By Gil Troy, teacher of history at McGill University. December 11, 2005.
What happens when a terrorist organization decides to enter the political arena?
Does it automatically become legitimate?
If Osama bin Laden flew home to Saudi Arabia, triggered a much-needed
movement for democratic reform in that dictatorial monarchy and was elected
to a new, powerful, fully functional Saudi parliament, would that wipe out his
These are trick questions. They play into the central assumption of our
narrative-driven, media-drenched politics that the way we perceive events and
the resulting story line we construct necessarily reflect reality. The truth is that
terrorists by definition have entered the political arena from the start because
terrorism is violence with a political agenda.
Without the political context, bombing, kidnapping, and shooting are
simply crimes. Terrorism, like war, is politics by other means, an extension of
politics when negotiation or discussion break down – or never existed.
The questions also are misleading because we have discovered that the world’s
commitment to morality and justice is relative: It varies depending on the
players involved. Especially when it comes to the Middle East, the world’s
moral clarity gets muddy, the moral compass goes haywire.
These questions are doubly relevant now. The Palestinian terrorist organization
Hamas, which has long confused Westerners by distributing free food to
Palestinians while merrily slaughtering Israelis, is building up to Palestinian
elections slated for the end of January.
The Palestinians’ leader Mahmoud Abbas, either because he is Machiavellian or
simply incompetent, seems unable to stop the Hamas murderers from running –
and winning a substantial number of votes.
Western diplomats, who like shady salesmen with ties to organized crime,
repeatedly strong-arm Israel into buying an increasingly shoddy product, are
now pressuring it to accept representatives of an organization committed to
Israel’s destruction, as long as they are democratically elected.
A similar farce is playing out on Israel’s Lebanese border, where Hizbollah
unleashed yet another barrage of bombs and bullets, once again trying to
kidnap Israeli soldiers and toy with their lives.
Hiding behind Lebanese sovereignty, violating an internationally
recognized, UN-sanctioned border, ignoring UNIFIL “peacekeeping” troops
deployed there, Hizbollah strafed Israeli farmers, bombarded Israeli border
positions, and shot rockets and missiles into two northern Israeli towns – hitting
one home directly. Fortunately, it was unoccupied.
Israel did nothing to provoke this attack, beyond merely existing and
functioning as a convenient target to help shift attention from Iranian
anti-Western extremism and Syria’s support for terrorism among its Arab
neighbours in Lebanon and Iraq.
Hizbollah is a organization. Like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah blatantly
calls for the destruction of a legitimate member of the United Nations, Israel.
Hizbollah’s lengthy criminal rap sheet dates back to the mass murder of 241
U.S. marines in Beirut in the 1980s, includes dozens of attacks on Israelis as
well as vicious bombings against Argentinian civilians in the 1990s, and has
continued into this new, already blood-stained, millennium.
Moreover, Hizbollah is the surrogate of Syria and the client of Iran, two of the
most bloodthirsty, reprehensible autocracies in a world with far too many
contenders for the (dis)honours.
But, we learn again and again, Hizbollah is a supposedly legitimate political
organization, with representation in the Lebanese parliament and the Lebanese
cabinet. Well, then, true democrats should say, shame on the Lebanese
parliament, shame on the Lebanese cabinet, shame on the state of Lebanon and
shame on the Lebanese people, too.
Democracy requires more than periodic elections. During the bad old days of
communism, in Saddam Hussein’s late unlamented regime, the world saw how
strongmen could strong-arm voters into voting for them. But questions of the
legitimacy of the electoral process among the Lebanese and the Palestinians
aside, democracy demands the rule of law, respect for others, basic rights for
all. An organization that commits mass-murder with no compunction cannot
wipe out its crimes by winning some votes.
And, as we have certainly seen in the street killings within Palestinian cities and
in the periodic Beirut bombings, a political culture that celebrates and
consecrates mass murder becomes addicted to violence as a way of life
internally and externally.
The numbers vary because the situation is fluid, but many Israeli newspapers
reported this autumn that this year the numbers of Palestinians killed by fellow
Palestinians in some sort of a political or public context – we are not talking
crimes of passion – exceeded the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian
And while the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinians has been
dropping steadily in the last three years, thanks to Israel’s security fence and its
more effective counter-terrorist strategies, the number of Palestinians killed
amid intra-Palestinian spats is growing.
It took far too long for countries like the United States and Canada to recognize
Hizbollah for what it is – a terrorist organization with an exterminationist
By bombarding Israeli towns in the north last week, the hitmen of
Hizbollah once again reminded the world that they live by the sword – and fear
too much peace or even stability could undermine their mission.
We cannot be fooled by them or by Hamas. Terrorists in suits and ties remain
cold-blooded killers. Zero tolerance for terror demands an aggressive, consistent
attempt to isolate the Hamas and Hizbollah murderers while pressuring the
Palestinians and the Lebanese to eliminate these cancers eating away at their
respective bodies politic, for their own sakes as well as for the many innocent
lives already sacrificed and others still endangered by these murderous
maestros of mayhem.