'Terrorism' disconnect

Posted: Dec 05, 2005 12:05 AM

Two international conferences last month wrangled over definitions of terrorism.
The conference in Europe, the Barcelona Euro-Mediterranean Summit, promised to fight terrorism, but couldn't agree on what "terrorism" was. This somehow added up to "an unprecedented feat," according to summit organizer and Spanish prime minister Jose Zapatero, who fatuously ballyhooed the "unmitigated, energetic," but literally meaningless condemnation of terrorism offered by European and Middle Eastern nations. Hooey is right.

The other conference was in the Middle East. The Iraqi reconciliation talks, sponsored by the Arab League in Cairo, agreed on a definition of terrorism, all right, but it was one that seemed to legitimize the blowing up of American soldiers, even as they fight terrorism.

For starters, this Iraqi communique -- hammered out by some 200 Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders -- called "resistance" a "legitimate right." You know, "resistance": the killers who blast soldiers on patrol, or kids getting candy, or worshippers inside rival mosques to bits. This line was already a poisonous sop to Sunni proponents of "resistance" (read: death squads).

The communique went on to note that "terrorism does not represent resistance," which sounded a little more promising. Then it said: "Therefore, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping targeting Iraqi citizens and humanitarian, civil, government institutions, national resources and houses of worship." Notice who and what is missing from the Iraqi convention's protection list: our own fantastic soldiers of the U.S. military.

What did Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have to say about this unacceptable omission? "I think what they were trying to do was to get a sense of political inclusion while recognizing that violence and terrorism should not be part of resistance," she told CNN.

Trying to get a sense of "political inclusion" -- by signaling open "resistance" season on U.S. soldiers? This is happy, Oprah spin, the doctrine of Feelpolitik -- not superpower strategy. She continued: "After all, do Iraqis really want to -- any Iraqi, sitting around that table, want to suggest that killing an innocent Iraqi child standing at a bus stop is legitimate? Or that killing Iraqi soldiers who are lining up at recruitment centers is legitimate? Or even that multinational forces" (that's us) -- "who are, by the way, there under a U.N. mandate" (I feel better?) -- "are somehow legitimate targets?"

Well, no and yes, Madame Secretary. It's no good to appeal reflexively to a Western framework of fair play without considering what the Iraqi document actually says. Yes, the document specifically protects the Iraqi child standing at the bus stop, and maybe even the Iraqi recruits. It's the Americans risking their lives 24-7 to protect that child and those recruits who seem to have become "legitimate" targets, according to this declaration by leaders across the Iraqi political spectrum. Shouldn't that set off, not soothing psychobabble, but angry sirens in Washington?

Funny how some stories never build a head of steam. Running smack into Thanksgiving weekend didn't help, but no holiday hiatus should have put this one on ice. It feels as if it hasn't played out at home, although I wonder if it registered overseas. Days later, at the Barcelona conference, the attempt to reach a Euro-Arab consensus on terrorism practically blew up the conference -- metaphorically speaking, of course. That's because European Union (EU) leaders refused to sign onto an Arab-Muslim definition of terrorism similar to the one in the Iraqi communique, one that would have legitimized the Arab-Muslim notion of "resistance" to "occupation" -- as in "resistance" (suicide bombing) to "occupation" (Israeli buses and supermarkets, not to mention coalition troops in Iraq). Perhaps having lately suffered enough "resistance" in their own backyards, the EU countries -- miracle of miracles -- felt spinally enhanced enough to stick to their stated conviction that terrorism is never justified.

Conversely, this was a moral statement the Arab-Muslim countries refused to endorse.

But it was the Europeans who were characteristically apologetic about the failure to reach a Euro-Arab consensus. "It's been difficult to find that perfect word to explain that concept which is shared by everybody," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in one news account, sounding a little absurd. "We all know what we mean by terrorism," he said in another, sounding a little desperate. "In reality, there is total cooperation between the countries north and south of the Mediterranean against terrorism."

Come on. One place there is not total cooperation is in reality. More than a language barrier separates the Western and Islamic definitions of terrorism, and no amount of happy talk about "inclusion" or conferences about "cooperation" changes that.