Who Are the ‘Terrorists’?
by Murray N. Rothbard
published in the Libertarian
Party News, March/April 1986.
has been made The Issue of the Year, for which Americans are expected
to tighten their belts, pay countless billions in taxes so the U.S.
government and its allies can arm to the teeth, and suffer an escalating
repression of their liberties.
the terrorists are supposed to be remains vague and shadowy.
Their only apparent common characteristic is that they are swarthy
and foreign; no Nordics need apply.
The top villains
seem to appear and disappear kaleidoscopically. A few years ago
it was Colonel Khadafy; remember the sinister, swarthy, and "bearded
Libyan hit men" supposedly sent to the U.S. to assassinate
President Reagan? For that alleged act a partial embargo was imposed
on Libyan trade. Yet, the "hit men" seemed to have vanished
into the night, never to be heard from again.
had his day in the sun, the Bulgarian equivalent of the KGB had
its time at the
top, supposedly having engineered Mehmet Ali Agca’s attempt to assassinate
Pope John Paul
connection," so highly touted by conservatives and neo-conservatives
in this country, seems to have blown itself away on the sea of lies,
contradictions, and lunacies in Agca’s testimony. The only sure
quantity in Agca and his proven colleagues is that they are right-wing
Turks, hardly fitting candidates for the current White House-U.S.
Establishment hit list.
After the fading
away of the Bulgarian evil empire, the Lebanese Shiites and their
alleged mastermind, the Ayatollah Khomeini, had a long run
as "Top Terrorist of the Month."
The U.S. Navy
had their turn at shelling and destroying Shiite villages in Lebanon,
but the Shiites proved a hardy bunch, and the idea of bombing the
alleged Shiite training camp headquarters in the Bekaa Valley foundered
in the realization that Syria was there, with anti-aircraft rockets,
and with Russia and World War III looming in the background.
presto chango, and the dread Shiites seem to have disappeared as
the top terrorists, to be replaced by… none other than Colonel Khadafy,
back from his long rest.
The chain of
evidence linking the Colonel to the recent airport bombings is even
flimsier than the hysteria over the Khomeini and Bulgaria, and ranks
up there with the disappearing Libyan hit men.
bombings "look like the work" of Abu Nidal, head of the
militant Palestinian Fatah Revolutionary Council. That takes care
of that, even though no one is really sure that Nidal is still alive.
the Nidal responsibility to its satisfaction, the U.S. government
then tries to link Khadafy to Nidal. The claims of the White House
and the CIA that they have secret evidence should be met with the
same contempt as the alleged "secret knowledge" the CIA
was supposed to have had on Vietnam. No person or group should be
convicted on secret knowledge.
Even the U.S.
admits that its evidence against Khadafy "wouldn’t stand up
in court." But a basic tenet of both libertarian and Anglo-Saxon
law is that everyone must be considered innocent until proven guilty;
otherwise, retaliation or punishment would itself be open criminal
aggression, in fact would be "terrorism." Why doesn’t
such a standard apply also to Arabs, even if foreign, swarthy, and
sometimes even bearded?
In truth, Khadafy
is not even charged directly with masterminding or even financing
Nidal or other terrorists. He is charged with allowing Nidal to
have bases on Libyan territory, with "harboring" terrorists.
An interesting charge. (Although even here, there is some evidence
that the airport terrorists came from bases in Lebanon, not Libya.
But who cares, right, so long as we kill some Arabs, any Arabs?)
What does it mean?
In New York
and other cities of the United States, hundreds of innocent men,
women, and children are terrorized every day, in crimes called mugging.
Should the United States government carpet-bomb New York City, destroying
it for "harboring" terrorists, and for allowing them to
use the city as a "base"? But, you might say, that would
mean murdering masses of innocents? Sure, so why then is it OK for
the United States government to shell Shiite villages, murdering
the innocent, or for Israel to bomb Tunisia, killing 61 innocents,
or for the United States to bomb Libya?
The U.S. and
Israel say that they deplore having to kill innocents, but
since they feel that they must "retaliate," and they can’t
pinpoint the actual terrorists in fact, they don’t know where the
terrorists are or even who they are therefore, they must
do something, and killing the innocent becomes a regrettable
But how does
such an argument differ from the U.S. government carpet-bombing
New York City ("We must retaliate, and it is regrettable
that we have to kill thousands, but we can’t pinpoint the SOB’s").
