain and is no longer leading an Al Qaeda cell in that country.

Conventional law enforcement efforts convicted the 1993 bombers of the WTC. Law enforcement can play an important role in combatting terrorism.

Josh Legere

You simply said "that it does not make us any safer?" Ok. So it was a meaningless statement. Even worse than a hollow one.

The sins of the Bush administration are obvious. That point has been made ad nauseum in a much more lucid manner by smarter people. Nothing new here guy.

Bush aside, the threat of Islamo-Fascism is real. The Left's inability to realize this and mount some sort of response (other than making the obvious criticisms of the Bushies) is a massive failure of imagination.

I don't really understand what revelations you are giving us Randy? The Bushies have failed and made us less safe? Well, I agree with that. But many smarter folks made that point years ago (literally).

The only solution to the Bushies is a political one. A political solution requires some sort of insurgent force to provide an alternative. No competent insurgent force exists partly due to the stridency of a failed political movement (going on 30+ years now).

The lack of a competent insurgent political movement is due to the absolute failure of Liberals and Radicals to foment an alternative. So criticizing the tired rhetoric of the dominate voices on the left is due. Sooner or later the left needs to rise from obscurity and become engaged in real politics in the real world.

In insurgent force that is capable of defeating Bush COULD make us safer. So criticizing the left wing status quo is necessary in order to help birth a vibrant alternative to the Bushies.

But recent polls have shown that your shrill and obvious criticisms of the Bushies get us no closer towards a viable alternative.

Abbas-Ali Abadani

Terrell E. Arnold is a consultant to the State Department on terrorism and Executive Director of the Institute on Terrorism and Subnational Conflict. In 1983 and 1984, he was Principal Deputy Director of the State Department's Office for Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He is the co-editor, with Neil C. Livingstone, of "Fighting Back: Winning the War Against Terrorism." He's also a very nice guy. On April 28, 1986, I spent an hour debating with him on C-SPAN, the cable TV network, before an audience of high-school students. I asked him plainly, perhaps half a dozen times, whether he could do the elementary service of defining his terms. Could he offer a definition of "terrorism" that was not:

Tautological or vacuous ("the use of violence for political ends," as Constantine Menges, late of the National Security Council, once put it) in a way that would cover any state, party, movement, or system not explicitly committed to pacifism;

A cliche ("an attack on innocent men, women, and children") of the kind that all warring states and parties have always used to attack all other warring states and parties; or

A synonym for "swarthy opponent of United States foreign policy."

My reason for asking so insistently was that the Reagan Administration has yet to define terrorism; the numerous institutes and think tanks which are being paid to study it have yet to define terrorism; and the mass media which headline it have yet to define terrorism. I wasn't just looking for a debating point. I really -- since this is an issue that might take us to war -- wanted to know. Finally, Terrell E. Arnold, who is as I say a nice guy, decided to answer my question. He said: "Can I provide a universally acceptable definition of terrorism? I fear I have to say I cannot."

That was honest. So, in a clumsier way, was CIA Director William J. Casey, in the opening essay of "Hydra of Carnage: International Linkages of Terrorism -- The Witnesses Speak," edited by Uri Ra'anan, Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr., Richard H. Shultz, Ernst Halperin, and Igor Lukes. Kicking off this volume, which seems to represent the distilled counterterrorist scholarship of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Casey begins, promisingly: "In confronting the challenge of international terrorism, the first step is to call things by their proper names, to see clearly and say plainly who the terrorists are, what goals they seek, and which governments support them."

Yes, yes. Who, what, and which? Let's have it. Next sentence: "What the terrorist does is kill, maim, kidnap, and torture."

In other words, and if we are to believe the Director of the CIA, the terrorist is nothing new, and nothing different. Can that be right?

One turns to Robert C. McFarlane, former National Security Adviser to the President and, like so many who farm "terrorism" as a new academic discipline, a "counselor" at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University. In his forward to the book edited by Livingstone and Arnold, McFarlane defines "acts of terrorism" as "calculated political crimes against people." Perhaps feeling that he should improve on a banality that would comprehend everything from Nazi storm troopers to the Teamsters union, and from the Khmer Rouge to the Contras, McFarlane went a touch further in The Washington Post Book World of May 18, 1986, and adopted the definition put forward in the book he was reviewing. The book was "Terrorism: How the West Can Win," and was put together by Israel's UN Ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu. Terrorism as here defined and seized upon by an impoverished McFarlane is "the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends." Did Casey, one wonders, raise a lofty eyebrow when he saw that kidnap and torture had been wholly left out of this account?

