Gian Piero de Bellis
(2003 - 2014)
Terrorism / Antiterrorism
The human being is a cooperative/competitive animal.
Cooperation can over-extend itself and, in a sense, degenerate into passive compliance (submission) while competition can be over-stretched and subverted to the point of becoming aggressive coercion (dominion).
The healthy and fully functioning human being is the one who is willing and capable to display both the aspects of cooperation and competition in his/her daily activities without being drawn by either of its degenerate states.
Unfortunately, in the course of history some people have fallen prey
to the exclusive attraction of one or the other of these two
positions, sometimes in their extreme form.
This has given rise to the roles of rulers and ruled that have crystallized into social positions of dominion and submission.
The dynamics of dominion and submission is a subtle one. For instance, in order to expect submissive deference a ruler needs to show that he has some quality (strength, deftness, confidence, etc.) in abundance with respect to the common people and that he is ready and capable of using those qualities in order to lead them out of peril whenever the situation demands it.
This explains the preeminence given in most places and at most times to warriors and their bravery. A sign of this is the fact that many towns in Switzerland are embellished by statues that celebrate the glory of knights and fighters.
However, while in the case of Switzerland, occasional figures
emerged to repel aggressors and invaders and, in the process,
led to the formation of a Confederation of Cantons (la Confédération Helvetique), in other cases temporary leaders became permanent rulers with a different agenda.
Most of these permanent rulers achieved their position through a policy of continuous aggression and expansion; the people who came under their rule were, often, inhabitants of conquered and annexed territories, in other words people subjugated by force.
In this case a submissive deference could not be taken for granted. It required a continuous effort of manipulation and coercion.
At all times and in all places, the most effective tool for extracting
and enforcing submission on a voluntary basis was the hinting
at internal or external dangers, especially in the form of
wars. And situations of danger have been occurring regularly in the course
of history, as the most reckless or greedy rulers were always eager to
fight their ways right to the top, craving for the control of larger and
larger territories, from relatively small estates to vast states.
As it was soon discovered, there is nothing more beneficial for strengthening the power of a ruler than a victorious war or a war-like or quasi-war situation.
The states of the western world, especially the European states, reached their heights of power and prestige towards the end of the 19th century when they were waging and, generally, winning wars against people with less efficient fighting tools (in Africa and in Asia). The western rulers were so successful in this policy based on militarism and imperialism that, at the beginning of the 20th century 13 western states were sharing amongst themselves almost the entire world and seven European states were controlling practically all of Africa and many territories in Asia.
Another period of strength for state rulers was the second half of the 20th century when there emerged a system of alliances in which war was always in the air but rarely in the act. During the period of the so called cold war two super states dominated the world and the rulers of other states were safe in their position as long as they granted allegiance to one or the other of these super powers, promising political or military support for an (almost) unwaged war.
The resolute ruler: the need for a villain (^)
What has been said so far lead us to a very important point, namely the fact that rulers (as opposed to administrators/managers of a firm) have a congenital need for an enemy. Their power and prestige and sometimes their existence and survival as leaders derives and relies on the presence of one or many enemies. This exigency was expressed with lucidity by one of the most pompous but, occasionally, also perceptive state rulers of the 20th century, with the bombastic statement: "Many enemies, much honour" (Benito Mussolini).
The presence of an enemy has, almost automatically and from the start, a threefold result:
- rallies people under one flag
- reduces internal tensions
- reinforces obedience to the ruler.
In general, the existence of an enemy reminds people continuously of the
ever-present danger and makes them grateful to the ruling power for the
For this reason the state, that is the impersonal organization of the ruling élites, needs, at least from time to time, to act in a fighting mood. This could manifest itself as
- flexing its muscles against a weak (external) enemy
- filling its the mouth with curses against a fake (internal) enemy.
The need for an enemy seems to apply to any state that has reached a certain
size in terms of population, which is fed with daily doses of chauvinist
and alarmist messages, for one reason or the other.
All these aspects represent the preliminary conditions for fighting the enemy. But fighting the enemy requires, needless to say, the preliminary manufacturing of a target: the villain.
The reluctant ruled: the alien as villain (^)
As previously stated, in the course of history rulers have manufactured
villains; they have been either inhabitants of other territories who did
not want to submit or some individuals living in the territory who were
showing too much autonomy or were aspiring to too much freedom.
These two fronts, the external and the internal, have coexisted since and will exist at least as long as power is based on exclusive territorial sovereignty.
In the 19th century, the state, the new consolidated impersonal ruler, had two main villains:
- all the other states which were competing, with the use of force, for the acquisition of territories. The result was state imperialism, that is each major state annexing territories and subjugating people.
- all the internal groups that were competing with the state for the minds and souls of those living in a bordered territory. The result was state monopolism, that is the state expropriating religious and civil societies of their power and regulating most expressions of people's life (social, economic, cultural, educational, etc.).
During the 20th century, the confrontation with these external and internal
(manufactured) villains has gone on continuously and has resulted in wars,
genocides, concentration camps, mass migrations, detention in prisons or
mental institutions, expropriations of wealth, and many more crimes and
If we have to find a common denominator for a person or a group likely to be chosen as a villain, it could be summed up in a single word: alien.
The villain is considered an alien, an outsider, that is a menacing
presence, and an intruder who could be/become a trouble-maker;
for this reason he/she is targeted for repressive action that
can range from exclusion to extermination.
The era of national statism (second half of 19th century and 20th century) is characterized by the dominion of the masses and by the tyranny of the majority. Might is right and national uniformity is the essential requirement for being part of a society dominated and shaped by the state. For this reason the aliens, that is the chosen villains, have been individuals and groups with strong and strange personalities, soloists who did not play the tune imposed by the state choirmaster. They were:
- The ethnic minorities. We refer here to Armenians, Kurds, Jews or any group speaking a minority language, professing a minority faith, practicing minority customs or showing any other distinctive sign, small or big, real or fictitious. The best they could expect from the state was to be encouraged to go back to some supposed original place of provenance to make room for the national majority (e.g. as for the German-speaking minority in South Tyrol under fascism). An alternative was to pack and leave. This was more easy said than done. To the question how many Jews the Canadian government was ready to let enter the country to escape the persecutions of the German national socialist state, a senior official replied: "None are too many." So, when no territorial power was willing to open its (artificial) border, the remaining solution to which the persecuted minorities were left to was the final solution: extermination. And this is what happened to the Armenians under the Turkish state (one and half million massacred) and to the Jews under the German state (six million gassed and incinerated).
