State Terror

Why is state terror suddenly so popular? Does it really promote the construction of the kind of world the terrorists want?

We Americans are all shocked, just shocked at the various alleged Iranian acts of state terror. Tehran is accused of all sorts of murderous deeds – hitting a restaurant here, a diplomat there. Maybe Tehran is guilty as charged. How would I know? Tehran has certainly been convicted and sentenced in the minds of those who have their own aggressive ambitions against that country. Before we completely destroy the international legal structure that we have worked so hard for the last century (and indeed since the 17th century) to create, however, it might be worth asking whether or not state terror actually accomplishes anything of value to the perpetrator.

After all, state terror is an extremely effective way of making enemies and undermines the civilized fabric of society – both the enemy society and even more the society of the perpetrator. More, it sets an evil precedent, and the chickens will certainly come home to roost. First, Salvador uses the “Salvadorian option” of death squads and then the option is spread to the Mideast. A superpower bombs a restaurant and then a Central Asian fundamentalist state on the rise may copy the move. Another superpower makes war on a domestic city in revolt, and then a second superpower’s client makes war on a city, and then the second superpower itself makes war on a city. Suddenly, acts of state terror justified as exceptions to address short-term tactical requirements turn out to be common international practice, and the world is changed. So, the question is, are we getting what we want?

Why would a state try to blow up a restaurant (I refer to the famous attempt to murder Saddam)? Why would a state that advocates the rule of law drop a remote-controlled bomb on a wedding party (even if it knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that a nasty enemy was at the party)? Why would a state colonize an ethnic group’s territory, force the population into refugee camps, and then attack those refugee camps with tanks? Why would a state conduct a campaign of terror to murder nuclear scientists?

Do such actions enhance the moral and legal nature of the world we are building? Do such actions make the world safer for international trade, finance, and travel? Do such acts enhance the long-term national security of the guilty?

Maybe we Americans, who do so much to set the standards–for good or ill–of international behavior, should talk about this…

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