I’ve been working on a blog on Hezbollah. It’s a very hot button issue. Israel consider Hezbollah as one of the worst terrorist groups. The US also condemns Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Other countries do not and in particular Lebanon has been trying to co-exist with the presence of Hezbollah. The US accuses Iran of supporting Hezbollah. Hezbollah militia fought against ISIS in Syria in the destruction of Raqqa. But, I’m really jumping ahead in this blog.
It is tempting to lump all groups with an extensive cache of arms as terrorist organizations. I would more likely term such organizations as collectives of angry people who are contemplating acts of violence. Even in the US, there are organizations which purchase and store arms as they believe they are part of a larger resistance movement their rights as citizens. It is in fact, their constitutional right to store arms in defense of their home.
On the Wikipedia site, it is stated no single accepted definition of terrorism. I’ve provided two links on this subject. However, Wikipedia provides one “broad” definition as follows:
Terrorism is, in the broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror, or fear, to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim. It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence against peacetime targets or in war against non-combatants. The terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” originated during the French Revolution of the late 18th century but gained mainstream popularity during the U.S. Presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981–89) after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings and again after the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. in September 2001 and on Bali in October 2002.
The September 2001 is obviously the “9/11” attack on the US by Al-Qaeda, and it was indiscriminate as the action targeted anyone who was in the buildings at the time. I would include in the definition that terrorist organizations plan violent acts intended to cause large scale loss of human life. The broad definition would include both non-state and state organized terrorists.
Further, Wikipedia states their definition is hardly rigorous or universally accepted as follows:
There is no commonly accepted definition of “terrorism”. Being a charged term, with the connotation of something “morally wrong”, it is often used, both by governments and non-state groups, to abuse or denounce opposing groups. Broad categories of political organisations have been claimed to have been involved in terrorism to further their objectives, including right-wing and left-wing political organisations, nationalist groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments. Terrorism-related legislation has been adopted in various states, regarding “terrorism” as a crime. There is no universal agreement as to whether or not “terrorism”, in some definition, should be regarded as a war crime.
Regardless of how one wishes to define terrorism, the horrific actions of ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, clearly make them the worst terrorist groups. All countries repudiate the actions of these organizations. Similarly, the actions of Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups are repudiated by all countries. For these groups, the “I know it when I see it” (Potter, 1964, US Supreme Court) test works well for these groups, but it doesn’t help in many other cases. This is exactly the point made in the Wikipedia’s summary.
Political groups and individuals within many Arab countries and Iran, may be extremely anti-American, but this can be simply rhetoric and does not mean they support terrorism. Further complications come into play when there are groups of extremist groups within a country, and governments for political reasons, are not making a priority to arrest or otherwise destroy extremist groups. Wealthy individuals may support ISIS or al-Qaeda groups within many countries. Should the governments be held responsible? They may allow individuals accused of terrorist activities to live within their country. Is that mean the country is complicit in terrorism?
Fethullah Gulen has been accused of acts of terrorism by the Turkish government. He lives in Pennsylvania and the Turkish government wants him deported to stand trial. The US has demanded the evidence against Gulen before extraditing him. He is 76 years old and in fact has denounced terrorism as a violation of his faith as follows:
Gülen has condemned terrorism. He warns against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians and said that it “has no place in Islam”. He wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on September 12, 2001, one day after the September 11 attacks, and stated that “A Muslim can not be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim.” Gülen lamented the “hijacking of Islam” by terrorists.
The extradition of Fethullah Gulen for terrorism is weak, and the US so far has taken no action, except to request more evidence.
As I was completing this blog, President Erdogan invoked the terrorist label, on condemning Israel, in response to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as its capital, as follows:
“Israel is a state of occupation and a terror state,” Erdoğan said in a speech in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas on Dec. 10, vowing that Turkey “will not leave Jerusalem to the consciousness of a child-killer state.”
The west bank and Gaza strip are areas that Israel took by force during the Six Day war in 1967.
During the Syrian civil war, President Bashir Assad would claim that the US and other European countries were assisting terrorist, as we were training and providing arms to groups against the Assad regime. However, the US was also fighting against ISIS in Syria, with the support of Syrian government. So what were we to Assad – enemy or friend?
When there is a rebellion within a country, immediately the leader of the country will denounce the rebel groups as traitors, or agents of foreign governments. This is exactly what the President Gaddafi did in 2011 during the Libyan civil war. The US and NATO supported the rebel group with air support.
The Yemen civil war is a clash between the Houthi rebels and the Yemen government. By their rhetoric and slogans, the Houthi would seem just as radical as Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Written in Arabic on their flag:
“The God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam”
However, the Houthi appear to simply want to take over Yemen, not wreck havoc in the western world. The Houthi’s gained control in 2014 to 2015, through a coup d’etat. What sparked the uprising in 2014, was an end to government subsidies on fuel.
The Houthi have committed acts of indiscriminate violence, hence it would be easy to call them terrorists by the broad definition. Yet the coalition of countries fighting against the Houthi, with air strikes conducted by Saudi Arabia, has acted equally brutal bombing a Doctors without Frontiers hospital (October 13, 2016) and other civilian targets.
Since the Saudi-led coalition began military operations against Ansar Allah on 26 March 2015, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes unlawfully struck hospitals and other facilities run by aid organizations, according to Human Rights Watch. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical facilities in Yemen were attacked four times in three months. On 26 October 2015, HRW documented six Saudi-led airstrikes which bombed a MSF hospital in Haydan district (Sa’dah Governorate), wounding two patients. An Saudi-led coalition airstrike then hit a MSF mobile clinic on 2 December 2015, in Al Houban district (Taizz). Eight people were wounded, including two MSF staff members, and one other civilian nearby was killed. On 10 January 2016, six people were killed and seven wounded when a hospital in Sa’ada was hit by a projectile. MSF said it could not confirm whether the hospital was hit in an air strike by warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition, or by a rocket fired from the ground, and at least one other landed nearby. On 21 January 2016, an MSF ambulance was hit by an airstrike. Seven people were killed and dozens were wounded.
MSF’s director of operations Raquel Ayora said: “The way war is being waged in Yemen is causing enormous suffering and shows that the warring parties do not recognise or respect the protected status of hospitals and medical facilities. We witness the devastating consequences of this on people trapped in conflict zones on a daily basis. Nothing has been spared – not even hospitals, even though medical facilities are explicitly protected by international humanitarian law.”
Iran is accused of supporting the Houthi, which Iran denies. Iran was instrumental in the formation of Hezbollah, which they consider is a group defending the borders of Lebanon and Syria from Israeli aggression. Yet Iran joined with others in the war against ISIS. Both Hezbollah and the Houthi’s are Shi’a organization, so they would never align themselves with ISIS or Al-Qaeda.
Just yesterday, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley stood in front of parts of a recovered missile from Yemen, claiming this was hard evidence that Iran had supported Houthi rebels in direct violation of an UN resolutions. While it was great for the media, the problem was that it could have been supplied to the Houthi’s before the UN Resolution. Further, it was apparent to experts, that the missile could not carry a nuclear warhead (a violation of another UN resolution). There are various links on the internet, and I just posted the one from the NYT.
You see how complicated the label “terrorist organization” has become when it is extended beyond ISIS and Al-Qaeda. I will explore more the Hezbollah group in a future blog.