Terrorism and Violence: Two Related but Essentially Different Concepts

Vicente Morin Aguado

School girls in Nigeria. Foto: www.proyecto40.com

HAVANA TIMES — Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, offers us its controversial outlook on the kidnapping of nearly three hundred school girls in Nigeria.

Boko haram, which literally means “Western education is prohibited”, names the tenets of the Islamic fundamentalist group that has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and has even threatened to sell the girls as slaves.

Cuban journalist Claudia Fonseca Sosa writes a contradictory article titled El terrorismo no cree en religiones (“Terrorism Has No Religion”) in an attempt to reconcile a typical Muslim terrorist act with the party line “instruction” of not directly attacking our Islamic friends (who are generally opposed to the highly developed West, headed by the United States).

The “instruction” is an unwritten rule which is clearer than any law published on the Official Gazette. Defying it means “rocking the boat” and an immediate blow on the head for whoever dared interrupt the profound peace of the State’s public information system.

The journalist concludes by acknowledging that the action is reprehensible but that violence predates Islam. As such, if Mohammed did not directly call for violence, the Muslim creed is free of any blame for the incident. I will return to this point. Before, I would like to outline the essential difference between terrorism and violence.

Let us first look at some examples:

The Soviet attack on fascist Berlin or the US invasion of Iwo Jima are cases in which those involved acted with extreme violence, but we cannot qualify these actions as terrorist.

Special forces from several nations, led by the United States, combat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Drones operated from Washington massacre populations, both armed and not, on the Afghan-Pakistani border.

The first example does not fit the concept of terrorism, even though the presence of these foreign forces in the said country, and their effectiveness and objectives, are questionable.

There are factors that suggest the use of terror in the second example, as unmanned artifacts do not clearly discriminate between targets and, given the technological superiority they afford the aggressor, ensure absolute impunity as they intimidate those they come upon in their paths.

What defines terrorism, then? It is not violence in and of itself, even though the perpetrators of such actions necessarily rely on extreme measures that bring about death and are deliberately designed to inspire fear and paralyze alleged enemies.

The essential thing is that terrorists operate outside the law, protected by a supposed or real impunity. They do not identify themselves and do not ever expect to be judged or punished for their actions. Such acts do not set the allegedly “guilty” apart from the community they seek to intimidate because they attack these as though they were a divine and vengeful force that is impossible to avoid.

As such, the bombing of the Cuban commercial airliner over Barbados and the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers count as acts of terrorism.
Armies use violence under the command of their country’s politicians, who can be mistaken or not. Sometimes, a war is just when looked at from one angle and unjust when seen from another. There are details, such as the use of drones, but, generally speaking, they cannot be regarded as terrorism (though I condemn all wars, particularly imperialist ones).

The Boko Haram criminals call for sharia, a set of Islamic norms that have been made State law in some nations such as Saudi Arabia, homeland of the prophet and cradle of the most sacred symbols of the religion founded by Mohammed over fifteen hundred years ago.

Sharia prescribes norms that discriminate against women and would be particularly odious for any civilized person: punishments for adultery as harsh as lapidation, polygamous marriages where the man is the lord of the household, the absolute obedience of the father by women and the husband imposed on them, strict dress norms, including the imperative of hiding the face and other parts of the body and, finally, the practice of mutilating the genitals of teenage girls. It comes as no surprise these Nigerian fundamentalists are threatening to sell the students as slaves. According to certain interpretations of the sharia, they are bound to find buyers for them.

Mohammed’s Hegira took place a long time ago. I recall that, centuries before this saga began, Jesus condemned the stoning of Mary Magdalene by the Jews. Fortunately, this form of punishment was put behind by the Jewish people.

The issue isn’t the doctrines laid down by the prophet Mohammed. The fact is that these norms fall outside any civilized context, even though they are accepted by many people and have even been made into laws in some States.

Allah, Jehova, Buddha or any other manifestation of God is a personal concern of believers. What’s unacceptable is saying that it is legitimate for the Boko Haram terrorists to despise and take violent action against Western culture, that this is a cultural issue and, as such, deserving of tolerance.

Cuba always minimizes any terrorist action carried out by Arabs or other Islamic peoples. What the official “instruction” says is they oppose the imperialist West. It is important to stress, however, that we Cubans are an indissoluble part of that Western culture, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Putting aside the official “instruction”, I would like to ask the journalist in question whether she would educate her children under the sharia.
All theoretical bickering ends when we look directly at social practice.
Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]

3 thoughts on “Terrorism and Violence: Two Related but Essentially Different Concepts

  • Griffin, your characterization of the Venezuelan government, as opposed to the opposition and guarimbistas as “terrorist” is nothing short of Orwellian. Too bad I have to make a living and don’t have time to cite fatalities, bombings, ect. Sure is less work when you follow the FOX, Reuters, NYT line though, isn’t it ?

  • The purpose of terrorism is to engage in acts of violence so as to inspire “terror” or fear in people with the goal of furthering a political agenda. Today we see agents of the governments of Syria and Venezuela engaged in acts of violence and terrorism against the people of those countries. In Ukraine, agents of the Russian state are engaged in acts of violence and terrorism against the citizens.

    In the words of José Miguel Vivanco, the director of HRW for the Americas: “The scale of rights violations we found in Venezuela and the collaboration of security forces and justice officials in committing them shows these aren’t isolated incidents or the excesses of a few rogue actors. Rather, they are the part of an alarming pattern of abuse that is the worst we have seen in Venezuela in years.”

  • Boko Haram justify their actions with reference to several passages of the Quran. Here are just a couple of such sura:

    Quran 8:12 “When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”

    Quran 47.4 So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates. That (shall be so); and if Allah had pleased He would certainly have exacted what is due from them, but that He may try some of you by means of others; and (as for) those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will by no means allow their deeds to perish.

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