If you're like me (and I hope you are) you must be getting really tired of all the terror being bandied about from every direction. Terrorism is a tool of two types: terrorists and unscrupulous politicians. Both of them have the same target in their sights - you.
What is terrorism but the instilling of fear into a people or a society or a nation for the purpose of obtaining a desired result? When it comes to the applied science of fear, who is more masterful: Osama bin Laden or Dick Cheney? I'd pick Cheney, hands down, and I bet so would he.
Terrorism is the time-honoured, stock in trade tactic of insurgents. It is normally wielded by them with great brutality. Shock value is everything. Guerrilla Warfare 101 holds that the goal of insurgents is to drive a wedge between the populace and their government by showing the government forces incapable of protecting the citizenry. By undermining public confidence in government, the guerrilla seeks to whittle away at popular support for the existing establishment either to secure the overthrow of the government or to drive the public to compel their leaders to relent to the terrorists' demands. This is especially potent if sizeable elements of the citizenry harbour latent grievances against the government. Insecurity greatly magnifies smoldering discontent. For the guerrilla or insurgent or 'freedom fighter', terrorism is a way to wage war in a situation where they lack other means of combat. Bereft of artillery or strike fighters or tanks, booby traps or suicide bombers may become the poor man's only weapons of significance. That's not to excuse or condone, merely to acknowledge reality.
The infliction of terror by one side against the populace of the other isn't, however, the despicable, exlusive prerogative of the insurgent. As the latest war in Lebanon so clearly shows, terrorism can also and is used by the big guys, the powerful side, against the citizenry of the weaker side. This too is nothing new. Since the dawn of civilization, victorious armies have been putting the innocent civilians of the other side to the sword, "pour encouragez les autres." The ancient Mesopotamians did it, so did the Romans. It was almost de rigeuer in the Dark and Middle Ages. Hitler used his Luftwaffe and Waffen SS to the same end. Who hasn't heard of Guernica? The Blitzkrieg entailed driving civilian masses onto the highways to cripple the mobility of the defenders and then relentlessly strafing and bombing the innocents from the air to keep the good times rolling.Some may find it offensive to incorporate references to Nazis and Israelis in the same paragraph. To them I apologize for any hurt feelings but fall back on "res ipsa loquitor." No nation with the advantage of total air supremacy attacks a residential neighbourhood with aerial bombs and can thereafter claim not to hagve intended massive civilian casualties.
A fundamental principle of the law of all civilized nations is that we are deemed to intend the logical consequences of our acts. The logical, indeed inevitable, consequence of the use of high-explosive, aerial bombs on civilian neighbourhoods is inarguably the deaths of innocent civilians in massive numbers. Israel knows this and yet has rarely refrained from such attacks. The fact that Israel is our ally, our friend, doesn't alter the monstrosity of their actions. But then again, let's not judge Israel too harshly given the willingness of our side, at least the United States, to wage similar aerial warfare on Iraqi and Afghan neighbourhoods. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.
The other form of terrorism, the use of fear against us by our own leaders, is, in some respects, even more insidious. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 (I hate "9/11"), the Bush administration chose to ruthlessly exploit the misery and fear of that situation to their own, utterly partisan advantage. For five full years they have leveraged this atrocity to their direct benefit. They have made fear an integral part of their electoral politics. Like clockwork, before every critical election they have conjured up terrorist crises to subdue their electorate. Whenever they are faced with exposure or scandal they do a remarkably blatant, "terrorism bait and switch." They have also unashamedly used the terrorism card to defame their opponents as unpatriotic and weak, even stooges for the insurgents, incapable of protecting the American people.
Contrast this with the advent of World War Two. Churchill delivered a number of stirring speeches in which he prepared the English people for the desperate struggle that lay ahead of them. He didn't exploit their fear. Instead he summoned up their courage and resolve. His was a nation and people on the ropes, standing alone against a tyrannical juggernaut, in imminent danger of invasion, conquest and enslavement. "We will fight them on the beaches, on the landing places, on the farms and in the cities. We will never surrender." Likewise, in the aftermath of December 7th, Roosevelt emboldened his people by proclaiming, "We have nothing to fear, except fear itself." Both of these brilliant leaders recognized that fear was the enemy of their people, their society, their civilization. Would that wisdom, that decency obtained today.
Conjuring up demons and inflicting fear to manipulate one's own people is craven and cowardly and despicable. Yet it is a favoured tool of Bush and Blair, Howard and Harper. If we cannot find it within ouselves to renounce these people and their grotesque assault, what possible hope have we to defeat those who would terrorize us from the outside?