Letters: Boundary between terrorism and warfare

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Perils of blurring the boundary between terrorism and warfare

Sir: Professor Maughan Brown (letter, 19 September) asks someone to explain the ethical distinction between aerial bombardment and terrorist murder on public transport. I will.

As a moral rather than legal question, the answer cannot, of course, be the method of delivery of the bombs or the legitimacy or otherwise of the perpetrators. Neither can it be "moral luck" - that is to say, the malign or benign further consequences of the action. There is only one possible distinction: when a terrorist detonates a bomb in order to kill civilians, those people are specifically targeted, whereas in the case of aerial bombing such as that in Iraq or Serbia the deaths that result are incidental. It is the intention of terrorists to murder that makes their crimes so heinous.

However, there are at least two problems with this. The first, surely an issue when British legislators attempt to define terrorism, is that a definition based on the targeting of civilians includes many of the actions of the US and UK during the Second World War, and arguably since in the case of the US. The only proper response may well be to admit that our governments have carried out acts of terrorism (Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and so on) on a vast scale, however honourable the cause.

The second is that the distinction, when applied to the messy political world is very fine indeed. When a powerful armed force prosecutes a military objective (such as hunting down guerrillas or knocking out a strategic target) with utter indifference to the fact that civilians will suffer as a consequence, it is hardly surprising that the distinction is lost on grieving communities and their sympathisers. It is too little appreciated that an arrogant disregard for the suffering of non-combatants provokes suicide bombers to draw a moral equivalence between that military action and their own killing and to regard the latter as nothing more than a justifiable act of revenge for the former. The West does not know or care how many civilians it killed in Iraq, they say.

Professor Maughan Brown echoes this sentiment when he poses the question. But the answer surely is not to blur the concepts still further but for well-organised states to strive always to avoid acts that cause unnecessary suffering and hence erode the crucial difference that ought to exist between terrorism and warfare.They may also diminish the terrorist threat by reversing the long-term trend of civilians being killed in their wars as if those lives are dispensable. Of course, they matter every bit as much as those of London commuters.



Nightmare scenario for the Army in Iraq

Sir: Your four options for quitting Iraq (21 September) are all based on the assumption that Blair and Bush can maintain control of this volatile region until it pleases them to leave.

British Army commanders in Basra have been aware for months of a fifth nightmare scenario - a popular uprising among the newly enfranchised Shia population which could quickly overwhelm even the most determined stand by British troops. Even accepting that there was no option but to rescue the two SAS men the risks attached to such provocations are incalculable and should surely be subject to urgent review.

Does anyone who remembers the Americans' panic-stricken exit from Vietnam seriously care any more that Option 1 - immediate withdrawal - would hurt Blair's feelings and cause him to flounce off to the American lecture circuit?



Sir: There is another way out for Mr Blair. The draft permanent constitution will be presented to the Iraqi people for approval in a general referendum to be held no later than 15 October 2005.

In the period leading up to the referendum, the draft constitution will be published to encourage a public debate about it. Shouldn't the Iraqi people also debate and vote on whether they want us to stay in their country?



Sir: In David Usborne's absorbing account of the Hitchens-Galloway debate (16 September), he wrote that Galloway "allegedly" said to Saddam in 1994 "I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability ...."

There is nothing "alleged" about it: Galloway's toadying to the Iraqi tyrant was filmed. Galloway has since claimed that he was referring to the Iraqi people, not to Saddam himself. However, Galloway went on to say: "Your Excellency ... I thought the president would appreciate to know that even today, three years after the war, I still meet families who are calling their newborn sons Saddam."

Galloway's support for the mass murderer was odious then, as is his support for the people he calls resistance fighters in Iraq today. Hitchens on the other hand supports the coalition forces in their efforts to create a civil society in Iraq, despite the horrific brutality of the so-called "resistance". Hitchens, I suggest, deserves all support.



Sir: One has to admire the resolution shown in the Basra prison rescue. We can debate the rights and wrongs of our presence, but those at the sharp end cannot afford to mess about or be messed about. It needs to be clear that, for as long or short a time as our soldiers remain, their manner will not be tentative, uncertain or apologetic.



Muslim response to Holocaust Day

Sir: Your columnist Howard Jacobson - along with several others in the press - unfortunately misrepresents the position of the Muslim Council of Britain as "asking for the Holocaust Memorial Day to be scrapped altogether" (17 September)

In our original response to the 1999 Home Office proposal concerning the establishment of a Holocaust Memorial Day we acknowledged and denounced the monstrous cruelty and inhumanity that underpinned the Nazi holocaust. We added that our common humanity called upon us to also recognise the crimes perpetrated against other people and we called for a European Union Genocide Memorial Day. A Genocide Memorial Day would help dispel the - frankly racist - notion that some people are to be regarded as being more equal than others.

Among people across the globe there is a widespread view that we in the West do practise double standards and devalue the lives of non-Westerners. A Genocide Memorial Day would represent a moral challenge to some of the policies that our governments pursue. That would surely give the cry "Never again" greater meaning and value for all peoples currently threatened with bigotry, oppression and militarism - whether by non-Muslims or Muslims.



Sir: V J G Brown, arguing that the Holocaust was a Nazi disgrace, not a European one, writes from Spain describing it as "one of the unoccupied European countries".