We don't do much better with "Terrorism as State-Sponsored Covert Warfare," by Ray S. Cline and Yonah Alexander. Alexander turns out to be Director of the Institute for Studies in International Terrorism at the State University of New York at Oneonta and editor of "Terrorism: An International Journal." Both he and Cline are attached to the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown. Early in the book, the two men state rather disarmingly: "There is no universal agreement about who is a terrorist because the political and strategic goals affect different states differently. There is no value-free definition."

The first sentence is no more than one could have said oneself. The second sentence imperils the whole rationale of the book and is thus discarded for the remaining hundred pages, wherein "terrorism" is quite easily used as if everybody agreed upon what it meant. For a sample of the depth of thinking and scholarship involved, I cite the Cline-Alexander analysis of the twentieth century:

"Domestic terrorism has risen to a high level of brutality at many times. Stalin's collectivization of agriculture and purges of party and armed forces of the 1920s and 1930s are prime examples. They are rivaled only, perhaps, by Mao Tse-tung's murderous Great Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s."

(A purist might say that this fails to mention another rather conspicuous example of domestic terror in this century.)

This book has jacket endorsements from, among others, Senator Richard Lugar of the Foreign Relations Committee, who says of Cline that "he has clearly defined the nature of terrorist acts, the role of states in utilizing terrorism, and the options which governments, such as ours, have to respond."

Finally, or at any rate lastly, to the Rand Corporation, which has made rather a good thing out of "terrorism" consultancy and which has produced a masterwork, "Trends in International Terrorism, 1982 and 1983." The introduction to this pamphlet inquires, as well it might:

"What do we mean by terrorism? The term, unfortunately, has no precise or widely accepted definition. The problem of defintion is compounded by the fact that _terrorism_ has become a fad word that is applied to all sorts of violence."

Six scholars labored to produce this report for Rand, and they were obviously not about to let this piece of throat-clearing get in the way of their grants, trips, and fellowships. For the rest of the study, the word _terrorism_ is used without qualification to mean whatever they want it to mean:

"In Rand's continuing research on this subject, _terrorism_ is defined by the nature of the act, not by the identity of the perpetrators or the nature of the cause. Terrorism is violence, or the threat of violence, calculated to create an atmosphere of fear and alarm. All terrorist acts are crimes."

A connoisseur might savor the last grace note, given that the Rand study also states, "In Nicaragua, international terrorist violence during 1982-83 consisted only of four hijackings involving Nicaraguans seizing planes in which to flee the country." Aside from the obvious omissions, what is "international" about a Nicaraguan using force to leave Nicaragua?

* * * *

My initial question is a simple one. How can a word with no meaning and no definition, borrowed inexpertly from the second-rate imitators of Burke and his polemic against the French Revolution of 1789 -- when *Terror* meant "big government" -- have become the political and media buzzword of the eighties? How can it have become a course credit at colleges, an engine of pelf in the think tanks, and a subject in its own right in the press, on television, and at the movies?

Some people have noticed the obvious fact that the word carries a conservative freight. It is almost always used to describe revolutionary or subversive action, though there is no reason in any of the above "definitions" why this should be. And I think one could also add that it's taken on a faint but unmistakable racist undertone (or overtone), in much the same way as the word *mugger* once did. There's always the suspicion, to put it no higher, that the politician or journalist who goes on and on about "terrorism" has not got the South African police in mind, any more than the "law and order" bigmouth means business about the Mafia.

In a defensive reaction to this hypocritical and ideological emphasis, many liberals have taken to simply inverting the word, or to changing the subject. Typically, a sympathizer of the Palestinians will say that it is Ariel Sharon who is "the real terrorist"; a Republican Irishman, that it is the British occupier who fills the bill; and so on. Still others will point suavely to the "root cause" of unassuaged grievance. This is all right as far as it goes, which is not very far. You don't draw the sting from a brainless propaganda word merely by turning it around. The word *terrorist* is not -- like *communist* and *fascist* -- being abused; it is itself an abuse. It disguises reality and impoverishes language and makes a banality out of the discussion of war and revolution and politics. It's the perfect instrument for the cheapening of public opinion and for the intimidation of dissent.

