FARC & the Politics of Terrorism

Jon Kofas writes: "Professor Hilton's analysis and commentary on the "two faces of FARC" raises important questions about the definition and the politics of terrorism. Just as the Cold War produced its own rhetoric and oversimplification of "international Communism", a generic term that did not mean very much, similarly we have today an industry of people analyzing terrorism as a generic concept. Is FARC a "terrorist" organization because the Bush administration placed it on its Terrorism list, is it one because it uses tactics that may fit a dictionary definition, is it so because the Colombian government sees it in that light, or is it so because there is some international understanding, let us say an OAS consensus, that designates it so? The word terrorism evokes emotion and the concept is politically subjective. To the Zionists in the 1940s, Manachem Begin was a freedom fighter, but not to the British and the Palestinians. To the white South Africans, Nelson Mandela a terrorist when he was struggling to end white rule in the 1960s, but he was a freedom fighter to the majority of the population.

Political violence assumes various forms, including random destruction of innocent civilians targeted largely for symbolic significance and publicity for a cause. Individual groups engaged in political violence for the sake of achieving a goal that may include social justice as in the case of FARC is unacceptable, it lacks legitimacy, it is "terrorism." Mass killings in the form of state-sanctioned warfare have always carried a sense of glory, virtue, and honor, though the end result is destruction just as in the case of guerrilla groups carrying out political violence. Is FARC a terrorist organization? Created in 1964 by the Colombian Communist Party, FARC was a response to endemic poverty in southern Colombia, to concentration of land-ownership, government repression, and La Violencia that devastated the country from 1948 to 1958. Organized society produces guerrilla organizations like FARC or the New Peoples' Army in the Philippines, Sendero Luminoso in Peru, etc. as a response to state-sponsored violence and oppression. This is not to say that the tactics of such organizations should not be strongly condemned, but modern societies, whether the U.S., Russia, the EU, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, etc. do not address the conditions that give rise to insurgent organizations. Instead, they opt for the military solution which actually exacerbates political violence. Only a political solution that takes into account social justice can end political violence".

Randy Black says: "I would agree totally with Jon Kofas regarding the relationship between political violence as it relates to social justice except for a couple of elements. My main problem is the people who are defining “social justice” as their justification for mass murders. Who really is qualified to define what is or is not social justice? For that matter, what is social justice? I don’t think that FARC is the be all or end all when it comes to social justice or its definition. Tim McVey, Ted Kaczynski, Carlos the Jackal, Charles Manson, the Weathermen, the genocides in Burundi, the Sudan and the Congo come to mind as events of mass killings with no relationship to social injustice. FARC may or may not have anything to do with social injustice. Currently, it would seem that FARC is more concerned with the drug cartels and their protection, coupled with the ongoing murders of innocent children and women in Colombia".

RH: Not to recognize injustice in a world where some are worth billions, often obtained by devious means, while other perhaps worthier people are destitute is moral blindness. Once in Guadalajara, Mexico I was at a cocktail party in an elegant house. Some of the guests denied there was any poverty in the region. I drove them around nearby villages where people lived in dire poverty. The guests' comment: "They will have their reward in heaven". In the nineteenth century there two relevant arguments. How should wealth be distributed? To each according to his needs or his merits? This complex problem is not solved yet. The second argument was how to achieve justice, by violence or peaceful means. That argument too still goes on. One problem is that when peaceful means fail to produce results, people will resort to violence. I was in Spain in 1931 when the republic was proclaimed. At forst there was great rejoicing, but results were slow in coming. The cry went up "We have our republic, now we want our revolution". The county sank into civil war. A similar spirit is growing in Latin America. FARC is one expression of it, and the result is the same.This is very sad. In addition to their questionable intents, most revolutionaries, like those of FARC, are incapable of running a country properly.


Ronald Hilton -