One among the accepted reality in international relations is the prevailing recognition of the idea that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. This is further reinforced by the shocking turn of events on September 11, 2001 where a group of terrorist coordinated a series of bombing in the United States. However, many political analysts argued that terrorism is not solely associated as resort taken by the weak to get their messages across, rather, it also a means by which the strong impose their will on the former. While this may not be generally accepted, defining terrorism would shed light to the fact that indeed, one among the fiercest fighter of democracy has been a keen supporter of terrorism. By the definition of terrorism provided by President George Bush on his Executive Order after the 9/11, such actions do not only involve those acts that endanger human life and violate state laws, but also they encompass acts that are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population (Golder and Williams, 2004). Additionally, the acts of terrorism are done with such intent as advancing of political, religious as well as ideological beliefs, unfortunately, it is with these intents that political violence arises, with the so called freedom fighters resorting to acts of terrorism while upholding their truths.
Using Violence to Instill Violence and Social Control
“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, so goes a popular cliché about terrorism. Countries all over the world strived to have and maintain democracy in their midst, democracy being a representation of the fair and just society within a certain state. It serves to show how a nation keeps the normal functioning of its society by making sure that there are no unaccountable or undue power being imposed against the will of the people and the policies of the state. Democracy is perceived to be an equalizing element among social classes so that, ideally, no rich man can impose his unlawful will against the poor. However, there are instances when a government’s fight and policies to protect democracy leads to the creation of policies that allow certain acts among law enforcers to fall under the definition of terrorism. As argued by Scheper-Hughes, “even the most advanced state can resort to threats of violence or to open violence against ‘disorderly citizens’ whenever the normal institutions for generating social consensus are weakening or changing” (Scheper-Hughes, 1993).
There is a consensus among the whole population that such act of the government is a way to counter the evil plotted against a peaceful community. It appears like fighting a more evil system by a less evil one, which can be destructive in any sense because the imposition of policies that aimed to counter terrorism may often lead to devastating results. For instance, the prevention of terrorism often necessitates the act of aggressively targeting terrorist leaders and their members despite knowing that such act may involve the killing of innocent people. But what leads to the legitimacy or justification of such acts? The prevalence of terrorist act around the globe gave even democratic governments the chance to amend or make laws that provide assurance over their subjects how they have made considerable effort to act against terrorism. The citizens, thus became more accepting of restrictive laws in the name of anti-terrorism policies.
The power of the state adheres to its right to permit groups and individuals to use
physical force and to its claim as the sole source of the right to use violence. Politics,
at root, “means striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of
power, either among states or among groups within a state.” Part of the power of
the state comes from establishing the legitimacy of its power so that it does not have
of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of a legitimate (i.e., considered
As some people argue, there is no recourse among the greater population, but to trust their leaders in case of heightened emergencies such as what happened in 9/11. But this may be acceptable in cases of emergencies when the lives of people and the sovereignty of a state is in danger, giving no option for leaders but to take emergency actions and leave the questioning and explaining later. However, in non-emergency situations, some people were not one in their opinion concerning policies that suspends the right of others in favor of democracy or on what they call as preserving the majority interests. With the claim of preserving the interest of the majority, the government has created laws that in some way terrorize their own subjects. One of such example is the war on drugs in the United States. Moreover, there are cases when a current government may use its power to suppress the efforts of its political rivals and other political bodies, and most often these acts can mean the inclusion of civilians in the political conflicts.
In the United States, the war on drugs is another opportunity by the government to impose policies that left the citizens no option but to accept the ‘war on drug policies’, despite their complaints. As claimed by social and political analysts, the United States was losts in its own constitutional policies because of its aggressive attack against prohibited drugs. In year 2001, the Departmetnof Homeland Security spent $34 billion to fund the different law enforcement agencies to equip them with high powered war equipments, while increasingly deploying SWAT teams across the country (Gargano, 2014). Citizens were concerned over the authority given to the police to carry out ‘no-knock’ drug raids, some of which have already resulted in the death of several innocent civilians. The militarization of the police has drastically changed the perception of some people over the man in uniform, so that there are people who may no longer feel safe around these officers.
Political Violence: an Invitation to Acts of Terrorism
Instances occur when the conventional politics employed by the government is not enough to affect the wanted social order, as such the other option left is to resort to political violence, an act that is coined by some as a form of terrorism. Accordingly, there are several countries that have resorted to acts of terrorism, for example, the genocide resorted upon by the Nazi Germany against the Jews is an act with an objective to effect a social change. The United States had successively launched attacks against other countries such as the war in Vietnam, which it finally lost in 1975, in Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989 and Iraq in 2003 (Martin, 2006). The US government and its conspiracies defended their acts, citing the attacks as a form of defense against the greater evil (Martin, 2006).