- The political minorities. Anarchists and socialists have been the perfect villains, at least when they promoted a message based on anti-authoritarianism and internationalism. According to their basic, original principles, anarchists and socialists do not have a nation state to which they should pay respect and allegiance. For this reason alone they are dangerous outsiders. The state has succeeded in transforming the word anarchist into a derogatory term that evokes images of chaos and violence even if the most outstanding anarchists (like Kropotkin and Malatesta) do not fit that portrait at all.
- The cultural minorities. The nation state is based on and derives its rationale from the existence of the division between nationals and foreigners. Foreigners are those alien people who have been (generally) indoctrinated to pay allegiance to another nation state. Besides them, even more dangerous, are cosmopolitan groups who disdain narrow-minded national outlooks or those local communities who want to preserve their language and culture. The nation state is at odds with both of them and employs all sorts of repressive measures. To give just an example, the French state has, for many decades, forbidden the use of the Corse language in order to promote a national identity based on a national language. Uniformity was to be achieved at all costs.
The fury of the state has been directed against these minorities who have sometimes replied with isolated acts of violence to the systematic use of repressive acts by the state. In doing so they have, usually, made the state repression even harsher and have played even more into the hands of the state, providing a justification for being labelled and targeted as villains. They have been generally trapped in a vicious circle, performing a specific function congenial to the maintenance of the state power.
The function of the villain (^)
In the course of history both the concept of the alien and that of the
villain have been manufactured by the rulers (in our age the state rulers)
in order to perform specific functions.
A power organization based on territorial sovereignty (over land and people) relies and acts through three main categories and their related factors seen in stark opposition:
- Ranks: the rulers - the ruled
- Borders: inside - outside
- Labels: we - they.
Those who do not agree with this universe of discourse, who do not feel part of the flock (i.e. the dissenters) or who are not, according to the state laws, part of the native flock (i.e. the foreigners), are likely to be labelled as villains and to be used by the state in order to perform two functions indispensable for its survival and strengthening:
- to arouse insecurity (likely outcome: the herd under threat gives up freedom and follows the rulers)
- to instill conformity (likely outcome: the herd under threat closes ranks and follows the rules).
It is worthy of note that, even in the presence of a weak power, some violent actions are carried out that bring fear/terror amongst some sections of the populace. The declared intentions behind these acts, attributed (rightly or wrongly) to the villains, is to provoke the reaction of the state that is then obliged to show its true face, that of a repressive and violent power. This would cause a reaction by the oppressed class that will finally get rid of the oppressor.
Usually, in this discourse, the state is seen as subservient
to the economic interests of the wealthy élite and so it is not the state in itself that needs to be fought but a specific government that needs to be replaced.
This reasoning is totally functional to the permanence of state power. In fact it joins cannily two apparently opposing figures:
- the useful idiot: the unhealthy/self-deceiving mind who totally ignores how social changes take place and how personal freedom is gained and thinks that if only he were in charge the state would be magically transformed into an instrument of liberation;
- the deceitful meddler: the unhealthy/self-aggrandizing mind who knows, from history, that for a weak state the only way to regain strength and maintain power is to gamble and employ the ever so useful figure of the villain.
The basic archetype is that of the children's tales where the fear of
the unknown is compounded by the occurrence of terrible feats attributed
to a terrible monster. At that point the intrepid knight intervenes to
destroy the monster and to restore security (i.e. law and order).
If this is the theoretical scenario, the actual reality is more complicated and requires to be examined a bit deeper.
The fight against the villain (^)
The reality concerning the villain and the fight against him conducted by the state (police, army, manipulated media, etc.) usually relies on three aspects that are here examined in sequence but take place all at the same time and are supposed to reinforce each other.
- Infiltration/Provocation. The villain does not come out of the blue; it needs to be nurtured and, sometimes, even manufactured if it fails to appear. One of the most famous examples is that of the Boevaya Organisatsia, a terrorist organization in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, whose leader Azev, and many members, were police agents [1999, Walter Laqueur]. In more recent times, it has emerged that a fifth (40 out of 200) of the leaders and main activists of the neo-nazi party in Germany (the NPD) were agents of the secret service. But the classic case in history is represented by the anarchist movement that, almost from the start, was full of infiltrators inciting violent and senseless actions. In fact provocation is useful and necessary when the villain has been manufactured/identified and a pretext is needed to start repression. History is peppered with experiences of agents provocateurs who instigated acts of violence in order to provide the justification for the introduction of measures restrictive of freedom.
- Alienation/Distortion. At the same time that the alien as villain is manufactured or pushed to action through provocation, the propaganda machine must be in full swing promoting alienation. Alienation means having a distorted image of reality conducive to suspicion and intolerance towards other communities and individuals. Alienation could be seen as the process of producing alienated people who believe in the existence of aliens. A proper perception of and reflection upon reality should, on the contrary, warn us that the so called "aliens" are individuals like us, with the basic physical traits and needs like us, sometimes with human qualities (sensitivity, adaptability, generosity) even more developed than average people.
- Repression/Exclusion. The instinctive reaction that the state wants people to have against the supposed villain is exclusion. They become the pariah, excluded by any contact (the Jews in the ghetto), subjected to strict control (fingerprints for individuals from other countries), and towards whom there is a policy of "stop or shot" at the state border. Repression by the state could be directed towards to an entire ethnic group (or what is perceived as an ethnic group) and reach a frenzy that leads to what has been called, with a surgical euphemism, ethnic cleansing, that is expulsion or extermination.
