Terrorists masquerade as freedom fighters

Yaron Rachlin

PITTSBURGH (U-WIRE) – Recently in The Washington Post, columnist Richard Cohen cites an Indian reporter who asked a question I would like to ask the President myself. “Sir,” the reporter cried out to George W. Bush last week at the White House, “Why are there two laws in this world: one for America and one for the rest of us? When terrorism hits America, you go halfway around the world and make war in Afghanistan. But when we suffer terrorism, you ask us to be restrained. Is an Indian life less precious than an American life?”

While Muslim leaders around the world desperately seek to draw a distinction between terrorists (Osama and friends) and “freedom fighters” (whoever they are funding at the moment), Indian and Israeli citizens continue to be gunned down indiscriminately. The argument put forth is violent action is a legitimate response to the Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian territories, and the Indian “occupation” of Kashmir.

The question of the legitimacy of Indian and Israeli claims presents one core issue, but I think a more pressing question ought to be answered first. Is violent action against innocent civilians ever a legitimate response to “occupation,” regardless of the validity of such “occupation?”

If you are willing to concede the murder of innocent civilians is a reasonable response in support of your political cause, then you enter a morally relativistic realm. This is a magical place where Osama bin Laden has his own narrative, in which he is a brave fighter against the infidel Christians and Jews, and therefore any murderous action – including plowing planes loaded with people into office buildings – is merely the latest chapter in a heroic saga.

Alternatively, if you subscribe to the old-fashioned notion that, regardless of the nobility of your political cause, the ends do not justify the means, then you should conclude turning away from a political solution and toward the path of violence against civilians makes you an inhuman murderer, not a freedom fighter.

On Nov. 11, Pakistani President (and dictator) Pervez Musharraf was a guest on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Tim Russert stated, “The Indian government has said if you’re against terrorism, you have to be against all terrorism. And many of the organizations that are creating terrorism in Kashmir have roots in Pakistan.” To this, President Musharraf responded, “They have moral support in Pakistan. Everything about the freedom struggle that is going on, I would like to differentiate. There is no terrorism going on in Kashmir.”

Well that clarifies everything. So on Oct. 1 when a suicide squad of Jaish-e-Muhammad attacked the legislative council building of Jammu and Kashmir, they were simply engaged in a “freedom struggle.” In this particular attack, 38 people died and an additional 52 were wounded. The victims include 27 civilians, three elected officials and a college female.

Why is Pakistan so eager to label the perpetrators of such bloody acts as “freedom fighters?” The answer is provided in this statement made by Jack Cunningham, a member of the Labour Party (UK) and member of Parliament in 1994. In a press briefing, he stated, “There is a lot of evidence to suggest the insurgency is organized, assisted, and triggered by forces outside India. I mention here Pakistan, which is conducting training camps … I also met four captured militants: one Afghan, one Palestinian and two Pakistanis. They admitted that they fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir at the behest of Pakistan.”

Now let us turn to President Musharraf’s philosophical brothers in the “freedom struggle,” the Arab leaders. The United States and Britain have for many years been concerned about Syria’s support for armed militant groups including Hizbullah and Hamas (freshly added to the list of terror organizations by the United States), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (who recently assassinated Israel’s tourism minister).

Bashar Assad, dictator of Syria, defined these groups as freedom fighters, “we, and I personally, differentiate between resistance and terrorism.” Again let us consider specific instances. On August 9, 2001, a Palestinian “freedom fighter” entered a Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem and detonated a bomb packed with nails, screws and bolts. The bomb completely gutted the restaurant, which was full of lunchtime customers. Fifteen people were killed, including seven children, and about 130 were injured.

To make matters worse, many Palestinians celebrated this blow for the “freedom struggle” by dancing in the streets and handing out sweets, an image that should be familiar to most Americans. Palestinian students at al-Najah University in the city of Nablus marked the anniversary of the outbreak of Palestinian violence with an exhibition entitled The Sbarro Cafe Exhibition, celebrating this suicide bombing. According to Associated Press reports, the exhibition was replete with body parts and pizza slices strewn across the room. The walls were painted red to represent spattered blood.

Terrorist organizations that deliberately target civilians with the intent to maximize pain and suffering should never be called “freedom fighters.” Our administration seems contradictory on the question of terrorism that does not explicitly target the United States. While Condoleezza Rice states, “you can’t say there are good terrorists and there are bad terrorists,” Colin Powell suggests he made a mistake by agreeing to Israel’s demand that a week of Palestinian nonviolence precede the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations. I suppose a week of nonviolence is too much to ask from the “freedom fighters” of this world.


Yaron Rachlin’s column originally appeared in Carnegie Mellon University’s The Tartan on Nov. 19. Send comments to [email protected]