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Thread: Is one man's terrorist really another man's freedom fighter?

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    Default Is one man's terrorist really another man's freedom fighter?

    Title says it all.

    I was giving it some thought and scribbling some thoughts about this during a lecture a few days ago.

    My thoughts were generally that "Freedom Fighting" was something of a strategy, or a wider goal, while "Terrorism" was a tactic. But terrorism isn't exactly my lane, so I would like to ask the same question to the wider community here at SWC.

    Is one man's terrorist really another man's freedom fighter?

    What are the differences?

    - Mac

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    Short answer is 'yes,' no difference. It only depends on where you're standing.
    - American 18th century colonists: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - Israeli Zionists (prior to statehood): freedom fighters and terrorists
    - PLO: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - Taliban: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - Haqqani: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - Chechens: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - Black Panthers: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - IRA: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - FLN: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - Vietminh: freedom fighters and terrorists
    - John Brown: freedom fighter and terrorist

    You could obviously go on forever with this list (Bolsheviks, Jacobins, Boko Haram, etc etc etc). Only variable is if you're perspective is from the state or the oppressed population.

    Neither are really a 'strategy' per se, only a tactic or a Way. Labels mean nothing...or everything. It just depends on which narrative you're trying to get support for (i.e. the coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Russians in the North Caucasus, the Quetta Shura Taliban, etc). We label terrorism as criminal (except when there's an 'Authorized Use of Military Force' legislation in place, then its war goddamit!) because we're the state so any and all action threatening our monopoly on the use of force is automatically illegal, whether justified or not. All countries are the same. But then it gets back to the Social Contract; populations have a right to rebel if the state doesn't hold up their end of the bargain.

    To get a good philosophical baseline to start understanding that question, read Camus' "The Rebel." Why does man rebel? To what end? What means justify those ends and why? It explains a lot without the political baggage we assign to the terminology.

    My 2 cents.
    Last edited by kotkinjs1; 09-26-2012 at 06:01 AM.

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    My thoughts were generally that "Freedom Fighting" was something of a strategy, or a wider goal, while "Terrorism" was a tactic. But terrorism isn't exactly my lane, so I would like to ask the same question to the wider community here at SWC.

    Is one man's terrorist really another man's freedom fighter?

    What are the differences?
    Freedom fighting implies an objective or goal, not a strategy. Terrorism as you pointed out is a tactic. Freedom fighters and dictators can employ terrorism as a tactic to pursue goals, so it is an equal opportunity tactic.

    The FBI definition of terrorism is almost comical, since its scope is much greater than most would assume is terrorism. Almost any insurgent, state actor, that has waging a conflict with the U.S. could be classified a terrorist.

    The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The FBI further classifies terrorism as either domestic or international, depending on the origin, base, and objectives of the terrorist organization.
    More appropriate in my view from the CIA since it focuses on non-combatant targets. I don't think an attack by irregulars against military targets is terrorism, but rather an irregular attack. When they attack civilians that is another matter.

    A: The Intelligence Community is guided by the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d):
    •The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.
    •The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving the territory or the citizens of more than one country.
    •The term “terrorist group” means any group that practices, or has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.
    Freedom fighter is another over used term to gain legitimacy, but as we all know not every group that claims to be freedom fighter has anything resembling freedom as its goal, unless they mean freedom to pursue their goals.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Mac asked:
    Is one man's terrorist really another man's freedom fighter?
    Often we are searching, seeking clarity as we are told that is needed to think, let alone argue with others. I think our brains however complex seek simplicity and a great deal of modernity instructs us to think so.

    Secondly, enemies and friends as history shows are not constant.

    Afghanistan is a superb example. Following the Soviet invasion the USA allied with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan support the "Muj"; the Soviets exit, US support ends; Pakistan creates and supports the Taliban, after 9/11 the US wages war on the Taliban and Pakistan is a friend or enemy to the Taliban and the USA.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member bourbon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by McArthur View Post
    Is one man's terrorist really another man's freedom fighter?
    Yes, which is why terrorism is almost exclusively about branding.
    “[S]omething in his tone now reminded her of his explanations of asymmetric warfare, a topic in which he had a keen and abiding interest. She remembered him telling her how terrorism was almost exclusively about branding, but only slightly less so about the psychology of lotteries…” - Zero History, William Gibson

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    Some freedom fighters may also be terrorists, but some terrorists are not freedom fighters.