In the Oxford English Dictionary there is only one useful citation of the term, once you get past the tautologies ("any one who attempts to further his views by a system of coercive intimidation"). This usage comes to us from that great and worldly nineteenth-century divine, the Reverend Sydney Smith. Smith, who once boasted that his sermons were "long and vigorous, like the penis of a jackass," defined a terrorist as "one who entertains, professes, or tries to awaken or spread a feeling of terror and alarm; an alarmist, a scaremonger."

This usage may seem perverse, but it's much more enlightening than any of the hysterical commonplaces that pass for definitions today. Consider the case of Syria. Here is a large country with a long history. It contains competing elites from at least three major strands of Islam, plus many Christians of varying stripes. Geopolitics has removed Lebanon and the Golan Heights from its territory in the last half-century. It has been through countless wars and coups and repressions. Not long ago, Ted Koppel devoted a rare half-hour to this country. What was the question asked and debated? How did the experts and Administration spokesmen approach the land of Aleppo and Damascus? Why, by asking "Is Syria *terrorist*?" This is the sort of question which insults the audience as much as the presumed victim or target. Yet it's the level of question to which this ridiculous word has reduced us.

What an astounding state of affairs. A great power and a purportedly educated and democratic intelligentsia have allowed themselves to be "terrorized," as the Reverend Smith would have put it, into viewing the world this way. Stalin was terrorist, Mao was terrorist, Arabs are terrorist; Europeans are soft on terrorism; Latins are riddled with it. Whisk, whisk ... and there goes history, there goes inquiry, there goes proportion. All is terror. The best that can be said for this method is that it economizes on thought. You simply unveil it like a Medusa's head and turn all discussion into stone.

This is a bit of a disgrace to language as well as to politics. English contains rather a number of words, each of them individually expressive, with which to describe violence and to suggest the speaker's attitude toward it. Any literate person could duplicate, expand, or contest the following set of examples:

1. One who fights a foreign occupation of his country without putting on a uniform: guerrilla or *guerrillero*; partisan; (occasionally) freedom fighter.
2. One who extorts favors and taxes on his own behalf while affecting to be a guerrilla: bandit; brigand; pirate.
3. One who wages war on a democratic government, hoping to make it less democratic: nihilist; (some versions of) fascist, anarchist, Stalinist.
4. One who gives his pregnant fiancee a suitcase containing a bomb as she boards a crowded airliner: psychopath, murderer.
5. One who cuts the throat of an unarmed civilian prisoner while he lies in a shallow grave and buries him still living after inviting an American photographer to record the scene: Contra.
6. One who makes a living by inspiring fear and temporary obedience in the weak and vulnerable: goon; thug; kidnapper; blackmailer; hijacker; hoodlum.
7. One who directs weapons of conventional warfare principally at civilian objectives: war criminal.
8. One who believes himself licensed to kill by virtue of membership in a religious or mystical fraternity: fanatic; (traditionally) assassin.

Only the fifth of these examples is mischievously propagandistic, and I include it both as a true incident and as a joke about the prevailing self-righteousness. Meanwhile, we have not even begun to parse the words *tyrant*, *despot*, *dictator*, *absolutist* and *megalomaniac*. *Terrorist*, however, is a convenience word, a junk word, designed to obliterate distinctions. It must be this that recommends it so much to governments with something to hide, to the practitioners of instant journalism, and to shady "consultants."

I can give two examples of what I mean by "convenience word." When I was in Rhodesia years ago, the colonial government practiced a fairly light, inept, and porous form of censorship. It was not exactly illegal to advocate majority rule or to criticize repressive policy. News from the outside world was allowed in, despite numerous farcical exceptions and restrictions. But one thing was strictly forbidden. The names of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, rival leaders of the black population who were then in an uneasy coalition, could not legally be published or broadcast. This meant that, when a bomb went off in an oil depot, say, it would be denounced in the press as the work of "an externally based terrorist leader." This simplified matters to some extent. The slang word *terr*, for example, did not have the ambiguity I just mentioned with *mugger*. It *always* meant "troublesome black person." And there were no wearisome inquests about the propriety of journalists doing interviews with Mugabe or Nkomo and not turning them in to the police, because it was strictly illegal to publish such interviews. It also meant that everything that went wrong (plenty) could be blamed on "an externally based terrorist leader."

