Who Are the “Terrorists”?


Richard Sahn

Driving us ever closer to the brink of World War III and possible nuclear annihilation is the bi-partisan, seemingly all-American political position that we “never negotiate with terrorists.” That means having no diplomatic relations with the “bad guys.” “Terrorists,” we’re taught to believe, must be followers of Satan himself. (Witness Joe Biden’s “Gates of Hell” comment about the Islamic State.) Or, from a purely secularized perspective, they are obviously infected with extreme psychopathy. It seems that anyone who dares to talk about talking to “the terrorists” is regarded as an appeaser or even as a friend of “the terrorists.”

Yet at the same time going to war against other peoples, and inflicting torture, suffering, and death on innocents, is considered acceptable by Western nations if those wars are couched in terms of protecting freedom. You’re a patriot if you support your country when it goes to war no matter what the reason.   You’re not a patriot if you express skepticism about those wars and their motives.

The immediate crisis is ISIS or the Islamic State.  Yes, ISIS is a collection of radicalized, fundamentalist Islamic fighters (whom we helped to create) who use terror to advance their agenda.  We should take them very seriously, for they are a threat to millions of innocent people, a threat even to the planet if they should get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. But bombing them, or for that matter any other so-called “terrorist” population is rarely the answer; indeed, bombing often produces more converts to the cause.  And isn’t bombing itself a form of terror?

When will they ever learn–as the last line in Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” says–that we are no longer confronting conventional nation-states with armies controlled by dictators or military juntas.  As Noam Chomsky asserts, the only way to stop terrorism is not to become a terrorist yourself.

Carrying that advice one step further, instead of demonizing the “terrorists” before blowing them to kingdom come, what if we diplomatically recognized Hamas, ISIS, and similar organizations?  What if we invited them to state dinners at the White House and allowed them to speak before Congress? Finally, what if we gave them financial and humanitarian aid?  (We’ve already armed them, indirectly, with weapons we liberally provided or sold to the Iraqi army and similar armies the U.S. military trained, only to watch them fold or switch sides.)

Since 9/11 the U.S. government has spent $3.3 trillion on invasions of countries and the global war on terror.   Is it naïve to argue that we could appease most of the oppressed and disenfranchised people in the world who hate America by buying their friendship?  Something tells me the price tag would be far less than $3.3 trillion; perhaps a thousand times less.

As John Lennon and Yoko Ono once sung, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Virtually nobody takes that seriously nowadays. Yet aren’t “outside the box” solutions what the world needs now?

The times may have been a’changin’ in Bob Dylan’s era but today we have fallen back to the tired, hyper-rational, “straight” way of thinking  which Albert Einstein warned us about at the dawn of the nuclear age.

Rodney King, who was severely beaten by the LAPD after a traffic stop, came up with viable approach to solving the world’s most horrific conflicts when he said in an interview, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Even the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Iceland when Soviet and American nuclear weapons were almost eliminated seems surreal now in the light of Western geopolitics, driven as they are today by tired Machiavellian posturing and Kissinger-like Real Politik.

What we need today is less posturing about “the terrorists” and more attempts at peacemaking. For if peacemakers continue to fail, if we continue to ignore their advice, there may be no earth left for our children to inherit.

Richard Sahn is a professor of sociology and a regular contributor to The Contrary Perspective.

17 thoughts on “Who Are the “Terrorists”?

  1. As I believe the late Gore Vidal once pointed out: “Americans are among the most easily frightened people on earth.” Better then to ask: “Who are the terrified?” Then you will know where to look for your “terrorists.”
    Only in a nation with so little to fear from the actual world, could so virulent an epidemic of Reactionary Panic, Mystic Dread, Abstract Angst, and just plain Fear Itself render the citizenry so effortlessly stampeded into abject subservience by the purely imaginary.

    • Many fine comments and ‘good’ expressions in Prof. Sahn’s article but I am surprised that none have looked at the “first cause” of this current catastrophe. It is very directly our thirteen year failure to bell the cat that instigated and largely funded 9/11 because of our lust for oil. It’s the SAUDIS!

