1980s >> 1987 >> no-989-january-1987

Observations: What’s a terrorist?

One person’s terrorist is another’s guerilla hero. When a bomb is planted in a street, or an aircraft hijacked, the leaders of the state on the receiving end are quick to denounce such acts as cowardly, indiscriminate attacks on innocent people. The media agree (while making money out of bloodthirsty sensationalism) and so do the courts:

 . . . if men plot and plan to kill indiscriminately, or to in any way endanger the lives of citizens, they can expect only the severest punishment from this court. If that bomb had gone off, untold damage would have been done to innocent citizens . . . (Old Bailey judge, recently sentencing an INLA bomber to life imprisonment).

But we should not allow politicians and the media and judiciary to obscure the facts. In the last war the German occupying forces were resisted by bands of partisans whose actions were not dissimilar to those of today’s terrorist — very often indiscriminate destruction and killing. They were applauded by the allies as courageous freedom fighters, supported with arms and personnel.

Guerilla fighters regard themselves, as did the wartime partisans, as being at war — and war is an indiscriminate business. It permits no innocents: all of us — civilians, the sick, children — are legitimate targets. Much of the allied bomber offensive during the last war was directed, deliberately, at killing the maximum number of “innocent” civilians; it was. the planners said, an attack on the enemy morale. So which is worse — to plant a 30lb bomb in a street. like the man sentenced at the Old Bailey, or to drop a 1,000lb bomb on the street from an aircraft? If you get the answer right, you may be given a medal instead of a gaol sentence.

This is not to support, or to condone, workers killing each other in the disputes of the exploiting class in society. Workers have no interests at stake in capitalism’s wars; in that sense they can be said to be innocents for whichever side wins they will remain in poverty and repression. Terrorists are to be condemned — like those in the forces opposing them — because they take part in capitalism’s conflicts, not because they do so in any unusual or specially gruesome way.

Capitalism is a brutal society, which sets worker against worker and cynically manipulates and exploits the emotional responses which inevitably follow. The real struggle is to replace this society with one based on communal interests. That struggle cannot be carried on with guns and bombs for it is about workers’ ideas and they are the authentic key to human progress.

That’s bloody life
That bloody woman! Always on the TV. That bloody hair and that bloody patronising voice! No, not Margaret Thatcher for a change, this time it’s Esther Rantzen. taking time out from presenting phallic carrots on That’s Life, to introduce the latest in a long line of social concern slots from Crimewatch UK to Drugwatch and now Childwatch. What’s next after that? Dolewatch? Or with the cold winter months on us Grannywatch? Or for a real hit in the ratings how about Blind-Puppy Watch? But we have something to tell Esther if she is intending dealing with any more of capitalism’s problems — there are only 365 days in the year.

Mind you it’s a shrewd move, because not only is it good in the ratings but the raw material for the shows will never disappear; no one will get bored and turn over.

But while Childwatch brought the problem of child abuse into the limelight (at least until the ratings fall) the reasons, or much of them, remain in the shade. A small item in the trial of Andrew Neill, the father of Tyra Henry went unnoticed:

  • before her death, the father of the little girl was suspected of abusing her. and so was ordered to live elsewhere and have no contact with either mother or child;
  • the mother was cut off after being unable to pay an electricity bill;
  • with no real option, mother and child were forced by simple economics to move in with the father.

A few months later the little girl was dead, one victim of a complex but common chain of events that starts at the balance sheet and ends in blood.

Capitalism throws people together with the force of economics, into a family. It bonds them with the need for respectability, and calls it the natural basis of society.

Andrew Neill is now serving a life sentence. He can see his bars and he can beat his prison walls in frustration. Outside, we’ve only got each other to knock about.

Brian Gardner