The same tactics, only with reduced clout, are employed by terrorist groups fighting a state power, either to establish a new state (e.g. the Jews with respect to the British forces in Palestine) or to install a new government. In these cases also there have been episodes of infiltrators in government agencies (the moles), or distortion of reality in order to give a noble justification to ignoble actions. And there have been occurrences where the supposed liberation or revolutionary movements have committed atrocities against defenceless people (e.g. the Vietcong killing some 10,000 village elders in the late '50s and early '60s; the Algerian GIA exterminating the inhabitants of entire villages; terrorist groups in Latin America exploiting and massacring civilians in rural areas).
The terrorist activities of the state or of the anti-state are both motivated by the desire for state power (i.e. maintaining/strengthening state power or gaining access to state power). In that respect they are the two faces of the same coin, and for this reason the same discourse applies to both of them. In other words, political terrorism is essentially state generated and state oriented in the sense that state power is the objective also of those who engage in terrorist acts against the state.
Villains: the old targets (^)
The march of statism has been characterized by the presence of villains, many of them more invented than real, at least in relation to the survival of the state. In fact, if we exclude the anarchists and the anarchist movement, the fight between the state and its villains has been an internal fight, that is a fight between different forms of statism, in which the one who lost became the despicable villain and the one who won transformed itself into the respectable guy.
The history of (modern) statism in Europe can be seen as a threefold fight between:
- laicism (secular statism) vs. clericalism (theocratic statism)
- socialism (well-mannered statism) vs. fascism (violent statism)
- capitalism (paternalistic affluent statism) vs. communism (dictatorial backward statism).
The labels have not much meaning and certainly not their original meaning
(as in the case of capitalism and communism) but are here employed for
Focusing attention on the chapter of statism characterized by the fight between so called capitalism and so called communism, the first aspect to notice is that this conflict has performed very useful functions for rulers on both side of the (supposed) divide.
On the capitalist side it has given to the state (i.e. the politicians, the military and the bureaucratic personnel) enormous power and an enormous share of resources. With the excuse of fighting in order to protect the "free world," the original free spirit of capitalism has been crushed to death under a mass of state regulations and restrictions. Only the term 'capitalism' has survived and it is still being used for reasons of propaganda because it is a better label than statism, more apt to convey feelings of freedom and autonomy and more handy at distracting attention from state crimes and misdeeds.
On the communist side, the menace (real or invented) coming from the capitalist world permitted a totalitarian, militaristic and bureaucratic regime, hopeless at producing and distributing goods, to survive for more than 70 years and to pass away only because of internal exhaustion. In order to die it had to reach a state in which it was totally out of touch with reality, with geriatric leaders good for publicizing an old people's home more than a new socialist paradise (that never came).
While exchanging accusations and portraying each other as the
real villain, both statisms, under the false name of capitalism
and communism, were giving each other full rein in each respective
area of dominance. Tensions appeared only when a country within a certain
area wanted to switch allegiance (e.g. Cuba) or become autonomous (e.g.
Czechoslovakia). Otherwise, it was business as usual, with the more advanced
form of statism (USA) trading, when convenient, with the countries having
the backward form of statism (Soviet Union and satellites countries), helping
them with delivery of grains or concessions of loans.
Unfortunately (for statism), this balance of dominion and subjugation came to an end with the collapse of "communist" regimes and the disappearance of the Soviet Union.
On 9 November 1989 the Berlin wall disappeared as a border and very soon the communist block, one of the recognized villains, went out of the scene. Taken by the enthusiasm of the moment, not many people in positions of state power realized immediately that new villains had to be manufactured as soon as possible if the future of the state, that is the positions of power and privilege of state rulers and state followers, were to be secured for many years and decades to come.
Villains: the new targets (^)
With the passing of the Soviet Union, the "evil empire" of American propaganda, some scholars even dared to proclaim that we had reached the end of history. In fact, what we were approaching was the end of the totalitarian role played by the state and of most ideological justifications underpinning it.
The sudden disappearance of one of the contending sides meant that the (potential) threat to security had melted away and so it was possible and necessary to slash military budgets and to pull down barriers to the circulation of people. In the USA around 300,000 defense jobs disappeared within less than two years from the fall of the Berlin wall [1993, Alvin and Heidi Toffler]. For some this was just the beginning of the so-called peace dividends.
But no dividends were in view for those who had built their fortunes
on the communist menace as the bastions of anti-communism, like
the military, the industries working for the military, or some
political parties (e.g. the Christian-Democrats in Italy). Their future
became suddenly bleak.
Books started to be written and talks to be given about the decline and disappearance of the state. At that point the ruling élites of the nation states had to seriously examine their shaky predicament.
state had to find a new role for itself. The simplest way is
always to update the old role, that is that of being/appearing the supreme
protector of people, the indispensable guarantor of their security, the
general dispenser of law and order. This requires the manufacturing of
The operation is being completed at the beginning of the 21st century through a series of replacement targets, the main ones being:
- fundamentalism: the word clericalism, long gone out of fashion, has been substantially revived and formally replaced by the word fundamentalism.
- terrorism: the word communism, recently become unserviceable, has been replaced by the word terrorism.
Through this double shift of targets, the nation state is back or, at
least, it presumes and intends to be back in business, regaining a role
and a justification for its existence that seemed fast disappearing.
Let us now examine fundamentalism and terrorism seen as intolerance (terrifying intolerance) and violence (terrifying violence); these are not at all new phenomena but have been interlaced throughout with the history of statism.
Intolerance (terrifying intolerance) (^)
The use of religion as a political tool is an old trick of statism. In the past, the kings used God and religion as a justification for their power because both, God and religion, had a powerful grip on the minds and hearts of people. So, claiming to act in the name of God or with the spiritual blessing of religion, the rulers could more effectively hold and exert their terrestrial power.
With the progress of secularization, that can be dated at least
from the French Revolution, the masses appeared on the scene
and dethroned God and religion from its central role. Since
then, the will of the people (democracy) has replaced the will of God as
the foundation and justification for any power. What now counts most, to
this end, is to court the favour of a large chunk (a majority) of the populace.
Politics has then taken the place previously occupied by religion in shaping and subduing the minds and wills of the people.
Fundamentalism is here taken as the use of politics as religion (blind faith); it is not, like in the past, a religion serving secular political ends, but totalitarian politics (that is politics covering all aspects of life) hidden behind a religious phraseology and fervour.
