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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 7th, 2007 - 00:31:19

On terror
By Gaither Stewart
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 7, 2007, 00:29

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Terrorism is defined as a method of political struggle based on the systematic use of violence -- assassination, sabotage, kidnapping, and now human suicidal bombers -- practiced by political extremists or by secret organizations of a nationalistic nature.

A second aspect of the definition is less recognized: terrorism -- according to my encyclopedia -- is also the instrument used by a political regime to grasp and to retain power.

A terrorist is thus a member of an organization that uses terrorism and who executes terrorist acts. Or, he is a member of a regime whose existence is based on terror.

Terrorist crimes are those committed in revolt against a state to damage the collective and not specific individuals, or are acts against an oppressive regime. However, terrorist crimes are the criminal acts of an oppressive regime against the oppressed.

Terrorism is thus a story of relationships between power/authority and its subjects, and between oppressors and oppressed. We are used to the words, power and authority. They are often used synonymously, as if they were equivalent. But that is not the case. They are different, and the distinction between the two concepts is significant.

Power [pouvoir, potere] implies the faculty to act and in our minds is related to force, coercion and violence, in the sense of �authoritarian.�

Authority instead implies legitimacy, in the sense of �legitimate authority,� or the legitimate faculty to act or perform. The distinction is between legitimate authority on one hand, and crude naked power on the other. However, authority like democracy itself is always a shaky business. It stands on the edge of an abyss, perpetually menaced by power, easily transformed into authoritarianism.

In a like manner, opposition to legitimate authority and opposition to naked power/authoritarianism differs: democratic opposition suffices in a democratic setting.

But when the democratic process is inhibited, more violent means are necessary. Some years ago in an article in the New York Review of Books, �Is There A Good Terrorist,� Timothy Garton Ash cites Schiller�s pertinent lines from Wilhelm Tell: �When the oppressed man can find justice in no other way, then he calmly reaches up into the sky and pulls down his eternal rights that hang there, inalienable and, like the stars, imperishable. When no other means remains, then he must needs take up the sword.�

Some years ago, at the end of a daylong interview with me in Paris where he was a political refugee, a former Italian terrorist leader defined himself as �living testimony to the limits of western democracy that is a precious possession that must be constantly enriched. Democracy,� he said, �is a mobile frontier. At times there is less of it, and one must fight for it.�

That which for the oppressed is resistance to naked power -- today many peoples of the world are oppressed by the tentacles of the global market economy, by poverty and hopelessness -- for the oppressor smacks of conspiracy and terrorism. Nationalistic Hungarians in 1956 considered themselves freedom fighters; for their Soviet oppressors they were terrorists in a conspiracy against the New Order.

If the �oppression� of today�s political-economic power is global, our leaders should not be too surprised that the resistance to that power is also global.

The argument that problems of ethnic, religious, economic and political opposition emerge from the very liberalization of political freedoms in many third and fourth world countries rings hollow in the face of the testimony to the poverty of four-fifths of that world. Of course, wider freedoms and spaces for rebellion unleash wider resistance and violence but evidently it is the effect of the pervasive poverty and hopelessness. For the hungry the risks of rebellion and terrorism are thousands of times better than sitting in apathy and waiting.

The origins of modern terrorism have been problematic since the French Revolution. Robespierre was the first to continually raise the ante of revolutionary goals precisely in order to increase the obstacles to their achievement and to create the necessary tensions in order to justify crushing the enemies of his power. Robespierre�s terror was naked power at work against peoples� natural tendency toward reaction. His trick of tension strategy has been used over and over by authoritarian power throughout history in order to crush opposition.

In most circumstances, terrorism is too weak to overcome the power of the powerful modern state/regime. Terrorists of Italy�s Red Brigades naively believed that the state had a heart that could be attacked. They lost. As a rule, terrorists lose. The terrorist organizations that emerged and mushroomed after the worldwide student protests of 1968 were largely defeated, though some few, most frequently those based on nationalistic aspirations, hang on and still raise their heads from time to time.

