The Financial Express

Understanding geopolitical perspective of terrorism

| Updated: November 17, 2017 21:08:36

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Participants in the 5th Palestine Marathon run along the contentious separation barrier, which divides the West Bank from Jerusalem al-Quds, in Bethlehem on March 31, 2017.  - Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun/APA Images Participants in the 5th Palestine Marathon run along the contentious separation barrier, which divides the West Bank from Jerusalem al-Quds, in Bethlehem on March 31, 2017. - Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun/APA Images

One may trace the origin of modern-day terrorism in the Middle East in the 1926 Balfour Declaration. Whether we exercise the option to choose our beginning by a process of selection by evolution or we were divinely ordained, man always has had the inherent skill of harming one another. Viewing Balfour Declaration in that perspective, one can appreciate how a generation of human beings had been condemned to suffer from terrorism which pervasively spread all over the world within a period of seventy years.

Balfour Declaration, in fact, added a geopolitical perspective to "terrorism".

Rise of Nazis in Europe in the thirties was based on terror and whatever it achieved was by spreading terror in the society.

The Latin verb 'terrere' means: to frighten. The English word 'terror', just like the French 'terreur', derives from that Latin word and means from of old: fright, alarm, anguish, (mortal) fear, panic.

Oxford English Dictionary states that the word 'terrorist' (French: terroriste) was invented in the year 1794, during the French Revolution. The first meaning of the word 'terrorist' was then: adherent or supporter of the Jacobins. Apparent from the context given in an article in the Guardian, the indication 'Jacobins' in that Oxford definition bears on the group around Maximilien Robespierre, also called 'Montagnards', that after 1794 were held responsible by some commentators for the repressive and violent government over France between June 1793 and July 1794, a period analogously labelled 'Reign of Terror' by commentators.

There is no commonly accepted definition of "terrorism". Being a charged term, with the connotation of something "morally wrong", it is often used, both by governments and non-state groups, to abuse or denounce opposing groups. Broad categories of political organisations, including right-wing and left-wing political organisations, nationalist groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments, have been claimed to have been involved in terrorism to further their objectives. Terrorism-related legislation has been adopted in various states, regarding "terrorism" as a crime. There is no universal agreement as to whether or not "terrorism", in some definition, should be regarded as a war crime.

Separatists, who are claimed to be freedom fighters, were identified as terrorist by the ruling governments and international organizations like the UN as well. Notable of them was the Irish Liberation Army of Northern Ireland, ETA of Spain and, of course, the "Haganah", the Jewish Paramilitary Organisation committed to terrorism to establish Zionist State of Israel.

THE ZIONIST FACTOR: In the 20th century, terrorism continued to be associated with a vast array of anarchist, socialist, fascist and nationalist groups, many of them engaged in 'third world' anti-colonial struggles. Some scholars also labelled as terrorist the systematic internal violence and intimidation practised by the British for an increased Jewish presence in the region of Palestine on geopolitical calculations. This British support began in the early 1840s and was led by Lord Palmerstone, following the occupation of Syria and Palestine by separatist Ottoman governor Muhammad Ali of Egypt. French influence had grown in Palestine and the wider Middle East as protector of the Catholic communities, just as Russian influence had grown as protector of the Eastern Orthodox in the same regions. This left Britain without a sphere of influence, and thus a need to find or create their regional "protégés". These political considerations were supported by a sympathetic evangelical Christian sentiment towards the "restoration of the Jews" to Palestine among elements of the mid-19th-century British political elite - most notably Lord Shaftesbury. The British Foreign Office actively encouraged Jewish emigration to Palestine, exemplified by Charles Henry Churchill's 1841-1842 recommendation to Moses Montefiore, the leader of the British Jewish community.