After the 9/11, the US regarded any nation that sustains or provide for terrorism as a hostile regime (Byman, 2005). It is provided that states who opt to support terrorism are classified according to level, first is the a state that supports terrorism, second is the one that operates it and the third is the state that perpetrates (Ganor, 2002). While the powerful countries were often accused of being excessively controlling over the smaller states, the former justified their acts to be just and for the common good of the international community. For example is the attacked by the United States against Iraq in 2003 were justified with the claim that the Iraqi leaders were harboring weapons of mass destruction, thus necessitating an act to disarm them. Beforehand, the United States had claimed in 1998 to use selective military power in Afghanistan and the Sudan to defend itself from the incessant assaults by Bin Laden (Paust, 2002). Both are an invasion that was coined to be a war of just act, despite frightening innocent civilians and using coercive force to make their leaders submit to the more powerful state.
More Violent Forms of Terrorism by the State
The United States have implemented policies that despite being coercive in nature, it is accepted as it is by the citizenry because of the justification that it is a means by which to end the social problems such as the acts of terrorism and proliferation of prohibited drugs. However, to some states, an act of terrorism by those who are in power is a reflection of their powerlessness, especially in their ability to maintain social order. There are countries that may opt to declare the criminalization of acts that are legal beforehand or restrict them despite being permitted earlier.
There are different forms or expression of violence, one is the direct political which is commonly committed by authorities against those who clash with them and may include such acts as repression and police brutality. There is also the structural violence where the social inequality within the society allows for the economic exploitation of those who are in the lower stratum, and it may include lower pay and unhealthy working conditions. The symbolic repression represents an adapted form of degradation and the legitimate acceptance of inequality and hierarchy that may vary from sexism, racism and an intimate manifestation of social power. It is in a way different from the structural violence as the controlled unsuspectingly admitted such form of control. The other expression of violence is the one that is often observed every day, and has developed from the daily practice and expression of violence on the smaller segment of the society. Some of the acts committed by the leaders to subdue those who oppose them may vary and each has its particular effect to the people:
Political kidnapping in Argentina- Justifying the need to protect the Christian values in Argentina during the 1970s, the military leadership that ousted Isabella Peron from office approved of the interrogation as well as the arrests of citizens whom they suspect as a threat to the national security. This act of militarization was claimed as an act towards national reorganization has turned into the ‘dirty war’, as the number of human rights abuses increased from a few hundreds to about 15,000 people who suddenly disappeared, and about 5,000 cases who were confirmed to have been murdered by the state government (Muttersbaugh). While the ‘dirty war’ was a gruesome event in the history of Argentina, such oppression paved the way for the people to take their stand against the military government, until the return of the democratic elections during the 1980s.
Political Violence in El Salvador- One form of violence in El Salvador was the escalation of death squad during the 1980s as the armed forces were given the power to suppress the people whom they suspect were part of an insurgent movement. The US support for El Salvador was frowned upon as it became clear through the increased number of crimes that the latter was not making any progress in terms of the preservation of human rights. In a way, the United States were blamed for the support it offered in a government that has no intent of reforming. This is another form of violence imposed by the powerful over the weak, such that the US government turned a blind eye over the murder of American women in El Salvador despite knowing who committed the horrendous act.
As can be taken from the examples of Argentina and El Salvador, there are policy makers who may decide that employing terror to get their constituents to submit to their policies is the most sensible decision in particular instances. Some groups, and these groups are often those who are opposed or perceived to oppose the current government, are legally or in some way repressed in order to prevent them from making undue opposition against their government. Unfortunately, such repression may not only affect the concerned group, but may also cause a feeling of terror and defenselessness in others. One example of a terrorist act caused by the government was that of the South African government’s laws that caused the banishing of the African National Congress (ANC). The Sabotage Act of 1962 and the General Law Amendment Act of 1963 are both an illustration of the violence committed by the government not only against the Africans but also to that of the global community (Couto, 2010). Accordingly, such act of violence by the state do repressed outward insurgency for the meantime, however, history has been a witnessed how the tyrant government has caused its people to come up with a more planned and angered uprising.
A government’s act of violence may one day be reflected in the values and own violent acts of its people. A state's own violent action may cause the social acceptance of violence, thus creating an opportunity for the people to justify their acts of violence against the government. As exemplified by several social and political authors, the acceptance of capital punishment culture, will cultivate the notion that it is socially acceptable to hold grudges and to act in vengeance when wronged. Consequently, the government’s practice of using violence is a pervasive system that can largely affect the development of its social and political condition.
Terror as the Other
Several authors had explained in their works, how violence happens everywhere, even in places where we do not suspect it to happen. Scheper-Hughes shared agreement with other analyst about the official and legalized institutions of violence (Scheper-Hughes, 1993). She mentioned that Foucault claimed that the most apparent form of violence, such as torture and execution has already been a part of the past in the western world, however, violence was not completely eradicated as there is it has taken a more subtle form. In the analysis provided by Foucault, the criminal proceedings ceased to attack the body, but resorted to assault the mind and the moral character of an individual (Scheper-Hughes, 1993).