One of the clearest expressions of fundamentalism have been some
leading currents of the French Revolution when Reason was made
a Goddess and the statues of Saints were decapitated. That was
a signal that the masses and fanatic politics had replaced the Catholic
Mass and religious fervour.
What followed has been an unstoppable taking over of society by state politics and the transformation of state politics into a new religion, with its rites (mass meetings), its symbols (the national flag), its hymns (the national anthem), its saints (patriotic heroes), its magic words and formulas (democracy, national interest, public good, etc.), its selling of indulgences (terrestrial prebends and favours).
During the 20th century, through fascism, national socialism
and communism as its most acute expressions and also through
welfarism and dirigism, the state has perfected politics as the
new religion, in many cases more inquisitorial and more totalitarian than
the old one, certainly more factually pervasive and interfering than anything
that ever appeared before.
Politics as the new religion is the fundamentalism of the Western states. It has become more and more aggressive and intrusive and it is being rivalled by another fundamentalism.
Long ago, when the Catholic Church was still a big political power, it thought necessary to embark on the adventures of the crusades as a way to strengthen the faith and to expand its message and its power amongst the infidels. Contrary to its expectations, the Church came out of these undertakings weakened and in decline.
At the beginning of the 21st century some Western states have
embarked on new crusades to reinforce their sagging fortunes. They are likely to undergo the same destiny of decadence that befell the Church.
The new crusade is against Muslim fundamentalism.
This so-called Muslim fundamentalism is a different phenomenon from the one in the West. While Western political fundamentalism is internal to state power, Muslim fundamentalism is a reaction to a state power seen as degenerate and corrupt. In many Muslim countries, religious centres (the Mosques) and religious practices have been the only places and ways through which it has been possible to vent popular discontent against autocratic rulers supported by the major Western states. This deep discontent and rage of the Islamic people was also born out of the horrors of the Afghan wars, the carnage of Bosnia Herzegovina, the destructions in Chechnya, the annexation of Palestine, to list only some of the cases in which Muslims have undergone atrocious sufferings.
Behind every episode there is a state: the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union central state, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia Herzegovina by the Serb state (but not the only one), the razing of Grozny by the Russian state, the dispossession of Palestine by the Israeli state. If we add the selling of arms to absolutists and criminal rulers made by, amongst others, the American state and the British state (and the French state, and the German state, and the Italian state, and...), it should not come as a surprise that deep rage called Muslim fundamentalism has been brought to life.
Since 1989 USA government military sales to Saudi Arabia have topped $40.6 billion; in 1988 and 1989, four British arms deals transferred $28 million of military equipment to Saddam Hussein's regime. Even biological agents, including Anthrax, have been shipped to Iraq by USA companies under government licence [July 2002, Amnesty International Magazine]. To think or make us believe that no evil might come out of these transactions of death is typical of state logic and it fits appropriately with its agenda. The logic underlying the agenda is impeccable: the fire is engineered and started, directly or indirectly, by somebody in the fire brigade in order for the fire brigade as a whole (i.e. the state) to appear afterwards presenting itself as the indispensable firefighter. Glory, power and stable employment are deemed likely to follow from this dynamic.
Before examining the state agenda, let us focus on this aspect of setting fire to something, that is on the cultivation of violence for political aims.
Violence (terrifying violence) (^)
The use of violence (terrifying violence) is a basic tool in the armoury
of any individual, group, organization aspiring to power (conquering, plundering,
etc.) or already in power.
History is full of individuals who resorted to terror in order to conquer and subjugate: from Hannibal with his terrifying elephants used in battle against the Romans, to Attila with his terrifying acts of destruction, to the Pirates in the Mediterranean sea, attacking villages on the coast and forcing the inhabitants to flee in terror towards the interior.
The conventional historical image is that, for the common human
being, life in the past was a dangerous affair, subject to continuous
risks of violent death and gratuitous destruction. This, as the
argument goes, was until the arrival of the (modern) state and the introduction/imposition
of law and order.
The true story is a bit different, especially as far as the arrival of the state is concerned. In fact, the very coming into preeminence of state power as a result of the French Revolution (1789-1795) is marked by the existence and spread of incredible violence to which historians refer as The Terror.
The Reign of Terror (September 1793 - July 1794) was characterized
by arrests of suspects (at least 300,000) summary trials and
a wave of executions (17,000 according to the official figure),
with many ordinary citizens dying in prison without being heard in court.
Terror was the weapon in the hand of a new state to consolidate its power.
The Reign of Terror succeeded in ushering in the new French state, the one that, with Napoleon, forced conscription, the civil code, the police and the bureaucracy, would dominate continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century and offer or impose on other countries the example and the model of state organization.
The French Revolution had been preceded by another less conspicuous
manifestation of the use of harsh methods to frighten individuals.
The American Revolution had been characterized by certain behaviour
against administrators, troops and goods linked to the English Crown, that
could be qualified as acts of terrorism (e.g. looting, arson, assaults,
ambushes, etc.) performed to induce a radical change in the English colonial
government, up to its collapse.
As a matter of fact, many actions committed during the American and French Revolutions by both sides could fall within a contemporary definition of terrorism as "the calculated use or threat of violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies" [2002, Charles Townshend, Chapter I].
Terrorism is then any act of violence that
targets unarmed or unaware individuals thought to be part of
the enemy camp, or directed even against those unwilling to take sides
in the conflict. The aim is not to make prisoners or to win a small battle
but to frighten the opposition as a whole up to the point that many individuals
in their ranks are so psychologically shaken that they are willing to accede
to the requests of the other side or even to give up the fight and surrender.
In this respect, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima (80,000 dead) and Nagasaki (40,000 dead) with the aim of frightening the Japanese government and the whole of Japanese society and lead to a total surrender can be seen as the clearest and loudest example of a terrorist act.
In general wars are mainly aimed at defeating the enemy state
through indiscriminate attacks involving also the civilian population.
The Second World War, with the killing of 55 million individuals
of which half were non combatants and with episodes like the massive bombing
of Coventry (England) and Dresden (Germany) not to mention the deportations
and massacres of civilians, can be seen as a continuous sequence
of terrorist acts instigated and committed under the auspices of the states.
