Sunday, October 16, 2005

Defining ‘terrorism’

“Realize that the reason we do not see People Power is because it is already so BIG and all around us, we don’t even notice it. We do not see the people’s rage in the streets, because already in their hearts they have withdrawn their consent to be governed. That is the real people power . . . here at PCIJ and the blogosphere, we are connected to an even greater People Power, the power of a global human republic, a global civil society to overthrow the ancien regimes of tyranny and stupidity.” – Dean Jorge Bocobo

Wow! How I wish I wrote these beautiful accolades for People Power.

But, back to the topic, who do we think is the most “terrorized” person in the world today? (Clue #1: not Dubya. Clue #2: from the run-up to Iraq invasion until his capture in a “spider hole,” Saddam Hussein could be in his league.) Given the available technology to spot from the sky his lanky shadow, can this poor being even go outside to do his thing?

Now, with the imminent use of “emergency powers” being bruited about in the Philippines, isn’t it reasonable to assume a handful of PCIJ and other journalists are also feeling “terrorized” nowadays? Sans the doctrinal sieves, how do we re-conceptualize terrorism?

Let me offer some other frame of discourse than those already formulated by scholars like Dr. Victor Ramraj.

First, if a person or a group is labeled as the villainous “terrorist,” the other person or group is likely to assume the starring role, the “counter-terrorist” (or the “anti-terrorist”). Save for the casting process which could well be directed by the one who has unilaterally appropriated the more benign character, this might still look innocuous.

Outside of the terrorist/freedom fighter context, what if the role-playing were also transformed in some Biblical sense, say, in a David /Goliath conflict. Who should logically be called one or the other?

People who are routinely blowing themselves up (maybe because they could not afford a missile or a gunship helicopter) could not plausibly be pigeonholed into a Goliath role? And how could the most powerful actor in the world, at least militarily, be co-starred as boy David? The casting of the protagonists won’t just hold up, it seems. Only recently, President Arroyo blew it, did she not, when she tried to play the “victim” of the schoolyard bully because the forced analogy was ridiculous or funny at best, many thought.

Professing to avoid being “political,” Dr. Ramraj writes that “focusing instead on the acts of violence themselves and on the specific methods of terrorism might be more fruitful than trying to formulate a definition (of terrorism) acceptable to all.”

My problem about the rather nuanced assessment of Dr Ramraj is that it immediately and conveniently excludes from the discursive analysis the “acts of violence” and the “specific methods” of ANTI-TERRORISM with the effect of rendering those “acts” and “methods” as innocent and acceptable to be begin with except for certain concerns -- e.g., potential violation of procedural and substantive due process as regards the “rights” of the suspected terrorist or the expansive role of the executive vis-à-vis the restrictive scope of judicial review -- Dr. Ramraj has identified within the range of discourse thus narrowed.

Think about this: supposing the masterminds in the 9-11 attacks were unmistakably identified and there were convincing speculations they were hiding in London but exact whereabouts were not known. Would intense air raids by Americans over London (well, using smart bombs) be “justified” as legitimate “acts of violence” in the guise of counter-terrorism?

Even if the Americans, in our hypothetical, did not carry the threats to shell London or carpet bomb the outskirts of the city to spare no terrorists attempting to escape, the months of preparation to war against the terrorists supposedly hiding in London who would have “terrified” the whole city no end.

The twist: the terrorists were actually hiding in Iraq and Afghanistan (And no Al Qaeda operatives and nuclear weapons found in Britain?). Oops.

“But we can’t bomb the Iraqis and Afghans now,” the hawks in Washington muttered, “they are too pretty and too cosmopolitan to suffer or die like the Brits.”

Here’s the connection (an overkill perhaps) between the unnoticed force of People Power and the “terror” that is unseen and taken for granted. “There’s so much ‘terror,’” I wrote in my book, “happening in our midst today but we don’t see it, because it is not readily visible. Not being visible, we often don’t resent it. It is not suicide bomber but terrorism ‘on paper (that) hurt the most’ (says Raj Patel, this time).” For example, MOA or statute that requires the precedence of a debt repayment to feeding the people, or a sanctions policy that kills millions.

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