      The Saudis that funded Bin Ladin to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Madrassas in Pakistan that train their students that Jihad is a way of life. It is the Saudis who are currently funding all of the Jihadi cults in Syria of which ISIS is only one of them, It is the Saudis who are funding the Sunnis in Iraq who have kept the Sunni insurgency against the Shia government alive. It is Saudi Arabia who got the US to support the military coup in Egypt in order to beat out Qatar who supported Morsi. And finally it is The Saudi Wahabism as a violent religious sect that has kept Saudi Arabia a backwater of medieval practices.

      Until we change our dependence on Saudi oil (and not through drilling in the US) and seek “regime change” in that shit hole of medievalists will terrorism begin to disappear.

      • I know that “b. traven” is a well-informed commentator so I won’t argue with the assertion that “our ally/friend” (picture my impish grin as I typed that) Saudi Arabia is behind a lot of this activity. It is a known fact that the CIA directly set bin-Laden up in business in Afghanistan to combat Soviet forces. Some of the funding likely was, indeed, funneled via the Saudis. Unfortunately, despite a Democratic administration which theoretically should oppose the GOP program of “Drill, baby, drill!!” on environmental grounds, the domestic energy production industry apparently is having the time of its life, and the environment be damned! If all of Oklahoma slips into a massive sinkhole, or the last drop of obtainable water west of the Mississippi is used for a fracking operation, perhaps someone will have second thoughts? In the meantime, the US supposedly is, indeed, enroute to “energy independence.” Whither the House of Saud (or is it still Fahd?)? Time for regime change? Well, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time The Invisible Government shuffled the musical chairs in a nation supposedly our ally. I’m not really expecting this, but the next few years look quite interesting. They say “May you live in interesting times” is an old Chinese curse. Consider the world generously cursed.

  2. Stopping oppression & disenfranchisement is the way to friendship (not bribery). Being recognized as part of the solution rather than part of the problem is helpful. You can refer to “indirect” arming by way of state channels as a way of saying “oops, it was someone else’s irresponsibility,” but be mindful of all the back channel “direct” arming that goes on. CIA’s dirty prints are all over “Al Qaeda,” and likely “ISIS,” the new boogeyman, as well.
    “Terrorism” is both a tactic and a ruse. Figure that one out.
    What “virtually nobody takes that seriously nowadays” is the proposition that the U.S. Foreign policy establishment has any interest whatsoever in “giving peace a chance.” That’s not an “outside the box” solution, it’s an outside the Pentagon and ruling elite solution.

  3. Yes, war is the most destructive form of terrorism, since it can spread destruction over such a wide swath of a civilian population (e.g. the Allied firebombing of Dresden in Germany, a city of no military importance to Hitler & Co.; Tokyo was also firebombed). The US, which offers itself to the world as the paragon of morality (excuse me, I just “threw up a little into my mouth”), unleashed the greatest terror to date on the peoples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Of course, we’re talking about Orwellian games of semantics once again; it’s kind of unavoidable. Who is a terrorist? Well, if you oppose my regime, it must be YOU! But you call yourself a freedom fighter! I guess terror is in the eye of the beholder. To King George and his court, those pesky ex-Brits (mostly) trying to claim North America for their own exploitation without sending a big chunk of the revenues back to England, hiding behind trees and firing at the Redcoats in their stodgy old formations…terrorists!! Bloody terrorists!

    Ah, but for what freedoms is “The Islamic State” fighting?? That is difficult to determine in the fog of this war. On what would “we” (the US government) base negotiations? Since wise heads years ago foresaw Iraq being broken into three regions (Sunni-, Shia- and Kurd-dominated) after the US withdrew most of its combat forces, perhaps “we” should grant “The Islamic State” a region it can rule by its (supposed) harsh version of Islam, provided it allows the emigration of all who do NOT wish to be so ruled? But wait, don’t the leaders of this gang–whoever the heck they actually are!–proclaim they will expand their rule into Spain and other parts of Europe within a few years?? Well, this is what the US propaganda machine would have us believe, that they’re a bunch of crazies who will stop at nothing. Where does truth lie in all this? How can a mere citizen like you or I find out? We certainly should have learned by now to cast the harshest skepticism on what “our” government tells us. The Obama administration is now committed to extermination of “The Islamic State,” though secret negotiations can’t be ruled out–it wouldn’t be the first time. This guarantees continued, additional suffering of the civilians in the region.

