The Nature of Terrorism

Jon Kofas writes; Cameron Sawyer is justified in expressing horror and grief over the death of innocent lives in Beslan, and I do apologize to him and all WAISers if my policy statement on terrorism upset him or any one else. I join him in condemning all acts of violence, especially when directed against innocent civilians as was the case at Beslan. But let me clarify that the intent of my statement on "terrorism" was much broader than what happened in Russia, and I thought that was made clear. Second, I regard all human life as precious. If we are going to condemn acts of political violence and use the term "terrorism" in those cases which we (the state, the establishment, and media) deem unacceptable unconventional warfare, then we must also do the same when the state kills and injures innocent people but classifies them as "collateral" damage, or "victims of war". How many Iraqi children died as a result of western sanctions from 1991 to 2003, and how many more since the invasion? Who grieves for the innocent lives lost in Iraq?  This is not to say that Saddam did not have the burden of responsibility, but let's not forget that Western powers backed Saddam until 1991! 

Are the Russians free of responsibility in Chechnya? Have they not committed atrocities against the minority population that seeks to live free of repression? In my previous statement, I was merely trying to point out that we must be evenhanded in our apptoach to violence in all of its forms, and not invoke the doctrine of "exceptionalism" because it serves our broad interests. Cameron asks if I would support the legitimate rights of self-determination of various ethnic/religious minorities. At the very least, I would extend them autonomy to any degree possible, because history from the ancient times to the present has demonstrated that co-optation combined with autonomy for minorities usually yields the most desirable results in engendering social harmony..  This does not mean that all rebel groups have constructive goals and that their demands must be taken into account without fighting back. There is no doubt that there are and have been groups which are far more destructive than constructive, although they may use social justice as a pretext to advance their cause. Professor Hilton's very appropriate remark that "Man is a violent animal" is one I share. That is why I proposed is that we must introduce legitimate institutional mechanisms via the UN to root out the causes of violence in all its forms as much as possible, though violence will be with humanity as long as there is injustice to this . I strongly share Cameron Sawyer's humanism, his profound grief, and his frustration with recent events in Russia, but rational evenhanded analysis of the root causes of political violence, and institutional solutions to the problem are the only way to proceed. State-sponsored violence only breeds more unconventional political violence.

Your comments are invited. Read te home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: E-mail to Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: September 26, 2004