Jul 23, 2006

But an F-15 is so much shinier than a car-bomb

A related thought I've had about this conflict and the tepid response from the international community and western media to Israel's aggression and the destruction of Lebanon. In a recent post I suggested imagining any other state had done this to it's neighbour. Let's take this one step further; imagine a very well organized and funded terrorist organization had carried out a campaign of bombings delivered by trucks or suicide operatives which, over a period of two weeks, had destroyed power-plants, roads, bridges, petrol stations, factories, private homes and apartments, airports and docks right across some state or country.

Imagine further that the announced reason for this campaign of atrocity was to secure the release of some of their members jailed by the state in question.

The US State Department defines terrorism as follows;

The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant/*/ targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

(The asterik after "non-combatant" is explained in a foot-note of some length to stretch the term to include soldiers not currently involved in combat operations. )

Invasion of another country, and bombing of it's facilities is surely "politically motivated violence." Why isn't the IDF branded a terrorist organization by the US State Department? (Other then sheer hypocrisy of course)

The key is in the phrase "by sub-national groups." The horror and outrage over terrorism is generally so much greater than the horror over war, not because it is any worse. On the contrary, states tend to have much greater resources for inflicting carnage and suffering than any terrorist cell.

No, the reason goes back to what I've blogged about the nature of the state before. The horror of terrorism comes not from the violence alone, but from the fact that some group has dared to breach the state's sacred monopoly of the use of force.

I used the word "sacred" advisedly. The state is, according to the social contract theory of Hobbes and of the Agganna Sutta, nothing more than a big bully which the people have appointed to keep the other bullies in line. This way of thinking is not congenial to kings and presidents though, and there has been a steady effort over the centuries to sacralize the institution. This is done in various ways; many ancient and even medieval monarchies claimed descent from a god or a god-like human. (cf. the Holy Blood and Holy Grail and it's pop-culture clone, the Da Vinci Code - other examples would be Romulus and Remus and the mythologized George Washington)

At the real human level, there is no ethical difference between a suicide-bomb and a rocket launched from an F-15. Attempts by war apologists to obfuscate the difference fail miserably, and come across as obscene. The families who have lost members to an Israeli air-strike and those who have lost them to a Hizbollah Katyusha feel the same pain.

It's high time we held all parties to the same standards.


Afterthoughts (and links)

It's important to realize that not all Israelis support this aggression. See the web-site of Gush Shalom, an Israeli Peace Movement.

A good article on the Semantics of War; death delivered by euphemism.

The news may be depressing, but some people find a silver-lining.

Statement of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship on the crisis.


Anonymous said...

Obviously we do not live in a perfect world, and even in a less than perfect world we should at least avoid the appearance of being impolite. However, with an Evil Empire being run by Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyle one can perhaps be allowed a little leeway in this cartoon-like world of ours.

While one can sympathize with the people of Israel and recognize their increasing fear and paranoia, the policies of their government and their 'almost Third Reich' policies hardly help their situation. The IDF is so predictable that even a 10-yr-old video gamer could outsmart them.

Thus, whether it is Hamas, Hezbollah, or some other group, you can more or less guarantee that compared to the IDF they will come out looking like the Salvation Army.

Anonymous said...

My Bad: 'almost Third Reich' 'policies' was meant to be 'tactics'. English is not my first language (no-talk, baby-talk, etc.).