Throughout history countries and peoples have been fighting over land, religion, resources, ideologies, or power. The theme of the fights are similar. The aggressors either want to annihilate or enslave those who they consider their enemy, or if they are kind, want to subjugate their enemy, raping the women, torturing the civilians, taking away their riches, land, and political power.

With gun powder coming onto the stage in the 18th century, there was a change of fighting style. Formal training of military men fighting in formation began. It was military formation against military formation. Soldiers would stand shoulder to shoulder in line formations, one line behind the other. One line would shoot, kneel and reload while the second line fired over their heads. It was honorable to settle the fight on the open battlefield, military against military, with less involvement of civilians either caught in the middle or being fought against by the opposing military. This style of fighting lasted through World War I.

Beginning with the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany and the corresonding rise of militarism in Japan, this honorable way of military fighting only with military changed. Not only did Hitler eliminate people who opposed his policies, and the exterminate Jews who he wished to completely annihilate, but he bombed civilian populations in other European countries that he wished to conquer. Likewise, the Japanese army invaded China in the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45 and purposefully and intentionally killed millions of Chinese civilians. The aftermath of World War II brought a change in consciousness: that military action of intentionally killing civilians was wrong and it constituted a War Crime.

Beginning with the end of the twentieth century another kind of fighting manifested. In some ironic sense this change was facilitated because modern societies became more civilized, more ordered, and therefore, more easily disrupted. Now small organizations, often existing without address in multiple countries, could terrorize civilian populations of their choosing by surprise concentrated attacks. There were airline hijackings, passenger ship hijackings, train bombings, building bombings, suicide bombings, the airplane attack of September 11, 2001, rocket attacks, and guerilla attacks such as that of the Mumbai massacre of November 2008.

This new form of fighting is called terrorism. The most famous of its perpetrators are Al Qaeda, Taliban, Hamas, Hezbullah, and the Pakistan group Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure). Al Qaeda had organized the September 11, attack and the Madrid train attack. The Taliban terrorized Afghanistan. Lashkar-e-Toiba organized the Mumbai attack. And Hamas and Hezbullah continue to organize the suicide bombings, kidnappings and the rocket attacks on Israeli citizens.

What is the definition of terrorism? Interesting, there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. The definition put forth by the General Secretary of the United Nations was:

Any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non combatants, with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.

There are other more detailed definitions.

An illegal act punishable under criminal law committed for the purpose of undermining public safety, influencing decision-making by the authorities or terrorizing the form of: violence or threat of violence against natural or judicial persons; destroying (damaging) or threatening to destroy (damage) property and other material objects so as to endanger people's life; causing substantial harm to property or the occurrence of other consequences dangerous to society; threatening the life of statesman or public figure for the purpose of putting an end to his State or other public activity or in revenge for such activity; attacking a representative of a foreign State or an internationally protected staff member of an international organization, as well as the business premises or vehicles of internationally protected persons; other acts classified as terrorist under the national legislation of the Parties [to the Treaty] or under universally recognized international legal instruments aimed at combating terrorism. (Treaty on Cooperation of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Combating Terrorism, Minsk, 4 June 1999)

Terrorist act means:

(a) any act which is a violation of the criminal laws of a State Party and which may endanger the life, physical integrity or freedom of, or cause serious injury or death to, any person, any number or group of persons or causes or may cause damage to public or private property, natural resources, environmental or cultural heritage and is calculated or intended to:

(i) intimidate, put in fear, force, coerce or induce any government, body, institution, the general public or any segment thereof, to do or abstain from doing any act, or to adopt or abandon a particular standpoint, or to act according to certain principles; or
(ii) disrupt any public service, the delivery of any essential service to the public or to create a public emergency; or
(ii) create general insurrection in a State;

(b) any promotion, sponsoring, contribution to, command, aid, incitement, encouragement, attempt, threat, conspiracy, organizing, or procurement of any person, with the intent to commit any act referred to in paragraph (a) (i) to (iii). (OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, 1999)

However, none of these definitions or variations thereof have been agreed upon by the member countries of the United Nations. Why is this? First because some member nations of the United Nations, see fit to sponser terrorism through non-State surrogate organizations. Without a precise definition, they can claim that they are committed to fight terrorism, when in fact their actions are opposite. Second, we can compare, for example, the definition and its qualifications put forward by Islamic countries.

Terrorism means any act of violence or threat thereof notwithstanding its motives or intentions perpetrated to carry out an individual or collective criminal plan with the aim of terrorizing people or threatening to harm them or imperiling their lives, honour, freedoms, security or rights or exposing the environment or any facility or public or private property to hazards or occupying or seizing them, or endangering a national resource, or international facilities, or threatening the stability, territorial integrity, political unity or sovereignty of independent States.

Terrorist Crime means any crime executed, started or participated in to realize a terrorist objective in any of the Contracting States or against its nationals, assets or interests or foreign facilities and nationals residing in its territory punishable by its internal law. (Convention of the Organziation of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism, 1999)

Now look how this definition is qualified.

Peoples' struggle including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime.

What is the purpose of this qualification?

  • To disqualify the terrorist acts of Hamas and Hezbullah against Israeli civilians and against the state of Israel from being considered as terrorist acts.
  • To make any action Israel takes to eliminate terrorists, terrorist acts.

In testifying before the United States Congress, Ms. Anne Bayefsky, Senior Fellow of the Hudson Institute said:

The key problem, it seems to me, or obstacle to the ability of the U.N. to play a constructive role in countering terrorism, is the absence of an internationally agreed definition. Without a definition of terrorism, literally, U.N. states operate with impunity in parallel universes. In this environment, for example, state sponsors of terrorism like Syria have no hesitation in claiming they are committed to fighting against terrorism.

But if one looks closely at the Arab Terrorism Convention or the Terrorism Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, they say quite clearly that terrorism is defined to exclude armed struggle for liberation and self-determination. In other words, blowing up certain civilians is beyond the reach of international law and organizations.

The result is the contamination of U.N. action in the anti-terrorism context on every level from the adoption and implementation of resolutions to the drafting of new conventions and to the application of the rules of self-defense. (Hearing and Briefing before the Subcommitte on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation, US Congress, March 17, 2005)

From this perspective we can understand the Mideast conflict. The State of Israel is a non-Muslim state surrounded by Muslim states. The land on which the state of Israel was founded was never accepted by the surrounding Arab states or the Muslims living in and around the State of Israel. All Muslim activities to claim the land of Israel as their own, must be considered as activities of freedom fighters to liberate the land of Israel from the Jews. And such activities by the definition of the Islamic conference do not constitute terrorism. By this twisted barbaric logic, suicide bombings, shootings, kidnappings, and rocket attacks on the civilians of Israel by Hamas or Hezbullah all do not constitute terrorist activity!