Terrorism as terrifying intolerance and terrifying violence has a precise function to perform.
The function of terrorism (^)
Terrorism has been and is generally employed for two main purposes:
- To seek state power (new rulers)
Many nations count, amongst their heroes, individuals that have committed or have been involved in acts of terrorism. For instance, Italian schoolbooks celebrate an adventurer (Giuseppe Garibaldi) who invaded another country (the Southern Kingdom) or extol the bravery of those who committed violence against the government of the day (for instance in Lombardy in 1848).
Similar acts are generally committed in order to force a surrender of those who are perceived as enemies/occupiers and to install a new power. The notion that the new power is, sometimes, a less oppressive and a more sympathetic one is a very important point that induces many to accept and justify those acts of violence. However, they remain acts of violence committed to scare and subdue the adversary. Somebody could even put forward the thesis that they are unnecessary acts of violence and that a fight for independence could be conducted, in some cases, using non violent methods, as shown by Gandhi in India.
Besides that, some new governments installed after acts of violent
rebellion have not always been better governments. As history
shows, fascism and national socialism came to power after having
instilled in the minds of people the fear of a communist plot that would
crush their freedom and expropriate their properties; to substantiate this
fear they encouraged or exploited violent acts, like the planting of a
bomb at the Diana movie-house in Milan (1921) or the fire at the Reichstag
in Berlin (1933), putting the blame totally on anarchists and communists.
Their tactic worked and it has represented a dire example that brute might could be the way for accessing and becoming state right.
The fight of the Haganah against the Arabs and the British in Palestine with a view to the establishment of the Jews Homeland represents one of the best and most successful examples of 20th century terrorist violence aimed at installing a new power. The tactic employed was to wear down the morale of the British troops, acting as a police force of interposition between Jews and Arabs, in order to force them to leave. The way to achieve this result was to conduct terrorist acts of which the most resounding were the assassination of Lord Moyne (1944) Britain's Resident Minister in the Middle East and the blowing up of the King David Hotel (1946), the British headquarters, that killed 91 persons, mostly civilians. Both represented strong signals for the withdrawal of the British military forces and decisive steps towards the proclamation of the new state of Israel.
Other groups, in other parts of the world have used terrorism to unsettle current state rulers and install themselves or sympathetic people in power. The military and the secret service are masters in this kind of operations. A classic example was the rise to power of general Suharto in Indonesia amid the massacre of more than half a million members and sympathizers of the communist party (1965-1966) accused of plotting against the state.
In Europe during the sixties and seventies the so-called left or right terrorists had the proclaimed aim of subverting and replacing state governments, but behind their words and acts there was nothing very much in terms of ideas and moral aspirations. In fact, many of those acts were inspired and then used by the established state rulers as pretexts to reinforce their power. This leads us to the second aspect related to the function of terrorism.
- To strengthen state power (old rulers)
Terrorism, similarly to war, works wonders in terms of providing justifications for the widening and strengthening of the power of the state.
If we examine many episodes in the bloody history of terrorism, in too many cases we discover, hidden behind a curtain of lies and covers-up, the hand of the state in the form of the secret police.
This has been true, for instance, with regard to the anarchists. Their actions, when violent, have been addressed against specific individuals belonging to the top ruling élite (kings, prime ministers), sometimes as a reaction for having ordered or supported particularly harsh repressions (e.g. as when the King of Italy Umberto I was killed for having congratulated the general Bava Beccaris who had ordered his men to fire on demonstrators in Milan, 1898).
So, when bombs have been put in public places, killing indiscriminately, the idea that true anarchists were behind the deed is something that does not fit within the general conception of anarchism (even if the individuals responsible professed to be anarchists). Nevertheless it was made believable through a massive manipulation of facts by the state (aided and abetted by the national journals) and the desire of the people to find quickly a guilty person (real or invented).
The practice of police infiltration amongst anarchists was so
common, that Joseph Conrad could not help writing a short story
(The Secret Agent) and Ignazio Silone expressed on the theme
some vitriolic considerations (The School of Dictators).
Throughout history anarchists, communists, fascists, jews, gypsies, palestinians and many others have been used as scapegoats by the state power to strengthen state power.
Under Stalin, the Moscow trials following the assassination of Kirov were mounted and justified for combating what were described as external and internal plots against communism. They were all pure invention to reinforce the élite in power and Stalin above all.
So, all the cases and acts of terrifying intolerance and terrifying violence, by whoever committed, have generally succeeded in giving a new breath of life to state power and to the implementation of the state agenda.
The state agenda (^)
There are many episodes in history that can testify to the instrumental
use of intolerance and violence as the basis of state power and as the
recurrent means to reinforce state power.
Intolerance and violence have been repeatedly used by the state rulers to implement the state agenda consisting essentially in perpetuating itself. This has resulted in never ending fights against:
- Autonomous minorities
Since the time when the makers of the French Revolution proclaimed "La République une et indivisible," the state central power has fought so called "minorities" on every possible front: political, economic, cultural.
Historical examples have been the confinement in specific areas and the silent decimation of the Native Americans in the USA, the extermination of the Armenians in Turkey, the repression of the Ukrainians and of the people in other autonomous republics in the Soviet Union, and so on and so forth. It is highly unlikely that a strong central state has not been responsible for some type of repression against one or several minorities. In recent times we have witnessed the ethnic cleansing in ex-Yugoslavia, the repression in Chechnya with the indiscriminate killing of men as potential rebels, the use of gas against the Kurds in Iraq.
- Alien groups
To protect the security of the state, alien or opposition groups, or just groups that are perceived as alien or could represent a potential opposition or a nuisance, have been infiltrated or cordoned off.
As already stated, anarchists (or, in some cases, pretended anarchists) have been the most infiltrated group in the past because from them came the most vociferous proclamations against the state.
