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Q1: One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Do you agree?
The word “terrorist” tends to evoke in people, the visual image of a dirty looking, unshaven thug, usually of Arabic or Palestinian nationality, carrying a M-16 rifle in one hand, and a grenade in the other. But if we were to look beyond the stereotype of the terrorist, and try to understand and search for the causes behind his actions, we would find that they can sometimes be viewed as “freedom fighters.” I believe that, yes, one man’s terrorist can be another man’s freedom fighter.
Terrorist groups are formed usually by people who seek justice for what they feel has been injustice done to them. They want to kill, but that is the means, not the aim. The goal is to openly display and announce their rebellion and protests by spreading fear and shock on a massive scale, to instill a sense of helplessness. Groups such as the Irish Republican Army, Hamas, or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are examples of such terrorists. In the hearts of the people these terrorists are fighting for, the initial emotion is that of pride and gratitude: pride that their own people are standing up for their rights and are making their protest heard; gratitude that these terrorists are brave and selfless enough to make such a sacrifice to fight for their own people. For instance, the terrorist group Hamas was formed in February, 1988, just after the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. Initially, beyond spreading anti-Israeli propaganda, it focused its efforts on social, religious and welfare programs for Palestinians. This won Hamas tremendous support among the oppressed Palestines living in those areas, who felt that the terrorists were fighting for a righteous cause, and for the good of all Palestinians.
However, its ultimate goal was much more deadly. aimed to destroy Israel and create its own Muslim theocracy in what used to be British Palestine as a prelude to a pan-Arab Islamic state. To the rest of the world, such a goal is unreasonable and frightening, for hundreds of lives would have to be sacrificed for the purpose of achieving it. Suicide bombers alone from Hamas have claimed the lives of at least 377 victims. Yet, such warriors who are killed are seen by the by the Palestinians as heroes, people who are so courageous that they are willing, and almost eager, to die for their beliefs. Therefore, the support for these “freedom fighters” grows with each Hamas fighter executed or killed by the Israelis. Further frustration at the miserable state of the economy in the Gaza strip has also fuelled the support for Hamas, for the people believe that they can enjoy an improvement in living standards only if the fighters win the war against the common enemy, Israel. Thus, although the world sees Hamas as an extremely dangerous and serious threat, this same group of people enjoys the sup port of at least one-third of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in that area.
Some terrorists also aim to destroy the leadership in their country. The citizens may feel that the government is not worthy of their respect for various reasons, such as corruption within the government, or dictatorship by a ruthless ruler. These people have little or no means to voice their disapproval or show their displeasure at the government, for it is the ruling party which will have the final say, regardless of what the people want. Thus, some groups choose to resort to terrorism to eliminate the leadership in the country, and to highlight their sufferings under such a government to the whole world. The people who support these terrorists view them as fighters who are out to destroy the bad to replace them with the good, although what is actually “good” for the country may not be everyone’s piece of cake. These people are tired of suffering under bad leadership, and back the terrorists because theirs is a promise of change and improvement. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Jaffna, a north eastern province of Sri Lanka, have killed more than a dozen political and military leaders in the past three years. Ethnic riots in 1983 killed 2000 Tamils, and this pro found sense of Tamil grievance has helped the Tigers retain support. The Tamils feel discriminated against by the Sinhalese – dominated south, and feel that one of the solutions to ending such ethnic tension is to set up an autonomous state called Tamil Eelam for the Tamils.
We tend to view such acts of terror, ruthless murder and total disregard for human life as being revolting and sense less, but the number of pro-terrorist demonstrations in countries like Sri Lanka and in the West Bank and Gaza strip shows us that these terrorists actually enjoy support among their people.
However, terrorist groups run the risk of losing their support. This could happen when the actions they take are seen as being too extreme, or when years of war and privation take their toll. The struggle in Ulster is increasingly viewed with a sense of disgust. Not only would the British government welcome the chance to bring its troops home from North ern Ireland, the majority of the people in Northern Ire land itself, be they Roman Catholic or Protestant, would simply like to get on with their lives. These people have endured 25 years of terrorism and bombings, and some have never known a normal life. Sights of armed soldiers patrolling the area have become common, and even a way of life.
Public support for the Irish Republican Army in the United States, mainly due to sympathy for the Irish, has diminished as well, largely due to growing revulsion at their killings. United States government officials say that contributions to the IRA have dwindled to a mere $200 000 a year, compared to millions a few years ago. This goes to show that the image of terrorists being noble “freedom fighters” can slowly change as years go by, and little or no progress is achieved using strong-arm measures. The heavy cost of providing such groups with arms, and the massive toll on property and human life can cause people to think twice about supporting the terrorists. In Sri Lanka, many of Jaffna’s remaining 600, 000 residents are weary of the war, but are afraid to speak out, aware of the Tiger habit of carrying out “lamppostings”, street executions in which the bullet-riddled bodies of dissenters are left with signs labelling them traitors. In such cases, the “freedom fighters” no longer have great support from the people, who now view them as being ruthless terrorists.
A terrorist is not a terrorist in the eyes of the people he defends, at least, before his actions take a toll on public support. These people may be motivated by the desire for vengeance or strong religious beliefs to defend the actions of the terrorists as they believe they are fighting for a righteous cause. However, if we do not try to under stand the sentiments of such people, it is all too easy to dismiss terrorists as being frantic, deranged killers. Al though the world may disapprove of terrorists and the means which they use to achieve their aims, it remains a fact that such terrorists still exist today partly due to the support from the people, who feel that they are noble and brave, and who view them as martyrs, or “freedom fighters.”
(This GP model essay on Terrorism represents a perennial issue for Global & regional issue, International Affairs, Human Rights, etc. The 9-11 incident, Americans in Afghanistan, are examples you ought to stand by.)
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