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(en) Ireland, Working Class Resistance #10 - Bad Language - a look at the semantics of terror

Date Sun, 18 Dec 2005 11:58:14 +0200

Mairtin O'Cathain reflects on uncritical use of the word terrorist by
many on the left, including anarchists and libertarian communists
(and Organise! for that matter) and examines the meaning of the
words Terror and Terrorism. From a term applied to the exercise of
violence by the state to one that is used to identify the enemies of the
state these are now among the most politically loaded words in the
English language.
The coverage of the recent attacks on London has led to resounding
denunciations of 'terrorism' and 'terror' from almost
every quarter, including all sections of the left, anarchists included.
The harrowing and random nature of the attacks naturally led most
people to condemn those involved and outline their opposition to their
methods and politics.
While this is, of course, a legitimate and understandable expression it
falls into the trap of mouthing the same line as those whose actions
have led to the attacks in the first place. The uncritical parroting of the
terms 'terrorism' and 'terrorist' in particular have
been sickening in their repetition. These words are among the most
politically loaded in the English language, and although used by
greater and greater numbers of people, they originated with
governments and their allies in the security services and mass media,
who have continued to push for their definition of 'terrorism'
to be accepted by all sections of society since the nebulous 'war
on terror' began. It's interesting to note that the United
Nations refuse to accept as authoritative the term 'terrorism',
and their own expert on the subject, Alexander Schmidt, has been
researching globally to try and find a suitably palatable definition.
Naturally, no group accused of 'terrorism' actually admits to
the title
and it should be particularly important to anarchists that not only is it
forwarded by states but also originates with them. It was first used by
the French Republican state during the 'Reign of Terror'
against its enemies of the left and right, and re-employed by various
Marxist regimes, including the Soviet Union. It was only in the later
twentieth century that the term was used more widely and pejoratively
to define the state's enemies. At all times its use has been
opposed by many anarchists, reminding people that it began with the
state and lies with the state today. When we speak of terrorism we are
speaking of the state, there should be no need to qualify it by talk of
'state terrorism' as if it were somehow just an aspect of
regular terrorism. Only states can bring the full power of unbridled
physical violence to bear in all its barbarous variety from nuclear and
biological weapons of mass destruction to machine-gun and
night-stick. They have the monopoly on violence, and armies of
brainwashed individuals to enforce their will.
This is not to excuse or dismiss religious fundamentalists and their
violence. The nexus of Islam, Orientalism, post-Colonial hysteria and
oil wealth has created a small but vicious array of Muslim
fundamentalist groupings scattered across the globe, gathering up
grudges and causes like stones, and representing myriad religious and
political demands. Of course, it's easier for states to define them
all as one big group of 'baddies' "“ like the pirates of the
17th century, the republicans of the 18th, anarchists of the 19th
century and communists of the 20th. This is done by the simple
application of the word 'terrorist' to those who challenge the
state's monopoly of violence, and condemns society to further
violence and repression, generates untold wealth for those who profit
by war, and puts aside all notion of political solution and compromise
until thousands are dead.

From the Pages of Working Class Resistance, magazine of


Organise Ireland <organiseireland@yahoo.ie>

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