Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"The Social Construction of 'Terrorism'"


Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky@indiana.edu, “peacemaking” at pepinsky.blogspot.com

July 29, 2014


                “The Social Construction of ‘Terrorism’” is the title of a chapter that Arnold Sherman contributed to a book, Rethinking Criminology, that I edited in 1982.  (I can send my scanned copy of the chapter on email request, if it is not already attached to an email of this post you are receiving; it is a very timely read.)  Arnie traces the consequences of the attempts of the British colonizers to ban the Kikuyu Mau-Mau as a terrorist organization in the 1950s.  His essay is a reaction to the newly inaugurated Reagan administration’s declaration of a war on “international terrorism.”  To me, he highlights the structural violence inherent in the use of the terrorist label.  In legal parlance, the label means that the parties a government is fighting have no standing to be heard.  Such has been the case with the Israeli’s unending failure to talk with the elected governors of Gaza, Hamas…in fact to treat residents of Gaza as having no recognized voice whatsoever.

                 To treat one’s opponent as “terrorist” is implicitly genocidal.  It implicitly defines the opponent as subhuman.  In Gaza, squeezing, destroying, killing, blaming it on Palestinians’ wish to sacrifice their own children, sadly carries the war into a new generation, with nothing but bloodshed, misery, destruction and fire in its wake.  And that hatred will inevitably extend to the US Government, which remains unqualified in its arming and unqualified endorsement of “Israel’s right to defend itself.”  It is also sadly reminiscent of the US government resolute destruction of Native Americans.

                The issue is beyond blame.  Anti-Semitism as WWII ended touched my own family.  My father’s appointment to the University of Texas faculty in 1945 was not approved by the regents because he was a Jew.  For the US and British governments, partition of Palestine was an alternative to welcoming Jewish refugees into their own countries.  I remember my mother remarking that it was an anachronism for the United Nations to create a religious state.  And indeed Israelis in turn fought and died for their own national existence in the aftermath…as they pushed Palestinians out.  What matters is not who started the violence in the region, but practically speaking, what increases or reduces the level of violence that both suffer upon one another.

                When you can’t talk with your enemy, you can’t stop fighting.  Love and peace, hal

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