    As for “making nice” with an organization like Hamas, such an idea is dead in the water by dint of the US support of Israel. Negotiations come, negotiations go, but Israel demands that Hamas disarm itself before any substantial progress can occur. “Trust us to rule your territory benignly.” After nearly a half-century of illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip, West Bank of the Jordan River and Syria’s Golan Heights, would any Palestinian refugee in his or her right mind believe this? I am sorry I have no magic solutions to offer. I am a citizen of the nation whose rulers still think they can police the entire globe, and thus is a major, major part of the world’s problems. Frankly, I long to be a citizen of Ireland, a small nation whose per capita humanitarian assistance to the world vastly outweighs that of the USA.

    • I agree for a great deal with you there, Greg.
      IS is an organization beyond our reach. They consider people of their own faith (but the wrong version of it) to be infidels that can (must?) be raped, tortured and humiliated before being killed. They can not be compared to Hamas, which is an organization that offers the only resistance possible for the people trapped in their concentration-camp-like peace of land they must call home. I can understand people decide to pick up weapons and fight for their right to live, to fight for their families. It’s a fight for survival, a fight for a right to exist.
      The fight IS is fighting is first of all led by people that have often had all the possibilities in the world in western countries. They have been educated in free societies and now what democracy is. They choose for this holy war with a completely different mind set than Hamas does… There is nothing we can bargain with, for we are considered to be unworthy to an extent beyond our comprehension…
      I think we are headed to war, there is no way around it, and there is a chance we will be holding the short end of the stick… It frightens me. But I am convinced that talking about it DOES offer opportunities.

      However “live and let live” is not the way. It will come back to bite us in the ass. Something must be done, actively and clearly.

    • As I like to say, professor, you can always tell when the U.S. military has lost another war the minute you start hearing them call it “long.” And they have already started doing that. How in the hell do they know that a “war” will take a long time, a short time, or no time at all? I mean America’s military leadership caste doesn’t exactly have a reputation for knowing how to conclude a war one way or another.

      The U.S. military no longer fights wars to put an expeditious and successful end to them. They fight Permanent War now, as Orwell said, just to use up the productive capacity of the economy so that it will not go to raising the general standard of living. I call this vast ticket-punching, money-laundering scam Warfare Welfare and Make-work Militarism. You can sum up the U.S. military with one word: “More!”

      As Orwell said, the oligarchical collective at the top of the societal pyramid wages permanent war not against foreign enemies — whose identities we rarely know and could care less about in any event — but against the lower classes of the pyramid through exhaustion of the nation’s resources that might otherwise go to useful, productive purposes.

      From everything I’ve heard and read, this so-called ISIS only has a couple of thousand rag-tag fighters and some Toyota pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted on the back. The countries surrounding this ISIS have hundreds of thousands of soldiers, tons of money, and very expensive weaponry supplied by the United States. So these countries can easily do away with ISIS if they really desired to do so. And if these countries — which include the Apartheid Zionist Entity — can’t do this for themselves, then why in the hell should the United States undertake to do it for them? Especially since the United States military has proven for several decades now that it hasn’t a clue about how to do anything but produce more terrorists. As the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton put it: the U.S. military “can annihilate, but not defeat, the tiniest enemy.” So the permanent war machine just goes on annihilating — it doesn’t much care who or what — while the tiny enemies just keep winning and growing stronger. What a bloody farce.

