define terrorism

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Nov. 9, 2003
    Define terrorism

    Did you know that the United Nations has a counterterrorism committee? It is safe to say that if the terrorists know, they have not had much reason to care. The committee's chairman, Spanish Ambassador to the UN Inocencio F. Arias, wants to change this.

    Next week, Arias will request that the mandate of the committee be changed so that it may make binding recommendations on UN members. Until now, the committee has relied on self-reporting in response to questionnaires. "We are going to make the lives of terrorists more and more difficult," says an assistant to Arias.

    It is nice to see that, after 9/11, the UN at least wants to look like it is doing something about terrorism. Before then, the greatest threat to international peace and security, which is what the UN was created to maintain, was largely absent from the UN agenda.

    But the problem with the UN's role in the fight against terrorism is not the lack of teeth of the committee in charge.

    The problem is, as a UN Counter-Terrorism Committee official put it, "We are in charge of fighting something that we cannot define." Every country in the world, including those that support terrorism, is willing to say it will fight terrorism with all its might. They get away with this by claiming that they support "legitimate struggle."

    Syria, for example, currently a member in good standing of the UN Security Council, says this openly, to the CTC itself.

    In its last report to the committee in 2002, it stated that, since the committee "lacks any clear definition of terrorism," Syria based its responses on the 1998 Arab Convention for Suppression of Terrorism, which conveniently "distinguishes between terrorism and legitimate struggle against foreign occupation."

    So there you have it.

    Blowing up men, women, and children in an Israeli cafe or bus is not terrorism, but "struggle."

    It should be obvious that, no matter how binding the committee's powers, if states can simply define away their support for terrorism, there will be no violators to sanction.

    Authoritarian Arab regimes, in fact, will continue to take credit for crackdowns against their own opponents as part of the war against terrorism.

    Unless terrorism is defined, it cannot be fought, certainly not by an international body that must strive to apply the same rules to all of its members. If the CTC and its member states, which are the 15 members of the Security Council, cannot agree what terrorism is, they might as well close up shop.

    The CTC states, for example, that a "special focus" of the committee is to combat terrorist financing.

    How is it possible to hold countries that are financing terrorism accountable when they can claim that what they are doing is not only acceptable, but a virtuous activity protected by the UN Charter?

    Surely there is a majority among the nations of the world that is willing to state that terrorism is the intentional targeting of civilians, regardless of cause.

    The usual suspects would object, but how could Europe and most peaceful developing countries vote no, if the United States made a serious diplomatic effort?

    Trouncing the minority of pro-terrorist states in a UN vote would have an immediate positive impact, even before empowering the CTC to begin to take serious international action against terrorism.

    It would signal to terrorism-supporting nations that the automatic majorities that protect them in international bodies are no longer there.

    It would show that it is not the United States and Israel that are isolated in the world, but the states that claim a right to support terrorism.

    Currently, the CTC is an embarrassment and a continuing reminder of the UN's irrelevance to combatting the greatest threat to peace and security of our age.

    This fact, however, should not be accepted as a given and the UN written off. Instead, the US should push to define terrorism in the UN.

    If the US wins, it would be an important victory; if the US loses, the UN will be further exposed as part of the problem and any US decision to avoid working through it will be further justified.
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