European secret services infiltrated and crushed the Red Brigades in Italy, the Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany, and Action Directe in France. But in the process and in application of tension strategy they exploited the same terrorist organizations, keeping them alive in name for a long period in order to blame them, in the name of freedom, for the limitations placed on personal liberties.

Tension strategy is a tactic of oppressors. It refers to permitting, stimulating or even committing terrorist acts in order to crush all opposition to the regime.

Brigate Rosse

Italy�s Red Brigades [Brigate Rosse-BR] formed Europe�s biggest, best organized and most powerful, armed terrorist organization. An elitist organization emerging from the 1968 student protest movement, its rank and file came from the universities and factories. It comprised the most idealistic part of the nation�s youth and at one time claimed the admiration and moral support of millions of Italians.

Its organizational structure is of interest. At its base was a brigade of up to five persons, who provided arms and logistics; the brigades formed poles, which in turn formed a city column. The columns made up fronts that directed national political operations, controlled by an eight-man strategic directorate. The supreme level was a four to five-man executive committee that conducted international relations and made major decisions like the abduction and murder of ex-Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

The Red Brigades aimed at splitting the Italian Communist Party vertically, recruiting its left wing, and then overturning the authoritarian state. It was one of many terrorist organizations of left and right politics. When police finally decided to crack down, 5,000 terrorists flowed into Italy�s jails, while 500 escaped abroad. The Red Brigades still exist in name and in recent years claimed responsibility for the assassination of two labor economists close to Italy�s right-wing government.

I offer this brief look at the Red Brigades in order to explain the practice tension strategy. Years later, one of the Red Brigade founders, Alberto Franceschini, told me that police could have crushed them quickly. However, their existence was convenient to the corrupt, nearly one-party system of anti-Communist, anti-Soviet Christian Democracy, and to its ally, the United States. Red terrorists were the excuse for the reactionary anti-Communism during the Cold War, and, in the name of defense of democracy, for a mass of anti-democratic emergency laws, high security prisons, and questionable justice. The Italian government, in close collaboration with the CIA, became a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and kept a firm hand on the Italian Communist Party, Europe�s biggest CP.

�Red� terrorism was a most useful weapon in the hands of authoritarian power to hold at bay the big Communist Party, by then to all purposes except name a social democratic force. In that period, one CIA chief in Rome could boast, �we run this country.�

The real Red Brigades died in the late 1970s. After their executive committee and/or strategic directorate were infiltrated by Italian and American secret services, the Red Brigades became a riddle. After reporting for many years on European terrorism and after many meetings with terrorist leaders, my conclusion is that it was for many years an empty name in the service of governments and secret services.

Today, G-8 leaders label anti-globals and peace movements �terrorists� and �enemies of democracy� and call for emergency measures against them. Anti-globals, on the other hand, consider themselves nonviolent freedom fighters for a better world. As a rule, police and/or police-guided, infiltrated or stimulated �terrorists� are the aggressors against the anti-global and peace movements.

No sane person can believe that terrorism, national or international, can be eradicated with military might. We now know that every bomb that falls in the poor world spawns another terrorist, many of whom are eager to strap explosives around their bodies and blow themselves to pieces on a crowded square, place, piazza, or Platz of the rich world against the naked power that impoverishes them. If one accepts with Schiller that the oppressed will reach to the heavens to grasp their rights and resist their oppressors, then the dire warnings from Washington of more and more terrorism and more and more war against it rings grim for the world.

Gaither Stewart grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. After studies at the University of California at Berkeley and other American universities, he settled first in Germany, then in Italy. Following a career in journalism as Italian correspondent for the Rotterdam daily newspaper Algemeen Dagblad and contributor to the press in several European countries, he began writing fiction full-time five years ago. Since then he has authored three novels and two short-story collections. He has resided in Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Russia and Mexico. Today he lives with his wife, Milena, in the hills of north Rome.

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