The ‘institution of violence’ as scholars calls it, usually function in a more covert manner. This softer form of social control is a system that is sustained by a group of educational, social welfare, medical, psychiatric, and legal specialists to team up in the administration and governance of sentiments and practices that threaten the stability of the state and the fragile consensus on which it claims to base its legitimacy(Scheper-Hughes, 1993).
Terrorism Against the State: Reflection of Terrorism by the State
Political leaders who support violence to uphold their ideals are observed to be a reflection of their state’s historical sustenance of a violent culture. For instance, while Nelson Mandela was not a supporter of violent acts, he later explained that the violent killing of nonviolent protesters at Sharpville gave the African National Congress no other recourse but to respond with violence (Couto, 2010). Today, it is realized that government attempts to coerce its citizens, either by direct military power or the influence the economic interests leads to the stimulation organizations that aims to establish control over the political system (North). According to Mandela, there are four types of violence, which are, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and the open revolution, he opted to use the sabotage form of violence to get their message across (Couto, 2010). Mandela’s choice showed how he intended to make peace by resorting to a less violent form of protest. Modern day protesters in most part of the world no longer perceived violent protests as a means to get their messages. The protesters of today are generally more peaceful while the law enforcers are also trained at opting to display a ‘softer’ behavior. It is interesting to note how the softer style of the law enforcers tends to encourage the flow of protest while tougher policing repressed and discouraged the protesters, though, such repression often boost other drastic acts. Over time, the police and the protesters were able to come up with terms to respect each others domicile, so that the law enforcers often showed more tolerance towards the protesters while the latter showed more respect to authorities. There are relapses now and then, and such is often a result of political struggle that have intensified into a more fierce form.
How an Advanced State Supported Terrorism
There are many ways by which some advanced countries had helped in the backing of terrorism in other parts of the world. According to Chomsky’s discussion on International Terrorism: Image and Reality, the U.S are in itself implicated as an international supporter of terrorism. This claim is supported by an allegation through which the United States routinely practiced an unlawful use of force, contravened, and obstructed international laws (Chomsky, 1991). Further, Chomsky mentioned that investigations on the Reagan Doncrine revealed how the United States created new lanes in international terrorism, so that, while other states tasked individual terrorist to execute their violent acts in other countries, the United States scaled further so as to construct an international terrorist network as well as employ different states to implement its terrorists' mission (Chomsky, 1991).
There is a noted increased in the supply and surveillance flights for the proxy forces, as well as an upsurge in violence and terror which is what was intended. The story that was retold by Chomsky is an example how a superpower used violence in imposing its will to a weaker and even unsuspecting state. It is almost unbelievable how one powerful country as the United States can do such an oppressive action against a country like Nicaragua. Accordingly, Nicaragua is an easy target, and in addition to that, there was the corollary doctrine that mentioned how a particular state has no right to defend itself from a US attack (Chomsky, 2010). The act made by the US administration under Reagan was almost a duplicate of the acts of violence done by Kennedy in the 1960s, where the president threw a deadly and destructive operation to bring the ‘terrors of the earth’ to Cuba ( Chomsky, 2014). Sadly, the acts of terrorism against Cuba continued for more than 30 years and was almost unheard of until a recent study conducted by a Canadain scholar (Chomsky, 2014).
Political violence can take many forms that may range from one that is subtle to a more aggressive acts that may inflict physical harm to an individual or group of individual as well as to the society. By the definition provided, political violence is referred to as the use of force to unduly cause one to act against their will, or to enforce the will of a stronger individual over the others. These may take the form of undertakings that is directed against a society, and its participants may come from a certain political group. Accordingly, political violence has already been a part of human history, and it continues to evolve to take subtle practices.
While countries all over the world strived to attain a peaceful society, the incidence of political violence is still prevalent within each country’s territory. As argued by some scholars, violence is everywhere, and this can be supported by the further argument that violence can take many forms. Often, political violence is interchanged with terrorism, and while these two have their differences, they are a system that is used to cause the attainment of a certain objective. Consequently, while it was originally claimed that terrorism is a weapon of the weak, it is actually being used by the strong to attain a certain objective. Accounts in the different periods of history would reveal how this claim is true in any sense. Further, the United States serves to be a historical example of an advance state that has used political violence not only within its territory but also in other parts of the world. It has vehemently used acts of terrorism, such as the 9/11 to come up with restrictive domestic policies. The US government also justified its launched attacks against other countries as a way to eradicate terrorism around the world. Ironically, the United States has been implicated in several terrorist attacks and activities, and coined as one among the perpetrators of international terrorism.
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