Or, for that matter, how does it differ from policemen trying to
catch a criminal fleeing into a crowd, and simply machine-gunning
the entire crowd?
To bring the
case closer to home, there is some evidence that the Air India plane
that blew up out of Canada was sabotaged by Sikh terrorists, and
that those Sikhs were trained in a CIA training camp in Alabama.
Would the Canadian, or Indian, government be justified in a bombing
strike against the CIA base in Alabama, even at the regrettable
cost of killing a few thousand Alabamans? If not, why not? Isn’t
Alabama a "harborer" of Sikh terrorists?
every group in this struggle has grounds to believe that they
are "retaliating": the Arabs believe that they are
retaliating against Israeli aggressors and their backers in the
The rule should
be absolute: no "retaliation" is ever justified that injures
or kills innocent people, and that means people who are not themselves
active criminals. Anything else is an apologia for unremitting and
unending mass murder; anything else is chaos and old night, and
a justification for "anarchy" in the bad sense.
scorns Communists for holding a double moral standard, for holding
that no acts are immoral so long as they advance their cause. But
what about the egregious and flagrant double standard upheld every
day by the American establishment: from the White House down to
the major political parties and the media? If they did not hold
such a double standard, they would be condemning the following flagrant
acts of terrorism:
- The CIA
mining that damaged several neutral and peaceful vessels in Managua
- Acts of
brutality by the Nicaraguan contras.
- The U.S.
government’s aggression in an invasion of Grenada.
- The U.S.
government’s flagrant war threats against Libya.
act of terrorism against U.S. citizens in Libya, by threatening
them with jail sentences if they do not leave.
This last act
has an interesting twist: these Americans, who have been peacefully
let alone by the dread Libyan government, are supposedly being forced
to leave Libya by the U.S. for "their own protection."
to wriggle out of this blatant double standard has been a major
project of the favorite theoretician of the conservatives and neo-cons,
Mrs. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, she who first made her mark with a sophistic
distinction between "authoritarian" torture (good) and
"totalitarian" torture (bad). Any sensible treatment of
terrorism would define it as "aggression against innocent people."
Kirkpatrick and her colleagues tried to redefine "terrorism"
as such aggression by private groups, thereby letting the
U.S. and Israeli governments off the hook.
But then, with
escalating hysteria against Khomeini, Khadafy, Bulgaria, etc., the
conservatives were forced to include "state-sponsored"
or "state" terrorism in their lexicon.
latest attempt to justify a double standard is that terrorists are
evil because their "demands are unlimited" and random,
whereas good guys make demands that are attainable and specific.
While the "unlimited"
criterion might apply to the alleged airport bombings by Abu Nidal,
they most emphatically do not apply to most previous terrorist
acts, such as the Achille Lauro hijacking, since they have generally
been linked to very specific demands for the release of Arab comrades
from Israeli jails. Another sophistic attempt to whitewash U.S.
and Israeli terrorist actions thus comes a cropper.
is a related double standard at work. So far, every bombing or assassination
abroad is attributed to "terrorists"; while every
similar occurrence within the United States from the average
mugging to the assassination of John F. Kennedy is quickly assigned
to the category of "lone nut," or, at the least, non-political.
Why a political
murder should be considered somehow worse than a lone-nut or
non-political one is itself a fascinating question. But the
main point is that when a clearly political dynamiting or murder
does take place within the borders of the United States an
area that the U.S. government should concern itself with far more
than events 5000 miles away no one seems to give much of a damn.
When one American,
Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered on a hijacked Italian cruise liner,
the New York media did not stop wailing about the deed for a solid
month, and New York’s egregious Senator D’Amato actually proposed
Klinghoffer for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
When one American,
Alex Odeh, was murdered by the dynamiting of his Los Angeles office
of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League, few kicked up a
fuss. No media wailed day after day, no senator called for the granting
to Odeh of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Why is that? Why the
Why is the
murder of one American thousands of miles away treated so very differently
from the murder of another right here at home? It would be interesting
to see what moral theory Mrs. Kirkpatrick comes up with for that
© 1986 Ludwig von Mises Institute
All rights reserved.