However, for the state, everybody could become an enemy if he belongs to an alien group. In the USA after Pearl Harbour every person of Japanese origin was taken and put in a camp even if he had not committed any crime, only for being anthropologically linked to the current enemy. After the destruction of the World Trade Centre, every Arab is seen with suspicion (to say the least) by the USA state and there are Arabs detained without any formal accusation who are likely to stay in prison for as long as it suits the American Government. Once again similarities emerge between state and mafia codes of behaviour; in both cases all the relatives and associates of the enemy are considered enemy, even if they are totally extraneous to the conflict.
- Heretical individuals
Individuals opposing the policy of the state have been put into prison (e.g. Mandela), killed while abroad or in exile (e.g. Trotsky), captured by the secret service and brought back to face capital punishment or life imprisonment (e.g. Ocalan), forbidden entrance or exit from the state (e.g. Linus Pauling, Charlie Chaplin).
Moreover, individuals in all opposition groups have been put under mild or close surveillance, profiles have been made of them, their conversations have been tapped, their life scrutinized (from Martin Luther King in the USA to Colouche in France).
Within this situation of intolerance and violence, the states who have the monopoly of what and whom to consider intolerant and violent, are from time to time confronted by other entities (emerging groups, aggressive individuals) that intend to obtain for themselves the same prerogatives, in other words, to enjoy a similar monopolistic power. This is, put simply, the terrorism - anti-terrorism dynamic, with the terrorist label applied by those in power to those who seek to displace them forcibly. If the latter succeed, they are likely to apply the same vocabulary to those who in future will, in their turn, oppose them to replace them, in a never ending cycle of intolerance and violence.
The state methods (^)
To implement this agenda of manipulation and repression against groups and individuals, the state has regularly made recourse to all sorts of acts of intolerance (smear campaigns) and violence (use of the secret service for terrorist activities).
- Manipulation. The methods used are the classic ones of propaganda based on:
- polarization. The variety of positions and the subtleties of differentiations are erased in order for a polarity to be the only available option: us and them (currently USA vs. them).
- self-extolment. Some national media start repeating daily that every good aspect is associated with a certain side (us) which is portrayed as the standard bearer and the bulwark of civilization and from which every good derives.
- demonization. As a corollary to self-extolment and in order to stress further the message, the other side (them) is charged with every possible abomination and qualified with terrible epithets or expressions (for instance the "Great Satan" addressed to the USA or the "Axis of Evil" with reference to Iraq, amongst others).
- derision. The state and its appendages, having accomplished their propaganda mission, verify if the message has been internalized by as many people as possible. This is the point when the "with us or against us" imperative is put to work. If it emerges that some heretic (hairetikos = able to choose) has realized that the two positions are so similar with respect to intolerance and violence that they do not represent a real alternative and refuses to play the game, he/she must be derided as a weak, confused, hopeless, unreliable individual.
To give an example of how much the propaganda machine is so emotionally charged and so void of any hint of rationality consider some phrases like "Allah is with us" or "God bless America." They could be taken as two ways of expressing the same concept but one is felt as menacing and the other as welcoming. Which is menacing and which is welcoming depends on the brand of state ideology the person has been brought up with (i.e. manipulated). This is exactly the case when the same convictions are defined as positive beliefs or crazy ideas according to who holds them.
- Repression. The repression is conducted through a three level process:
- detection. We are not referring here to the simple investigation of criminal activities but to what is called spying on people to make sure that no one steps too much out of the line of permitted thinking and acting. It results in tapping conversation, accessing electronic messages, requesting databases of members of associations, clubs, libraries, etc., all in the name of security. The problem is that the security of the state (or of whatever other domineering organization like the party or the sect) very often collides with the security of the individuals.
- detention. When there are even small suspicions that some people could be a threat to national security (i.e. the security of the state) they are detained for as long as the state considers it appropriate. The anti-terrorism fever can be so high that people may be arrested, kept in prison for days or weeks and then released because nothing has emerged to substantiate the accusations. These are the lucky ones; others are kept in prison for ages, in total violation not only of every moral norm but also of every legal code.
- destruction. The final stage of repression is the physical destruction of human beings and of the natural/built environment. Napalm bombs, cluster bombs, missiles, machine gun killing at check-points, torturing and then throwing the bodies into the sea, raping women, cutting the throats of villagers, razing houses and bombing hospitals: these have all been episodes of terrifying intolerance and violence qualified either as terrorism or anti-terrorism according to who has more power and arrogates to himself the right to assign the label. In actual fact the acts of destruction, by whoever committed, are so similar as to be indistinguishable other than for the magnitude of the devastation.
To give just two examples of the non-existence of a real divide between terrorism and anti-terrorism, it is very likely (see Le Monde 26/7/2002) that the Russian state FSB (ex KGB) was involved in the planting of bombs in Moscow and in the subsequent ascription of responsibility to Chechnian separatists. Again, it is almost certain that the French Secret Service was behind the sinking of the Greenpeace vessel "The Rainbow Warrior" that represented an obstacle to the French state tests of the atomic bomb (1995).
It is then very important to be conscious of both the state agenda and the state methods because it is possible that some ways of thinking and behaving are absorbed by those who presume and present themselves in opposition to those very attitudes and postures. In fact, it is in human nature that those who have been victims, given the opportunity, are likely to replicate the same intolerant and violent behaviour and to become torturers.
From terrorized to terrorizers (^)
It is a recurrent pattern in history that groups of people who had been
exploited, enslaved or even partly exterminated, become, often, in their
turn exploiters, enslavers or agents of terrible acts of repression once
they succeed in getting out of their terrible plight.
The French Revolution, as usual, provides a good starting point for evidence supporting the case. A revolutionary movement purporting to act for the development of freedom, equality and brotherhood became, within a short period of time, a highly centralized and highly aggressive state, whose army roamed throughout Europe, subjecting and sometimes annexing one country after the other, all in the name of liberty.
The same dynamic took place in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. The new centralized state became a criminal butcher (millions of common people exterminated) and, in the course of time, an imperialistic super-power, spreading its tentacles out to neighbouring countries, all in the name of social equality.
More recently North Vietnam underwent the same transformation, from attacked victim to imperialistic regional power, while people were fleeing on boats looking for the freedom they could not find in the new authoritarian state.