I was previously under the impression that the Spanish Civil War was used by the German air force as a dry run for the Second World War, which assisted Franco in defeating the Republicans.

If Britain had not won the Battle of Britain most of my family would have been killed and I would probably not be writing this letter. What happened in Europe might have happened here: this is the relevance of Holocaust Memorial Day for this country.



Sir: I was starting to reconsider my position after reading Howard Jacobson's article on Holocaust Memorial Day, until I read Irene Peterman's comments (letter, 20 September).

Her question to young Muslims [as to whether they had seen pictures of the deportation of the Nazis' victims] is the most potent argument for having a Genocide Memorial Day, since she is clearly unaware of the millions of Muslim Chechens, Ingush, Karachai, Balkars, Crimean Tatars and Meskhetian Georgians who were given 15 minutes to pack a suitcase and get on cattle trucks to be deposited in Siberia and Kazakhstan, where up to half died of exposure or malnutrition. All at the behest of Hitler's brother-in-arms Stalin.

Lest she thinks I am wallowing in Muslim self-pity Stalin also deported in the same way over 600,000 Volga Germans and 134,000 Buddhist Kalmyks.

The list of inhumanity can stretch on, but until we acknowledge all atrocities, without any historical amnesia, then we truly all cannot say "Never again".



Street culture not in the dictionary

Sir: Your Saturday edition carried an article decrying the outbreak of "street-culture language" much in evidence in this year's GCSE English exam essays. The Edexcel exam board appeared particularly surprised by the number of lapses in standard English, stating that spelling was "in general inconsistent". Surely this is indicative of a developing language.

When I took my GCEs they were overseen by something called the Associated Examining Board. Each word of that name can be defined in a dictionary, giving some idea of what the AEB does (or did). I have yet to find a dictionary definition for the word "Edexcel" . Must be one of those newfangled street-culture words ....



Pundits baffled by radical Lib Dems

Sir: It is not the Liberal Democrats who define themselves or their party and its policies with reference to the Tories or New Labour, it is the political commentators. It may have been the last thing he intended but with his latest offering (20 September), Steve Richards joins a long line of pundits and mischief-makers who continue to misrepresent the Liberal Democrats to the British public.

What Mr Richards and the others have failed to realise is that the Lib Dems are a radical and necessary departure from traditional politics with its fixation with the left-right dichotomy. But, to its eternal credit, the public has realised that our antiquated political scene is now part of the problem and that the Lib Dems offer a way out. What is required now is new thinking and the abandonment of old terminology. What about it, Steve?



Sir: We've suffered the consequences of an autocratic right and an autocratic left for years. Maybe Charles Kennedy's social democratic consensus politics is what we need now.



Sir: Steve Richards is very critical of the Lib Dems debating "where they are going and what they stand for". Actually that was what I thought party conferences were supposed to be about.



The value of local policing

Sir: Bruce Anderson's comment piece "The problem is not that we have too much local policing, it's that we have too little" (19 September) rightly highlights the importance of local policing.

The Government recognises the value of local policing, which is why we have already made changes to put neighbourhood policing at the heart of every community in the UK. By 2008 every citizen will have officers who are dedicated to tackling crime and disorder in their areas, working with and accountable to local authorities, councillors and communities.

The report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary does not conflict with this - rather it supports the concept of local policing. By proposing bigger, more strategic constabularies, we will have 21st-century police forces that can deal with counter-terrorism and organised crime as well as neighbourhood policing teams that are free to concentrate on the needs of local communities.



Hunt the hyphen

Sir: Almost alone in the media you rightly mourn the death of Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi-hunter. To the rest of the dumbed-down pack he seems to have been a Nazi hunter. They are not confusing him with Hermann Göring, I hope?



Serving the country

Sir: An Edinburgh bus driver now gets £20,500 per annum; a firefighter £19,394; a police recruit £19,803; an Army recruit £13,866 rising to £14,253 in Iraq (unlike every other alliance army, with no income tax relief) for an average of 79.5 hours a week on operations (Review Body figures). Which job carries the most risk? Which job cuts you off from your family for months at a time? Which job requires you to never to speak to the press about your pay and conditions? Which employer has a recruiting crisis?



Dawn of the digital age

Sir: One could be forgiven for thinking digital TV can only happen because we have a Labour government and that this is somehow something they are doing for the country. Er, sorry? Digital TV has been coming for years and will happen anyway, be we the UK or a banana republic. The only reason this Government is so keen and getting so involved is because of the billions they will make selling off the analogue frequencies afterwards. The money generated will make G3 look like a village jumble sale.



Good deal for motorists

Sir: Despite all the recent furore about petrol prices, the fact remains that the cost of motoring is lower in real terms than it was 30 years ago. It's the public transport user who is getting the raw end of the deal: bus and train fares have risen by over 60 per cent in real terms over the same period. Meanwhile, air fares have fallen dramatically. It seems as if the "polluter pays" principle is being applied in reverse.



Penguin puzzle

Sir: Much as I should like to believe the old chestnut that the word "penguin" comes from the Welsh pen gwyn, meaning "white head" ("What is it with penguins?", 20 September), I must point out that penguins do not have white heads, but black, as all the fine specimens in your article show. I am sure that if the Welsh had named this creature they would have called it pendu.