Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Terrorist: An increasingly homogeneous term

This post actually began as a comment on Simulated Laughter but of course spun off in a somewhat different (and not quite on-topic) direction and so I planted it here instead.

I think it's time the mainstream finally understand that divisions lie in the organized Islamic sectors that entail our view of "terrorism." There's a rather wide division between the apocalyptic vision of Al Qaeda and the sectarian/nationalism of Hezbollah, for instance.

Sadly, the average American has no mainstream source of media that is willing to recognize the fact that the guerrilla factions of the middle east are not simply some conglomerate fascist movement hellbent on our destruction in the name of Allah. They are, instead, a fractured puzzle whose pieces entail various elements of resistance. Two examples from my perspective:

The vision of Al Qaeda seeks an established civilization that bears strict adherence to Sharia and is divided (shielded) from the hectic (and unobtainable given their philosophy) rise of globalized modernization. Adhering to Salafi principles amplified by terror attacks AQ seeks a short term global division between Islam and Infidel. They see the entire Islamic world through the stark and limited vision of militant Wahabbism and entertain a sad, violent and impossible longterm dream of a world unified under "traditional" Islam. In short their vision is one that is shallow, indoctrinated and apocalyptic.

The principles that drive the likes of Hamas or Hezbollah are decidedly much smaller in scale and more "conventional" ideologically. In essence both organizations center their activities around two principles. Resistance and nationalism. Contrary to Al Qaeda's apocalyptic want for global dominance both Hezbollah and Hamas exist initially to resist the "Zionist regime" that is Israel and realize a fully independent state (be it Palestine or Lebanon) under their own ideological designs. Certainly Sharia plays a role in both groups strategy (albeit from the Shia perspective as far as Hezbollah is concerned) and no doubt the terrorist tactics employed in both Israel and abroad (Beirut 1983) effectively indict Hamas or Hezbollah (or other related organizations) as terrorists (though Hamas maintains a political element that could and should be "massaged" away from it's militant element) but the ideological difference in regards to Al Qaeda warrants recognition.

While this is a simplistic design in regard to all three entities (both Hamas and Hez maintain a "revolutionary" aspect as well, for example) I think it captures the essence of my initial point:

Both the mainstream media and our leaders seem either unwilling or unable to even understand how exceedingly homogeneous the term "terrorist" has come to be. If we're going to engage the increasingly popular slogan, "The Global War on Terrorism" then some wisdom should be imparted:

"Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught fear for one hundred battles." Sun Tzu.


aelkus said...

Good analysis.

The issue is that people in America are used to perceiving threats through a Manichean framework. In some ways, this is also a psychological defense mechanism--better to have one monolithic enemy who can be monitored, observed, and destroyed than a series of small hydra-heads.

It also fits the Cold War mental framework that the military and state department are used to.

Steve said...

Well put.

It would be interesting to see an analysis/charts of how these organizations evolve and how much they stray from their original purpose over time. I've got a pet theory is that all groups like this morph into mafia-style organizations over time.

G said...

The peoples intelligence gatherers (the news) have decided to select, isolate and emphasize individual aspects of certain groups. It's kinda like a baseless version of set theory. A bunch of abstract objects [Islam, middle eastern people, blowing shit up with low tech ...] have been chosen by our news overlords and set down under the set "TERRORIST". Terrorists have become abstract caricatures. It's Hanna-Barbara analysis. I'm liable to think that it is either propaganda, or, maybe the press are just acting the way human behaviour reacts to selecting an enemy. That is, we insiders create outside enemies based on isolating certain idiosyncratic behavioural traits and amplifying them, especially "out" group traits that don't conform with the "in" groups norms and values thus bolstering the internal "in" groups cohesion (nothing like an enemy to rally the troops). Is it Propaganda? Or human nature? Or propagandists exploiting human nature? Or human nature fooling propagandists? Or something else all together?

The business world has a useful tool in studying "macroenvironments". That is, studying the trends and history in the society/culture, technology, ecology, economics, and political-legal dimensions. The news would probably be more informative if they synthesized the knowledge from those realms and placed the abstract "terrorist" set they've created into in their sociological, technological, ecological, economical and political-legal dimensions. Much like you've done in your post e.g. adding meat (the ideological differences) to the terrorist skeleton set.

G said...

or maybe we should just get rid of the terrorist set all together and see, and name, things on their own terms.

Jay@Soob said...


Thanks and I completely agree. Changing the pentagons Cold War ideology is key for success in the "new world." It's also likely going to be a glacial process.

Interesting theory. I'd like to read more about it.


From the aspect of the news media (at least here in the US) I suspect it's not so much propaganda but marketing. From shining, stylistic doomsday graphics (AMERICA AT WAR!!) to booming pundits assuring us the end is nigh if we don't pound country X to dust. It sells.

As for the behavioral aspect I think Adam's correct. Unlike you, Steve, Adam or I people (American, Australian or otherwise) spend little or no time thinking outside their own immediate environment. Consequently they, as Adam said, compartmentalize issues as either positive(good) or negative(evil) paying little attention to the "meat" of the issue. In essence they see the skeleton (excellent analogy btw) but not the complex muscular, vascular or neural networks that truly illustrate the issue in full.

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

Oh, I think it might be something much simpler than the Manichean p.o.v. In America, "terrorists" are defined by what they do rather by their ultimate goals or intrinsic traits and belief systems. This is a long tradition in America; in America the curious more often ask of a third unknown party, "What does he do?" rather than, "What does he believe? Who are his people? What are his dreams?" Perhaps it comes from the old can-do spirit, i.e., the spirit that built America.

Then, an assessment of what the terrorist does is evaluated in a Manichean manner. The ever-watchful MSM and politicians alike must abridge their public conversation to fit within the time constraints of journalism or political speech, which means leaping over a discussion of the activity to the Manichean "tag" terrorist; but I think many Americans are not quite so Manichean and have doubts about the ultimate goals and beliefs of different groups given that label. I think we often have difficulty using the Manichean characterization when we consider the activity of terrorists, because we cannot easily comprehend such a "career path." I.e., if we ask of another party, "What does he do?" and we are given the answer, "He blows things up, kills non-combatants," we do not understand how such a person can self-identify with his selected operation in the world, his vocation.

Anonymous said...

All interesting comments and good analysis in the original post.

Referring back to the post, people (and not just Americans) seem to view the Taliban in similar fashion, viz. as a monolithic block, rather than the agglomeration of interests, factions, personalities and rivalries that they, like most other movements, probably are.

This of course makes it easier for the hardline view ('we have to take these guys down') to continue to hold sway, rather than to allow the possibility of more subtle strategies: negotiating with and co-opting factions within the Taliban, and weakening the overall structure.

Jay@Soob said...


Thanks for the insight but I don't agree. A quick listen to Sean Hannity reveals some rather ignorant rhetoric about the "terrorists" apocalyptic principles and goals. Subsequent callers to the show reinforce this with "they hate our culture and want to destroy it" comments. The homogeneous quality is very apparent when one considers this rhetoric is applied to al qaeda, hamas, hezbollah and Iran. It's become an ideological wall paper.

This compartmentalizing of an incredibly complex resistance into one monolithic evil seems very Manichean. Much along the lines of President Bush's "either you're with us or against us" spectacle.


In light of your comment one conundrum of the Afghanistan theater comes to mind. Opium farming.

The Red Son said...

What about so called domestic terrorists like ELF, ALF and myself? The common use of terrorist now encompasses Barack Obama and his "terrorist fist jabbing." Terrorist is the Communist of the Neo-McCarthian post-9/11 America.