[Page references here are to Psychology of Terrorism, edited by Victoroff & Kruglanski.]
Yesterday Bravo22c posted a lengthy diatribe based partly on (assumptions he made about) a question I asked him some weeks ago: the question (as I recall it; he immediately deleted it) was ‘In your opinion, has the Russian state committed acts of terrorism against Chechen civilians?’
Yesterday’s post referred to my ‘profound ignorance of what a terrorist act is – both UK – and EU – legal definitions of terrorism specifically exclude State actors from the provisions of relevant law. (There is no agreed UN or other International definition.)’
[It is true that there is no agreed definition – V&K (p. 42) state that at least 109 definitions have been listed.]
So, Bravo is claiming that a state, by definition, cannot commit an act of terrorism because UK and EU law says so (no references supplied, incidentally). I see a couple of problems with this.
First, legislation specifies the meaning of words and concepts for the purposes of that legislation, in that jurisdiction, at that time. It cannot define and redefine the very language we use. Wherever that function may lie, it is outside the ambit of legislators (i.e. politicians). Legislation can only say ‘For our present purposes, terrorism is …’
Second, the legalistic definition of ‘terrorism’ to exclude state acts might very well be seen as pragmatic and ‘non-boat-rocking’ as opposed to principled: the foreclosure of an onus on states or transnational organizations to prosecute other states, which might lead to all kinds of trouble.
The V&K book deals with state or state-sponsored terrorism on pp. 5, 32, 33, 42–3, 50, 57, 68, 146, 202, 406, 410–17, and 435 (it has an excellent index, compiled by a highly competent freelancer ;-)). The first two words of its blurb – ‘Substate terrorism’ – in themselves imply that state terrorism also exists; otherwise ‘substate’ would be pleonastic.
There is far too much relevant and interesting material in the cited book to give in a blog, but I think the following (pp. 42–43) is particularly germane:
Caleb Carr stated that “terrorism … is simply the contemporary name given to the modern permutation of warfare deliberately waged against civilians with the purpose of destroying their will [presumably via terror] to support either leaders or policies that the agents of such violence find objectionable.” Carr fully realized that his definition “draws no distinction between conventional military and unconventional paramilitary forces.” Yet to him, this, precisely, was the point, because: Anyone who asserts that a particular armed force or unit or individual that deliberately targets civilians in the pursuit of a political goal is for some reason not an exponent of terrorism has no genuine interest in defining and eliminating this savage phenomenon, but is rather concerned with excusing the behavior of the nation or faction for whom he or she feels sympathy.
My case is that the question I asked (however one wished to answer it) was a fair one. That grave offence was taken is a reflection on the mentality of the offence-taker … not the asker.