    In other words: while most national liberation movements resort to "terrorism" (i.e. the pursuit of political gain through violent intimidation) as a means towards their goal, there are many terrorist movements who do not seek freedom (other than the "freedom" to do as they like).

    For example, were Nazi SA men, during the 1920s-30s, "freedom fighters"? Were the Al-Qaeda hijackers, who crashed into TWC? Also, were PLO guerrilas (after showing the world that a free and independant state sits lower on their priority list than blowing up a bus full of Israeli civilians)?
    "Nowadays people seem to imagine that impartiality means readiness to treat lies and truth the same, readiness to hold white as bad as black and black as good as white. I, on the contrary, believe that without integrity a man much better not approach a problem at all." Orde Charles Wingate, 1938

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    None of it's that simple. Personally I think there's a breakover point where a terrorist group simply becomes a terror group, leaving any claim to being anyone's freedom fighter behind. Japan's Red Army, the old RAF, Italian Red Brigades, and some of the more radical factions of the IRA and UDF would clearly fall into this category. There's a clear cycle of violence (IMO) that can be used to mark the transition point.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Mac,

    A very current example of your question is the US decision to de-certify MEK as a terrorist group:
    It was the MEK’s involvement in terror including the killing of six Americans in the 1970s that prompted President Bill Clinton to designate the group a foreign terrorist organization in 1992.

    Violence has always been a part of the MEK. The group was founded in 1965 as an armed opposition to the Shah of Iran. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, it assassinated Iran’s first president and prime minister and later assisted Saddam Hussein in crushing the Kurdish uprising. In 2001 the MEK claimed that it renounced violence but its record showed otherwise. According to a report published by Human Rights Watch in May 2005, “The former (MEK) members reported abuses ranging from detention and persecution of ordinary members wishing to leave the organization, to lengthy solitary confinements, severe beatings, and torture of dissident members.”
    Link:http://www.opendemocracy.net/zahir-j...unter-with-mek
    davidbfpo

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    None of it's that simple. Personally I think there's a breakover point where a terrorist group simply becomes a terror group, leaving any claim to being anyone's freedom fighter behind.
    Steve, I'm not so sure; I think you're talking about the difference between political terrorism and pure Nietzschean nihilism (maybe Russian anarchism?). I view terrorism as only a tactic towards a political end. I can't see how any of the orgs you listed still don't fall into the category of both terrorist *and* freedom fighter. Both are still working towards a political end state defined by a perception of righting a political wrong. Isn't any cycle of violence therefore irrelevant?

    And if we're talking about nihilism versus terrorism that's a whole other philosophical discussion; interesting, but with a political differentiation outside to the OP's initial question.
    Last edited by kotkinjs1; 09-28-2012 at 01:37 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kotkinjs1 View Post
    Steve, I'm not so sure; I think you're talking about the difference between political terrorism and pure Nietzschean nihilism (maybe Russian anarchism?). I view terrorism as only a tactic towards a political end. I can't see how any of the orgs you listed still don't fall into the category of both terrorist *and* freedom fighter. Both are still working towards a political end state defined by a perception of righting a political wrong. Isn't any cycle of violence therefore irrelevant?

    And if we're talking about nihilism versus terrorism that's a whole other philosophical discussion; interesting, but with a political differentiation outside to the OP's initial question.
    I think the transition point takes place when a group's political goals become totally irrelevant to any current situation. The end state tends to shift from reasonably concrete things to very fuzzy goals that cannot be achieved. At that point, the violence becomes an end in itself. Saying that the cycle of violence is irrelevant misses the point.

    Terrorism can certainly be a tactic...I agree with that. But with relation to the OP's question, what happens when the only man who thinks the terrorist is a freedom fighter is the terrorist himself?
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Quote Originally Posted by shlomz View Post
    For example, were Nazi SA men, during the 1920s-30s, "freedom fighters"?
    To many Nazis - yes. That's the point; opinions differ according to point of view.


    This whole topic gets a lot clearer if we look at the core of the interest: Is one man's illegitimately violent man doing legitimate violence in the opinion of another man?

    The answer is simply yes.


