Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jihadism and Terrorism: A Distinction with a Difference?

That Google News Item that first hit me between the eyes this morning has stood the test of two cups of coffee. So, I guess I'm good to go on it.

The five young Americans detained in Pakistan in early December said Monday that they had intended to go to Afghanistan to wage jihad against Western forces. But while defending their effort as justified under Islam, the young suspects also denied any links to Al Qaeda or plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as the Pakistani authorities have contended.

Ramy Zamzam 22, an Egyptian American who was a dental student at Howard University, addressed a court for the first time since his arrest in the city of Sargodha,

We are not terrorists. We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism.
Think about that distinction, at least for a nano-second.

The men, ages 19 to 25, denied having ties with Al Qaeda or other militant groups during the court appearance. Their lawyer, Ameer Abdullah Rokri, said,

They told the court that they did not have any plan to carry out any terrorist act inside or outside Pakistan. They said that they only intended to travel to Afghanistan to help their Muslim brothers who are in trouble, who are bleeding and who are being victimized by Western forces.
Now, I can see that is a distinction with a difference. Terrorism, properly defined, consists in violence against civilians to attain a political purpose. Action against military forces constitutes warfare.

I'm sure there are laws on U.S. statutes proscribing American citizens from taking up arms against American troops. I don't know what they are, but I believe they should be enforced, should any of these five be extradited back to the States. And, of course, this case has spurred fears that Westerners are traveling to Pakistan to join militant groups.

But I don't think they should be charged with terrorism. If they were interested in terrorism, they would have directed their violence here, in the American homeland, against civilians. If it can be shown that their activity was merely to join the Taliban, as opposed to al Qaeda, then they should be charged with breaking any American criminal code which may outlaw enlisting in forces engaged in combat against the armed forces of the United States.

But Americans going abroad to fight in foreign wars does not or should not, in and of itself, constitute terrorism under American law. Americans fighting in foreign armed forces is not unheard of. The most obvious case was during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) when Americans joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

But the Pakistanis may feel completely different. Pakistan's judiciary may want to prosecute the five Americans aggressively to make a point, especially having come under criticism by the United States and India for failing to forcefully pursue the alleged Pakistani masterminds behind the November 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people. Additionally, Pakistani authorities say the five men had a map of a reservoir structure near nuclear power facilities in Punjab province, about 125 miles southwest of Islamabad.

That is a different story. Pakistani prosecutors plan to seek life sentences under the country’s anti-terrorism law.


  1. These scumbags planned on waging "holy jihad" against the west. Given that we are at war with the Taliban, al Qaeda, and terrorist organizations in general these idiots are traitors. They should be shot without delay.

  2. Those guys have been caught red-handed committing blatant treason. While Bush/Cheney management of the War on Terror bordered on treason for incompetence and other criminal activities helping corporate buddies I agree with Mike, these guys need to be taken out and shot.

    Not only have the tried to screw all Americans they have put fellow Americans of the Muslim faith under suspicion which the Beck crowd will exploit to the fullest.

  3. Terrorists or not seems a moot point. If they aided "the other side" in its plans and efforts to attack U.S. troops, then they were traitors.

    So, I guess I'm saying, in answer to the headline, that it's a distinction I don't care about.

    Religion really does, as Hitchens says, poison everything.

  4. ... or at least it's a distinction I don't care about in this case.

  5. I completely agree with double b. Guys like Beck and Hannity are going to take this anecdote and run like the frigging wind with it, try to widen the God-damned schism, etc..

  6. If you support our invasion of Afghanistan then they are traitors.

    If you support a peoples right to defend themselves against foreign invaders then it becomes more complicated.

    What about southern Blacks who fought for the union against their southern brethren ? By the logic of some they were traitors. They should have stood with the South against the northern invaders.

    Those blacks might contend they were fighting against their own brethren because their white brethren had treated them as chattel.Had the south won they would be traitors.

    Because of 19 fanatics Muslims here are widely reviled and are probably sick of the US military invading Muslim nations. They would be perceived as heroes by much of the world for fighting back against the US.

  7. These fools will spend the rest of their lives in Pakistani jail.

    They gave not a thought that here in the USA, they could have fought back by supporting and working for candidates that would get our forces out of unnecessary foriegn ventures. They could have set an example of how to work with the system that's worked for 200 years.
    But they're going to rot in a sewer the rest of their lives because of hatred and stupidity. Damn waste of lives.

    I don't feel sorry for their fate. Just hate to see wasted lives.

  8. Thanks for your thoughtful responses, especially Oso & Truth.

    I have no sympathy for these guys. Whether their goal was to strike against American forces or the Pakistan infrastructure, it would have been against American national interests. I think Pakistani justice could be fairly strong if it reflects indigenous anti-Americanism.

    My main purpose in this column was to raise a point of clarification which is needed, IMO, if we are to benefit from necessary critical thinking about these issues which confront us such as the AfPak theater of war and airline safety.

  9. [quote]
    Terrorism, properly defined, consists in violence against civilians to attain a political purpose. Action against military forces constitutes warfare.

    By this definition Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did not engage in terrorism at Ft. Hood, but warfare?

  10. It was definitely a military event since only one of all of Ft Hood's killed and wounded was civilian. Hasan engaged in a mutinous betrayal of the uniform he wore. I think of it as a fragging. It could just as easily happened in AfPak. But it happened stateside. In a sense, McChrystal's COIN war came home.

  11. Vigil,
    regarding Hassan, my thoughts exactly.Fragging.

  12. DB there are literally hundreds of definitions of terrorism. The one most accepted in the United States is the one coined by the FBI:

    Domestic terrorism refers to activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. [18 U.S.C. § 2331(5)]

    * International terrorism involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any state. These acts appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping and occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum. [18 U.S.C. § 2331(1)]