The policy turned out to be a sick joke on its defenders. The second most important fact about Rhodesia, after its status as a white-ruled colony, was the tribal and political division between Mugabe and Nkomo, Shona and Ndebele, ZANU and ZAPU, ZIPRA and ZANLA. So you heard settlers, white of skin and right of wing, asking one another anxiously which "externally based terrorist leader" the government meant that day. They needed and wanted to know, but were prevented by their own illusions from finding out. It wasn't unheard-of for quite well connected whites to get in touch with journalists -- the same journalists they denounced in their clubs and their cups as morale-sapping liberals -- and ask what Mugabe (or Nkomo) had really said the previous weekend. There were many sighs of relief when Rhodesia belatedly became Zimbabwe, and many must have rejoiced to be rid of the strain of calling all Africans "terrorists" or "terrorist sympathizers."

Another story: In March of 1976, I sat in Baghdad opposite Abu Nidal while he railed against imperialism, Zionism, and so forth. I sat up only when he issued a threat against somebody I knew. Said Hammami, who headed the PLO office in London at the time, had been writing articles for The Times calling for a territorial compromise over Palestine. Abu Nidal told me that if I saw Hammami I should warn him that he had attracted displeasure. I thus had the unusual experience, a short while later, of delivering (or at any rate passing on) a death threat. Hammami had heard this kind of talk before, of course. I don't think our conversation seemed as memorable to him at the time as it still is to me; but he was murdered in his Mayfair office not long afterward.

Most people recognized then that we had lost a very brave and thoughtful man, but by the standards that prevail today, nothing much had happened. One "terrorist" had perhaps killed or commissioned the killing of another "terrorist." The PLO is regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States government, and that has the effect of making distinction and discrimination impossible. Is it possible that this is the intention of the term?

Stupidity here makes an easy bedfellow, as always, with racialism and with the offensive habit of referring to "the Arabs." All Arab states and all Arab parties and communities recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians. Define the PLO as "terrorist" and what have you done? You've flattened the picture of the Middle East, for one thing. All Arabs are, ex hypothesi, terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. And what can't you do with terrorism? *Compromise* with it, that's what you can't do. *Anybody* knows that, for gosh sakes. So -- no need to compromise with the Arabs, who have to keep apologizing for living in the Middle East too. This idiot syllogism is a joke only if you haven't seen the Congressional Record for May and June, 1986, and read the contributions of our legislators to the Saudi arms "debate." Like bootleggers smashed on their own hooch, the "antiterrorism" types were convoluted by their own propaganda.

You can see the same process at work if you turn the pages of the report issued by the Long Commission, set up by the Defense Department to find out "what went wrong" with the Marine expedition to Beirut. This document is a pitiful thing from whichever political or literary standpoint it is approached. It reeks of self-pity and self-deception. We learn that "it was anticipated that the [Marines] would be perceived by the various factions as evenhanded and neutral." Anticipated by whom? And which factions?

Later, according to the commission, the "environment could no longer be characterized as peaceful. The image of the [Marines], in the eyes of the factional militias, had become pro-Israel, pro-Phalange, and anti-Muslim." When would the "environment" of Beirut have been "characterized as peaceful?" Again, which factional militias? The same ones whose welcome was earlier "anticipated?" And were the militias right or wrong about the tendency of American allegiance, or was it, as the report says, an "image" problem? There would be no glue with which to hold this tenth-rate explanation together if the report did not use the words *terrorism* and *terrorist* 178 times. So that's all right then. We know our enemy.

The terrorist is always, and by definition, the Other. Call your enemy communist or fascist and, whatever your intentions, you will one day meet someone who proudly claims to be a communist or fascist. Define your foe as authoritarian or totalitarian and, however ill-crafted your analysis, you are bound to find a target that amplifies the definition. But "terrorist" is hardly more useful than a term of abuse, and probably less so.