With the geopolitical shakeup occasioned by the outbreak of World War I, the earlier calculations, which had lapsed for some time, led to a renewal of strategic assessments and political bargaining over the Middleast and Far East. The year 1916 marked four centuries since Palestine had become part of the Ottoman Empire, also known as the Turkish Empire. For most of this period, the Jewish population represented a small minority, approximately 3.0 per cent of the total, with Muslims representing the largest segment of the population, and Christians the second.

The Turks began to apply restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine in late 1882, in response to the start of the First Aliyah (the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel) earlier that year. Although this immigration was creating a certain amount of tension with the local population, mainly among the merchant and notable classes, in 1901 the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman central government) gave Jews the same rights as Arabs to buy land in Palestine and the percentage of Jews in the population rose to 7.0 per cent by 1914. At the same time, with growing distrust of the Young Turks - Turkish nationalists who had taken control of the Empire in 1908 - and the Second Aliyah, Arab nationalism was on the rise, and in Palestine anti-Zionism was a unifying characteristic.

Historians do not know whether these forces would have ultimately resulted in conflict in the absence of the Balfour Declaration. In late 1915 the British High Commissioner to Egypt, Henry McMahon, exchanged ten letters with Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, in which he promised to recognise Arab independence "in the limits and boundaries proposed by the Sherif of Mecca" in return for Hussein launching a revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

The pledge excluded "portions of Syria" lying to the west of "the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo". In the decades after the war, the extent of this coastal exclusion was hotly disputed since Palestine lay to the southwest of Damascus and was not explicitly mentioned.

 The Arab Revolt was launched on June 05, 1916, on the basis of the quid pro quo agreement in the correspondence. However, less than three weeks earlier the governments of the United Kingdom, France, and Russia secretly concluded the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which Balfour described later as a "wholly new method" for dividing the region, after the 1915 agreement "seems to have been forgotten".

The Arab-Israeli conflict is a modern phenomenon, which has its roots in the end of the 19th century. The conflict became a major international issue with the birth of Israel in 1948. The Arab-Israeli conflict has resulted in at least five major wars and a number of minor conflicts. It has also been the source of two major Palestinian uprisings (intifadas).

On the other hand, "the Zionist movement has maintained a striking continuity in its aims and methods over the past century. From the start, the movement sought to achieve a Jewish majority in Palestine and to establish a Jewish state on as much of the territory as possible. The methods included promoting both mass Jewish immigration and acquiring tracts of land that would become the inalienable property of the Jewish people. This policy inevitably prevented the indigenous Arab residents from attaining their national goals and establishing a Palestinian state. It also necessitated displacing Palestinians from their lands and jobs when their presence conflicted with Zionist interests. (Ann M. Lesch, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, The American University in Cairo)

"Many Western experts, journalists, and politicians implicitly believe that Middle East politics are primarily shaped by ideology. Ironically, this view accepts the claims of pan-Arab nationalism (or radical Islamic groups) that all Arabs (or Muslims) want to unite and that they set their policy mainly based on the Palestinian issue and inter-Arab (or Islamic) solidarity. Consequently, US and European policy must satisfy their grievances or the Arab states will switch to an anti-American (Soviet or radical nationalist or revolutionary Islamic) camp. The West's task is to show the Arabs that it is not against their aspirations." (Barry Rubin was an American-born Israeli writer and academic on terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs)

But the West, in particular the US, chose their partners with explicit commitment to the security and continuity of Israel notwithstanding the fact that Israel continues illegal and unauthorised annexation of Arab-lands. This hegemony intensified the resurgence of Arab solidarity which impacted on all Muslim nations from Turkey to Indonesia.  Although the leaders and governments became more inclined to appease the West, the population remained opposed to the West as they felt very aggrieved and disillusioned by the West's tendencies to overlook Israeli atrocities - fundamental and root causes of terror adopted mainly to repel or defend the homeland. Recall what  Machiavelli said: 'La folie de l'homme n'est pas voir sa fin et fait détruire son existence' (Man's main folly is not see its end and causes to destroy its existence).

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