Gil Troy: Middle East terrorists in suits and ties

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Gil Troy teaches history at McGill University.]

What happens when a terrorist organization decides to enter the political arena? Does it automatically become legitimate?

If Osama bin Laden flew home to Saudi Arabia, triggered a much-needed movement for democratic reform in that dictatorial monarchy and was elected to a new, powerful, fully functional Saudi parliament, would that wipe out his previous crimes?

These are trick questions. They play into the central assumption of our narrative-driven, media-drenched politics that the way we perceive events and the resulting story line we construct necessarily reflect reality. The truth is that terrorists by definition have entered the political arena from the start because terrorism is violence with a political agenda. Without the political context, bombing, kidnapping, and shooting are simply crimes. Terrorism, like war, is politics by other means, an extension of politics when negotiation or discussion break down - or never existed.

The questions also are misleading because we have discovered that the world's commitment to morality and justice is relative: It varies depending on the players involved. Especially when it comes to the Middle East, the world's moral clarity gets muddy, the moral compass goes haywire.

These questions are doubly relevant now. The Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, which has long confused Westerners by distributing free food to Palestinians while merrily slaughtering Israelis, is building up to Palestinian elections slated for the end of January.

The Palestinians' leader Mahmoud Abbas, either because he is Machiavellian or simply incompetent, seems unable to stop the Hamas murderers from running - and winning a substantial number of votes.

Western diplomats, who like shady salesmen with ties to organized crime, repeatedly strong-arm Israel into buying an increasingly shoddy product, are now pressuring it to accept representatives of an organization committed to Israel's destruction, as long as they are democratically elected.

A similar farce is playing out on Israel's Lebanese border, where Hizbollah unleashed yet another barrage of bombs and bullets, once again trying to kidnap Israeli soldiers and toy with their lives. Hiding behind Lebanese sovereignty, violating an internationally recognized, UN-sanctioned border, ignoring UNIFIL "peacekeeping" troops deployed there, Hizbollah strafed Israeli farmers, bombarded Israeli border positions, and shot rockets and missiles into two northern Israeli towns - hitting one home directly. Fortunately, it was unoccupied.

Israel did nothing to provoke this attack, beyond merely existing and functioning as a convenient target to help shift attention from Iranian anti-Western extremism and Syria's support for terrorism among its Arab neighbours in Lebanon and Iraq.

Hizbollah is a terrorist organization. Like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah blatantly calls for the destruction of a legitimate member of the United Nations, Israel. Hizbollah's lengthy criminal rap sheet dates back to the mass murder of 241 U.S. marines in Beirut in the 1980s, includes dozens of attacks on Israelis as well as vicious bombings against Argentinian civilians in the 1990s, and has continued into this new, already blood-stained, millennium.

Moreover, Hizbollah is the surrogate of Syria and the client of Iran, two of the most bloodthirsty, reprehensible autocracies in a world with far too many contenders for the (dis)honours.

But, we learn again and again, Hizbollah is a supposedly legitimate political organization, with representation in the Lebanese parliament and the Lebanese cabinet. Well, then, true democrats should say, shame on the Lebanese parliament, shame on the Lebanese cabinet, shame on the state of Lebanon and shame on the Lebanese people, too.

Democracy requires more than periodic elections. During the bad old days of communism, in Saddam Hussein's late unlamented regime, the world saw how strongmen could strong-arm voters into voting for them. But questions of the legitimacy of the electoral process among the Lebanese and the Palestinians aside, democracy demands the rule of law, respect for others, basic rights for all. An organization that commits mass-murder with no compunction cannot wipe out its crimes by winning some votes....

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