However, the most shocking case is represented by the Jews. A
cosmopolitan group, made of bright and hard working individuals
who contributed to a very high degree to the advancement of
world knowledge, the Jews have been the individuals whose sufferings have
been probably the longest and deepest ever endured by any community of
human beings in history.
Their stateless situation made them the convenient target of state power in a world divided amongst territorial nation states; no wonder that after such a terrible experience, their first aspiration and objective was the establishment of their own state.
The result has been that the new state, as following an inexorable law of monopolistic power, has behaved and is behaving atrociously against another stateless people, practically confining them in ghettos, their movement rigidly controlled and restricted by the state police and army.
To understand the distance and difference existing between the cosmopolitan Jews and the state of Israel it suffices to remark that Israeli troops wrote identification numbers on the forearms of Palestinian detainees awaiting interrogation in the West Bank. Some survivors of the Holocaust were horrified by it, realizing that the former persecuted had begot new persecutors who were starting to use the same heinous practices as their former torturers. This can be seen as a consequence of establishing a state with all its (congenital) ideological and material armoury of intolerance and violence.
In many cases, these transformations have gone unnoticed or have been swiftly discounted. As a matter of fact it is very hard for people who devoted their energies and passion to the fight for freedom and equality, to accept that the result of their fight is a new state of oppression for somebody else. And so they close their eyes in front of reality. When this voluntary blindness is denounced and the violence exposed, the specious argument is put forward that it is necessary or preferable to keep silent and stop criticizing otherwise ammunition is given to the enemies of freedom and equality.
For this reason a communist had to gloss over the crimes of Stalin in order to avoid the sin of anti-communism; a supporter of the Jews cause should accept whatever is done by the Israeli government in order to avoid anti-semitism; and everyone should bow unconditionally to the old saying "my country right or wrong" in order to avoid being unpatriotic.
Clearly all this is unacceptable, good only for infantile people who do not see the distance between ideal and reality (as if Stalin had been the expression of some sentiment of equality and anti-exploitation contained in the idea of communism) or between the past and the present (as if the state of Israel were the expression of the cosmopolitanism and moral standing of the original Jews).
As for the state, almost everywhere it is using the same old trick: in order not to compromise the war against terrorism, individuals should accept all the limitations imposed by the state on their personal freedom and personal rights and they should not criticize the states who are fighting terrorism to protect the free world.
If we could spend just a moment examining the evidence of how
much support the new terrorists (Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden)
have received from those who present themselves as the anti-terrorism
fighters (mainly the Western states) we should dismiss all this talk not
just as propaganda but as a colossal hoax, set up only to find a justification
for the continuous existence of the state.
And this is the essence of the problem and the core of the argument here put forward.
The war to promote war (^)
At the beginning of the 20th century Randolph Bourne stated that "war is the health of the state" because it promotes the centralization of power, demands prompt obedience and requires the surrender of freedom and of critical independent thinking. All these are essential conditions for the strengthening of state power.
However, in the course of the 20th century something new has happened: the discovery of the atomic bomb and of its enormous destructive power. From that moment onwards another world war, with the use of this new weapon, was hard to contemplate. For this reason, military confrontation, so ingrained in the genetic nature of the state, was limited to global cold war and local conflicts (e.g. Korea, Vietnam).
With the disappearance of the Soviet Union
and the end of the cold war, armed conflicts took place only
in relatively small countries as a result of the nationalistic and racist
attitudes of local bullies and warlords. The big states have intervened in
these local wars through international organization such as the United Nations
If this situation had been left to continue, the irrelevance of the nation states would have deepened even further. Whatever the state rulers might say in favour of international organizations, this is not an acceptable scenario for the nation states (especially the larger ones). Their rulers have certainly realized that they have to reinvent and reaffirm their role and function if they want to survive in the new century.
Nothing could better suit the nation states after the discovery
of the atomic bomb and the end of the cold war than the role
of super cops against terrorism.
The fight against terrorism provides the various requisites that were once granted by the war: it promotes the centralization of power, it demands prompt obedience and it requires the surrender of freedom and of critical independent thinking.
Moreover, it provides a boost to state occupation. The new USA
Department of Homeland Security is forecasted to give employment
to 75,000 people. These individuals and their families will certainly
be in the forefront of any struggle for safeguarding or even extending the
power of the state.
There is even a further point in favour of the choice of terrorism as the new form of war. This war, like the previous ones in the past, is bound to promote further wars. But, while a full-scale conflict cannot last forever and is likely to introduce a certain fatigue and, finally, a revulsion of fighting and a longing for peace, the war on terrorism could be a truly never ending war. In fact, it is potentially always present everywhere but at the same time, in reality, circumscribed to a specific although shifting territory.
In order to combat terrorism the state is likely to make recourse, more than ever, to the same methods of intolerance and violence that are meant to be eradicated, in other words, to use terror to fight terrorism. This will have the likely result of promoting even more intolerance and violence in a continuous self-feeding spiral.
For this reason the war against terrorism is actually a war to
promote war or, in other words, a war to promote the permanence
of the state, its role and function, in the years and decades to come.
If this happens the state will have achieved its goal, that is to use terrorism as the new longevity cure against its progressive senescence and decadence.
And yet, something new is happening.
In the past the power and authority of the state were so strong and so
strongly internalized by the people that even blatant acts of aggression
and repression were not seen as manifestations of intolerance and violence.
Realpolitik prevailed and might was justified as right when originating from
In recent times, with the re-emergence of globalism, new feelings and outlooks have appeared. The state, its authority and power declining, has seen its acts been put not only under scrutiny but also under attack. Political butchers have been brought to trial (Slobodan Milosevic), some other have narrowly escaped trial (Augusto Pinochet), others were in hiding (Radovan Karadic and Vlan Mladic) and some heads of state are worried that the International Court could indict them for crimes against humanity and so are totally opposed to the very idea of such a Tribunal (e.g. the USA government).
Injustice, or what is perceived as injustice, cannot any longer
be committed by the state rulers without too many persons in
the entire world being witnesses and without arousing sentiments of
disgust and revulsion amongst many of the spectators.
This disgust and revulsion need to be made active and put to good use and the best aim is to operate, in many ways and in many places, for the peace that promotes peace.
