Wednesday, July 06, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different: Insurgent vs. Terrorist

tags: terrorist insurgent labels

I realize that this has nothing to do with local Internet issues, but it is nonetheless something that needs clarification, because it annoys me...

Print and TV media predominantly refer to the “fighters” in Iraq as “insurgents” while conservative talk radio often refers to them as “terrorists”. Which label is correct? Obviously, this is a politically charged issue, but I believe that we can cut through the political rhetoric and get down to the facts, at least in certain situations that are clearly black-and-white.

First we need definitions for these labels:
noun: 1: a person who rises in revolt against civil authority or an established government; especially one not recognized as a belligerent; 2: one who acts contrary to the established leadership (e.g. of a political party, union, or corporation) or its decisions and policies.

noun: someone who uses of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear. Terrorists usually organize with other terrorists in small cells; often using religion as a cover for terrorist activities.

(Note: you can look at the politically charged definitions in the Wikipedia, but the term “insurgent” was added April 11, 2004 and the term “terrorist” was added in 2001, so they are both at least somewhat suspect.)

When determining the appropriate label, one most consider the following:

1.The perpetrators – Are they local residents? How can foreigners fight against an illegal occupying force, when they themselves are not local residents? The fighters must be local residents to be insurgents, freedom fighters or guerillas. If they are foreign, they are at best mercenaries, but only if they are paid for their actions.

2.The target(s) – If the fighters target the government or the military infrastructure supporting the government, while attempting to minimize collateral damage to the indigenous civilian population, then they can be considered insurgents, freedom fighters or guerillas. Insurgents or freedom fighters will carefully avoid civilian casualties in order to build local support and recruit followers. Some people might consider government employed police forces a legitimate target for insurgents, but attacking foreign diplomats, Iraqi female civilians and the like, is clearly an act of terrorism. Terrorists tend to target civilians in order to incite terror among the populace.

3.The methodology – Are they attempting to merely kill these targets to undermine and destabilize the government they deem illegal? If they are desecrating the corpses or killing the individuals in a publicly distasteful manner and then broadcasting it, they are merely attempting to instill fear. An objective observer might consider the killing of the military support personnel in Fallujah a legitimate action by freedom fighters, but the desecration of their bodies by dismembering, hanging and burning them is clearly a terrorist act. In the Middle East, decapitating an individual might be considered a reasonable form of execution, but triumphantly displaying the severed head, video taping and distributing the video tape makes this an act of terrorism.

Based on these criteria, we should be looking at the individual acts. As I understand it from people who are in Iraq, or have been in Iraq, there are three types of homicides taking place there:

1.Ethnically Motivated Murder: Sunnis Killing Shiites and vice versa. Much of this activity is motivated by revenge for past activities of the groups. This is the stuff civil wars are made of. The Shiites kill Sunnis because of injustices caused by Saddam Hussein’s (Sunni) government. The Sunnis respond by killing Shiites, and the cycle continues. Generally speaking these are not the acts of insurgents or terrorists, they are simply murders by murderers.

2.Terrorism: As defined by any one of he following: the perpetrators (foreign fighters), targets (civilians, foreign diplomats, etc.), or the methodology (e.g. video taped decapitation that is publicly broadcast).

3.Insurgency: Must satisfy all of the following criteria: Perpetrators (local residents), targets (government or military infrastructure, while minimizing civilian casualties) and methodology (killing merely to kill or disable the infrastructure).

Then, of course, there are the gray areas. Are police considered a viable target for freedom fighters? Are Palestinians in Israel considered foreigners, because they consider it their land? The gray area is where your political perspective or objectives come into play. But clearly, we can and should be more precise about automatically labeling perpetrators terrorists or insurgents and look instead at the circumstances and use the proper term.

...Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...