    Terrorism is not particularly effective in pursuit of one's objective, so all powers which have a wide-ranging repertoire that's not being suppressed by superior opposition will shun terrorism in favour of better methods.
    Terrorism is proclaimed to be a "dirty" method in violent conflict, and it's being proclaimed so by those who have better means or otherwise no need for terrorism.


    In the end, it's all about people being willing to pursue a political objective with violence, but lacking the ability to do so on a more sophisticated level (say, manoeuvring a tank brigade).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    I think the transition point takes place when a group's political goals become totally irrelevant to any current situation. The end state tends to shift from reasonably concrete things to very fuzzy goals that cannot be achieved. At that point, the violence becomes an end in itself. Saying that the cycle of violence is irrelevant misses the point.
    Roger; I understand what you're saying but we're not talking about political terrorism at that point anymore. I suppose that's your point too. Once a terrorist group reaches that point (I find that a highly hypothetical argument; I still can't see any politically-motivated group following that route, even the groups you mentioned in the first post), they're not political terrorists or freedom fighters. They're nihilists in the purest sense of the word; fighting simply to fight, to overthrow 'normalcy.' If a person/group starts out at that point, with no reason for fighting other than for the sake of violence, I'd imagine it'd be a simple law-enforcement affair since there are no underlying and valid political issues in the mix.

    This brings us back to the cyclical nature of the argument itself - freedom fighter/terrorist, and the unnecessary labeling to satisfy the state. Terrorists will always be extra-legal no matter the cause. It's a tactic, yes, but only really necessary when the insurgent is in Phase I and II of Mao's revolutionary war. Since most insurgencies never get past that stage, we never see the fruition or utility of the tactic.
    Last edited by kotkinjs1; 09-28-2012 at 11:25 PM.

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    Terrorists who fight governments we dislike are called "freedom fighters". Terrorists who fight governments we like are called "terrorists". Other governments and groups apply the same distinction, and since different folks like different things, almost anyone out there who uses violence will be called a terrorist by someone and a freedom fighter by someone else.

    Whether or not anyone in the picture, those who fight governments or the governments they fight, has any concern for anyone's "freedom" in the literal sense is generally irrelevant to the nomenclature.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Terrorists who fight governments we dislike are called "freedom fighters".
    More accurately they are labeled as useful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    More accurately they are labeled as useful.
    Politics require that those we consider useful must be labeled as noble.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    Politics require that those we consider useful must be labeled as noble.
    Only when we openly admit to supporting them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    To many Nazis - yes. That's the point; opinions differ according to point of view.
    I don't think so. Not because I (obviously) disagree with their goals, but because I think that the term "freedom fighters" is usually reserved to portray individuals who try to gain independence from a foreign nation. That way, the Taliban weren't "freedom fighters" until the US invasion of Afghanistan, even though they were using terrorism a long time before that.
    "Nowadays people seem to imagine that impartiality means readiness to treat lies and truth the same, readiness to hold white as bad as black and black as good as white. I, on the contrary, believe that without integrity a man much better not approach a problem at all." Orde Charles Wingate, 1938

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    Quote Originally Posted by shlomz View Post
    I don't think so. Not because I (obviously) disagree with their goals, but because I think that the term "freedom fighters" is usually reserved to portray individuals who try to gain independence from a foreign nation. That way, the Taliban weren't "freedom fighters" until the US invasion of Afghanistan, even though they were using terrorism a long time before that.
    Come on,even Nazis believed to fight for freedom. Freedom from communists, freedom from Jews, freedom from Treaty of Versailles...

    Really, EVERYBODY exploits the motive of the fight for freedom.

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    Quote Originally Posted by shlomz View Post
    I think that the term "freedom fighters" is usually reserved to portray individuals who try to gain independence from a foreign nation.
    The term is routinely applied to (or claimed by) those who rebel against governments or systems they believe to be dictatorial or just plain distasteful. Freedom from communist dictatorship, freedom from capitalist hegemony, freedom from practically anything you don't like...
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Amusing little factoid:
    The German translation of "freedom fighter" is Freiheitskämpfer, and unlike the English version Freiheitskämpfer is almost exclusively used on people who do/did not fight violently.
    It's more often used to describe the civil rights movement people than to describe guerrillas.

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