      • Oh boy, has Obama been taken to the woodshed on his foolish slip stating he “doesn’t yet have a strategy” for dealing with “The Islamic State”!! So now the nation and the world can lick their collective lips awaiting the chagrined Commander-in-Chief’s TV address Wednesday in which he promises to lay out precisely his strategy. (Personally, I won’t be watching. I’ll wait for the “executive summary.”) As if this will silence the screaming from the Republican side of the aisle! I noted briefly on CNN’s website what was either an upcoming GOP midterm elections ad, or a suggestion of what one will look like: juxtaposition of an orange-jumpsuited American awaiting beheading with scenes of Obama whacking a golf ball around on Martha’s Vineyard. Republicans please note: he’s far from the first POTUS to spend a lot of time on the links. And that’s the extent of my “defense” of the current incumbent.

        A three-year campaign to exterminate IS? Within the context of the “permanent” War On Terror? Hmmmm. By the way, during his first term in office, this POTUS suggested this war COULD be wound down at some vague point in the future. I guess we won’t hear talk like that ever again. I also heard on radio today that as soon as Congress returns from vacation we’ll be treated to a new round of hearings on Benghazi. Join the chant, boys and girls: “Ben-gha-zi! Ben-gha-zi! Ben-gha-zi!” Even if Hillary stuns us by announcing she WON’T run in 2016, the GOP will NOT let this business fade away. And we should not be in the least surprised if that crew not only regains control of Congress in November, but recaptures the White House two years later. “Stop the world, I want to get off!”

  4. Glenn Greenwald, as one would expect, absolutely nails this instantly risible “terrorist” bogeyman in his most recent Intercept article: Americans Now Fear ISIS Sleeper Cells Are Living in the U.S., Overwhelmingly Support Military Action. I’ve never read a more in-depth affirmation of Gore Vidal’s dictum that “Americans are among the most easily frightened people on earth.” One of my favorite comments:

    “It’s as though ISIS and the U.S. media and political class worked in perfect unison to achieve the same goal here when it comes to American public opinion: fully terrorize them.”

    No matter how many times or how egregiously their corporate/government media lie to and bamboozle them about remote, if not imaginary, “enemies” or “threats,” and no matter how many times those lies explode in the faces of those telling them, the next outrageous lie about the next imaginary “threat” will have the American people soiling their collective diapers in fear and loathing of “something out there somewhere” which demands that they willingly underwrite yet another clueless Children’s Crusade by their corrupt and incompetent government. As I wrote at the beginning of my poem “America the Dutiful”:

    In the land of the fleeced and the home of the slave
    Where the cowed and the buffaloed moan
    Where seldom we find an inquisitive mind
    And the people pay up with a groan.

    No country with a populace this gullible, this forgetful, and this easily terrified has a hope of surviving the corporate/militarist looting it so richly deserves.

    • It is easily predicted that before long we will hear of arrests of “IS sleeper cells” on US soil, thanks to the brilliant work of FBI/Dept. of Homeland Security. Just as soon as the misguided young dupes susceptible to ENTRAPMENT can be found and maneuvered into the snare. And just to cover myself, I’ll throw this out: To the extent that real damage may be done in the US by authentic terrorists, this will be Malcolm X’s famous “chickens coming home to roost,” blowback from never-ending meddling in the affairs of other countries. Violence begets more violence, and we now have a POTUS and VP openly flinging around Old Testament notions of revenge. Shades of George W. Bush going to Ground Zero in Manhattan, and we know what followed. Last night I had a little time to kill with the boob tube on and was watching the scrolling news ticker on FOX “News.” It informed us that some articles of clothing worn by members of SEAL Team 6 when they assassinated Osama bin-Laden were going on display at the 9/11 Memorial this week. New saintly relics! Items for religious veneration! Eat your heart out, Vatican! Is this really what we’ve come to as a society? Sad to say, apparently the answer is in the affirmative.

      • I had not heard about the SEAL Team 6 “holy” relics. If this report is true, we have truly sunk far as a country.

        I recall when Disney tried to trademark “SEAL Team 6.” That was bad enough. But putting uniforms on display from an assassination mission?

        Even the Catholic Church had more sense — and I say that as a somewhat jaded Catholic.

  5. A brilliant analysis, Professor Sahn and a brilliant proposal: diplomatic recognition. Yes, it’s radical, but radical thinking is just what’s needed.

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