True definition of terrorism proves relative

Jason Lamb and Jason Lamb

What is terrorism? The U.S Army defines terrorism as “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain political, religious, or ideological goals through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on the other hand, has a much simpler definition: they have a list of terrorist organizations. If your organization is on this list, you are a terrorist. It’s that simple.

And so for many it will come as no surprise that funding or being a member of such an organization is frowned upon by the government, so much so that one of the first recommendations put forward by the Department of Homeland Security was for government employees to sign a document stating they have not funded or been a member of any listed organization.

In Ohio this law, passed last spring and recently put into effect, is called the DMA (Declaration of Material Assistance/Nonassistance to a Terrorist Organization). All new state employees, including professors at public universities, would be required to disclose their affiliations with or contributions to any listed organization in accordance with this law.

One might think there were certain criteria for making ‘the list,’ but a quick overview of conspicuous presences and absences proves otherwise. While many of the organizations listed are by most accounts legitimate terrorist organizations, other groups labeled ‘terrorist’ are ideologically motivated.

Consider Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, found on the Department of Homeland Security’s list of terrorist organizations. In Israel, it’s known for the splinter groups tied to it that resist the military occupation of Palestine with force.

In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, however, it’s more likely to be seen as a charitable organization. It funds schools and hospitals in addition to providing a social security net for the most impoverished in two of the world’s biggest slums. It’s also the majority political party representing the Palestinian people.

Not excusing any degree of responsibility for Hamas due to their bombings in Israel, their charitable expenditures certainly complicate a quick definition to label the nation as an evil to be expunged.

Also conspicuous are the terrorist organizations not on the Department of Homeland Security’s list. One such organization, ruthless in its pursuit of natural resources, spilled 56 million gallons of oil onto the farmland of the Ogonis, an ethnic minority of Nigeria, and decimated the ecology of the Niger River delta causing untold environmental damage.

When a group of Ogonis, led by author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, marched peacefully against these environmental atrocities that cost the lives of thousands of their people, the organization retaliated, pressuring the Nigerian government to take action against the leaders of the demonstration.

Saro-Wiwa and eight others were executed in 1995 due to pressure from that infamous terrorist organization, Shell Oil. It has since been revealed that Shell even financed the arms that were used to quell the peaceful demonstrations.

The Sierra Club reports that 40 percent of all oil spills ever reported by Shell occurred on Ogoni land, and the cleanup has barely begun. Should we be surprised that Shell Oil is not on the terrorist list but Hamas is?

The BGSU Department of Ethnic Studies recently drafted a resolution against the Ohio MDA law for many reasons, not least of which is those in the West with power have control over defining what defines terrorism and what constitutes a legitimate defense of one’s people. Other departments are moving to do the same.

One Ethnic Studies professor indicated many departments should join in protest so a university-wide resolution can be passed against this witch hunt. It’s my hope that ideologically motivated invasions of privacy such as the MDA do not gain acceptance by the faculty. After all, who knows what organization the government will ban next?

All I know is Shell oil will probably not be one of them.

Send comments to Jason Lamb at [email protected].