The peace to promote peace (^)
To establish and reinforce state power a considerable amount of intolerance
(fundamentalism) and violence (terrorism) is a necessary pre-condition.
Some could object to the use of terms like fundamentalism and terrorism as qualifying the policy of the state. In actual fact, what is defined as fundamentalism is, under state terminology, the fostering of a national culture for promoting a national identity. Needless to say, this has been accompanied, in too many instances, by the repression of an "alien" culture and the prohibition of a foreign/local tongue. In this sense we think it is appropriate to talk of fundamentalism with reference to the state national culture.
As for terrorism, the state justifies its own violent actions in the name of the preservation of order and the granting of security to all citizens against criminals and troublemakers intent on disrupting state law and order and weakening state authority. However, the use of immoral practices and abominable methods, in some cases even acknowledged and theorized in training manuals of the army and the police, makes the state behaviour indistinguishable from what is defined as terrorism.
In a relatively recent reference textbook the belief has been
openly expressed that "State terror has been vastly more lethal than factional terror and has often been an antecedent to, and a contributory cause of, factional terrorism" (1988, The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought).
If this is the case, i.e. if the state is a war agent that promotes wars, it follows logically that the continuous reduction of state intolerance and state violence (until the final withering away of the state) is the indispensable pre-condition for furthering the peace that promotes peace.
Historical reality teaches us that where there is no national
state and no national mono-culture but many tongues and traditions
coexist and compete (as in the case of Switzerland) or when the
state has minimal power of interference in the lives of the people and
laughable power of repression (as in the case of Monte Carlo), fundamentalism
and terrorism are not an issue because they are practically non-existent.
This seems to give additional substance to the hypothesis that both the phenomenon of fundamentalism and terrorism are inextricably linked to the existence of the state or to the fight for the establishment of a state.
Fundamentalism and terrorism are, for any actual or potential
state power, like two miraculous crutches that can resuscitate
a state élite in disarray, pump up the popularity of a leader in decline, propel on the scene a new political élite bound to rule for years to come. In any case, the final result is the same: an increase in state power.
To get out of this vicious logic based on the triad state-fundamentalism-terrorism, each aspect feeding and reinforcing the other, we have to make clear that the only way towards peace is to promote peace.
Peace is not only the absence of war and violence. It is a more complex dynamic based on autonomy (self-reliance), equity (fair justice) and care (active love).
The measures to be taken for a peace dynamics that promotes peace all refer to the displacement of state actions and policies, in a process leading, eventually, to the removal of the state itself. To attempt a short list, what needs to be done immediately is:
- to focus everybody's attention on the sale of arms promoted, managed and authorized by some states to other states. The secrecy surrounding this dirty trafficking should be lifted and the states should be exposed for what they are: war machines, manufacturing and employing weapons of mass destruction. The final objective should be to put an end to the arms trade altogether.
- to publicize widely whenever a so-called civilized state or super-state offers its backing to repressive regimes (for instance, with stationed military personnel ready to intervene to prop up the ruling élite). The final objective should be to grant unquestionably to any human being and community the freedom to secede or leave or suspend support for any state.
- to overcome the opposition to the institution and operation of a World Tribunal for crimes against humanity to which individuals and organizations should be bound. The final objective should be to monitor, assess and pronounce judgment on any violation of human rights by whoever committed (presidents and prime ministers included).
It is clear that these measures are not at all to the liking of the states, especially of those powerful states that pretend to be in the forefront in the fight against terrorism. In fact, as already pointed out, their fight is a means to promote further fundamentalism and terrorism and so, to promote themselves as the only legitimate point of reference for the provision of security. A total, cynical and cruel deception.
Security is not something we can pursue in exchange for freedom, because, as remarked by Benjamin Franklin:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Peace is not something we can expect as a gracious gift from the murderous hands of warmongering states. It is a personal and communitarian effort to live a decent human life without exploiting and without being exploited. This is the only way to go beyond fundamentalism and terrorism. It is not a naive proposal for the solution of a difficult problem; it is the only sensible solution.
During the 1960's a terrible fight erupted in a village in Southern Italy between two families. It was named "the faida of Seminara." A member of a family was murdered and, in revenge, a member of the other family responsible of the murder was killed. In its turn, the new killing caused another revenge murder and so on. Too many members of both families died senselessly in order to preserve the family honour (or so it was said). Until a person rebelled against this insanity and said: enough is enough. The person was vilified, branded a coward, ostracized by his own family, but the killing stopped.
We must have the same courage and lucidity to oppose fundamentalism
and terrorism, in other words to oppose statism and its manipulative discourses
and appalling practices.
We will be vilified, called names, proclaimed cowardly, naive, insane. It does not matter.
There is an entire world of peace to be earned.
 Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
 Randolph Bourne, War is the Health of the State
 Ignazio Silone, La Scuola dei Dittatori, Mondadori, Milano, 1979
 Tristram Coffin, The Armed Society. Militarism in modern America, Penguin Books, Baltimore, Maryland
 VV.AA., Terrorismes, Esprit, Paris, Oct-Nov. 1984
 VV.AA., The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, Fontana Press, London
 Alexander George, Western State Terrorism, Polity Press, Cambridge
 Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-War, Warner Books, New York, 1955
 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, London, 1998
 Ivan Eland, Does U.S Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism? The Historical Record, Cato Foreign Policy Briefing No. 50
 Walter Laqueur, The New Terrorism, Phoenix Press. London, 2001
 Don Hazen, 10 Reasons to Stop Bombing Afghanistan
 William L. Anderson, Osama and Goldstein
 Aaron G. Lehmer, Inviting Future Terrorism
 Charles Townshend, Terrorism, Oxford University Press, Oxford
 Sophie Shihab, L'accusé des attentats de Moscou de 1999 dénonce le FSB, Le Monde, 26/7/2002
 Anne Nivat, An ugly war on the edge of Europe, Herald Tribune, 22/8/2002
 John Pilger, The new rulers of the world, Verso, London
 Robert A. Pape, The strategic logic of suicide terrorism, American Political Science Review
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/journalism/stille/Politics Fall 2007/readings weeks 6-7/Strategic Logic of Suicide Missions.pdf