One way of putting this simple point is to take the "antiterrorist" argument at its strongest. Random violence is one thing, say the well-funded experts, but it gets really serious when it's "state-sponsored" terrorism. The two words that are supposed to intensify the effect of the third actually have the effect, if we pause for thought, of diminishing it. It is terrifying to be held at gunpoint by a person who has *no demands*. A moment of *terror* is a moment when the irrational intrudes -- when the man with the gun is hearing voices or wants his girlfriend back or has a theory about the Middle Pyramid. But if the gunman is a proxy for Syria or Iran or Bangladesh or Chile (the fourth being the only government mentioned here that has ever detonated a lethal bomb on American soil), then it isn't, strictly speaking, the irrational that we face. It may be an apparently unappeasable grievance, but it is, finally, political. And propaganda terms, whether vulgar or ingenious, have always aimed at making political problems seem one-sided.

Why should they not? That is the propagandist's job. What is frightening and depressing is that a pseudoscientific propaganda word like *terrorism* has come to have such a hypnotic effect on public debate in the United States. A word which originated with the most benighted opponents of the French Revolution; a word featured constantly in the antipartisan communiques of the Third Reich; a word which is commonplace in the handouts of the Red Army in Afghanistan and the South African army in Namibia; a word which was in everyday use during the decline of the British, French, Portugese, and Belgian empires. Should we not be wary of a term with which rulers fool themselves and by which history is abolished and language debased? Don't we fool and console ourselves enough as it is?

--Christopher Hitchens, "Wanton Acts of Usage"
(Harper's, September 1986)

Randy Paul

"Bush aside, the threat of Islamo-Fascism is real. The Left's inability to realize this and mount some sort of response (other than making the obvious criticisms of the Bushies) is a massive failure of imagination."

What is this monolithic left that moves in lockstep and that thinks entirely alike. More reading comprehension problems on your part, JL. Here's what I wrote before:

"Everytime I exit the Rector Street station I look north and see what Al Qaeda is capable [of]."

Rector Street is two blocks south of the WTC site.

"I don't really understand what revelations you are giving us Randy? The Bushies have failed and made us less safe? Well, I agree with that. But many smarter folks made that point years ago (literally)."

I wasn't trying to make revelations. It's not just that they have made us less safe, it's the fact that there is empirical evidence that they continue to make us less safe.

As for criticizing the left, Abramsky cites several people on the left FRINGE who probably have much less influence on the Democrats than those on the right fringe do. Does the leadership of the DNC meet routinely with Fisk, Pilger, Ali, galloway and Klein? Not to my knowledge.

More evidence of your failure to read and understand what I have written on this thread:

"As someone who rides the subways every day (and five days a week to Ground Zero) and who considers himself squarely on the left, I must have missed the meeting when I agreed to let the people that Abramsky cites speak for me.

"They don't and I can assure that they don't speak for many of the people who live in my city, which voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry last year, and who feel less safe with Bush in office."

I have said that they don't speak for me and I know that they don't speak for others who share my political beliefs. If you want to write using sweeping generalizations, feel free. It's painting with a broad brush, i.e. smearing. Or to quote one of Hitchens' favorites, George Orwell:

"The atmosphere of hatred in which [political] controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel."

Perhaps you should find a way to defer gratification.

Jim Russell

Jeez AAA, Maybe this is why some have difficulty getting support for their cause or elected to office. They can't communicate with ordinary people. They over-analyze and over complicate.

You know what terrorism is and so does everyone else. Murder innocent non-combatants in order to disrupt a society and terrorize its population.


1. What Israel has been defending itself against offensively for 50 years.

2. What the US has been defending itself against for the last 10 years, offensively for the last 3.

3. What Iraq has been defending itself against for the last 30 years, offensively for the last 3.

4. What the World's civilian population is going to be defending itself against for who knows how long if we can't get together and call evil by its name, terror.

Jim Russell

3. should have read "What Iraq has been suffering with for the last 30 years...."

Let's be clear what terrorism is not. It is not the accidental killing of civilians while defending ones self in an offensive action against terrorist.

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