Some articles back, I wrote an exposé on the US definition of terrorism [see Luis Posada Carriles: Redefining Terrorism]. I would like to take that same premise and apply it globally.
Let’s start with the most basic question: What is terrorism?
United States Law Code – the law that governs the entire country – contains a definition of terrorism. U.S. Code Title 22, Ch.38, Para. 2656f(d) gives the following definitions:
(2) the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents;
(3) the term “terrorist group” means any group, or which has significant subgroups which practice, international terrorism;… 
One would think that the definition for terrorism would be the same on a global level; however, that is not the case.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is considered a terrorist organization in the US, Canada, and EU, but not in the UK, India, or Russia. The same is true for its counter part (the ELN) and the Shining Path of Peru.
The Real IRA is considered a terrorist group in EU, UK, and US, but not for Australia, Canada, India, or Russia.
Lashkar-e-Toiba [assumed to be responsible to the November 2008 Mumbai attacks] is listed as a terrorist organization by Australia, India, Pakistan, US, UK, EU, and Russia. Hezbollah is listed in Canada and the US, but not in the UK, EU, India, or Russia. Hamas follows a similar pattern.
GRAPO is listed only by the EU, while ETA is listed by the EU, UK, and US.
The US State Department lists 45 organisations as terrorist organizations. The European Unions lists 47 terrorist organizations, while the United Kingdom lists 56 organizations. In all, only 10 organisations are featured an all three (US, UK, and EU) lists .
In the end, there is no international consensus on the definition of terrorism or a terrorist organization; hence its designation is completely subject to who’s doing the terrorism and who’s being terrorized.
The old adage that say’s “One man’s terrorist, is another man’s freedom-fighter” holds true to this very day. Just look at Nelson Mandela…
Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) who eventually became president of South Africa from 1994-1999. While president, Mandela received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and was recently awarded an international holiday by the UN (July 18th). 
Mandela achieved all this while still under the US terror watch list, which was finally lifted in 2008 under President George W. Bush! 
And to add insult to injury, in 1985 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning terrorism, and in 1987, it passed a much stronger resolution and a much more explicit one denouncing terrorism in all its forms and calling on all states to do everything they can to fight this plague. It passed 153 to 2 [with one abstention] – The 2 votes against were the US and Israel (the usual two). They gave their reasons for voting against the major UN resolution on international terrorism, namely, both states — the United States and Israel — pointed to the same paragraph as the reason for their negative vote.
It was a paragraph that said that nothing in the present resolution could in anyway prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the United Nations Charter, of people forcibly derived of that right….particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation.
That was the offending paragraph! It’s easy to understand why: the ANC was identified officially as a terrorist organization in the United States and South Africa was officially an ally of the US. But the phrase “struggle against colonial and racist regimes” plainly referred to the struggle of the ANC against the apartheid regime. The phrase “foreign occupation,” everyone understood, referred to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and continuing only because of decisive U.S. military, economic and diplomatic support that runs up to the present. 
So, the UN resolution drafted to fight terrorism at that time was discarded thanks to a small discrepancy on the definition of terrorism itself. The consensus is that there is no consensus.
While I don’t defend terrorism in any way shape or form, I do question when my nation (or any other nation) labels a particular person (or group) a terrorist.
The more we question, the more we learn.
Thanks for reading,
- United States Law Code, Annual country reports on terrorism: http://uscode.house.gov/pdf/2005/2005usc01.pdf
- Viewpoint: Ending wars peacefully just got harder: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/10432265.stm
- UN gives backing to ‘Mandela Day’: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8353853.stm
- Mandela taken off US terror list in 2008: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7484517.stm
- Distorted Morality: America’s War on Terror?; Noam Chomsky, Delivered at Harvard University, February 2002: http://www.chomsky.info/talks/200202–02.htm
- Foreign Terrorist Organizations, US Department of State: http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm
- Global Terrorism Database: http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/