Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Defining Terms

From the murky vantage point of 2004's 30 November, January 30th, 2005 - though only two months away - remains impossible to predict. We know this: the Iraqi Interim Government, the Coalition Forces, the Government of the United States, and the various countries that have contributed monetary resources toward rebuilding Iraq, are pushing for (and have scheduled) an election - the first of its kind in Iraqi history. Given the circumstances in-country, it is only reasonable to think that this might be a very bloody day. After all, what better time to begin large-scale attacks than the day that all your enemies' plans hinge upon?

Assuming the anti-Coalition forces are a cohesive (if only mildly so) group, and assuming they all equally desire the removal of the current occupying entity, then it only makes sense that they would attempt to make the ballot-day one of the most gruesome we've seen so far.

Of course, it could turn out much differently. It could be that the recent attacks (beginning with Fallujah) against the members of the "insurgency" (or "terrorists," depending on your ideological bent) have so depeleted and demoralized them that they merely fold, vanishing into the population in the next two months, and the January 30th elections are held peacefully.

But though no one can predict, one way or the other, what will happen next year, I am certain that one thing will be decided, whether or not the election day is filled with tragedy: the proper name for the antagonistic forces in Iraq.

This debate between those who prefer to think of the attackers as "insurgents" and those who prefer to call them "terrorists" has been going on in the blogosphere for some time now (since the whole thing began, really). And both groups have their legitimate points. The "terrorist" camp looks at what's going on, sees individuals coming in from Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc., notes the tactics they use, and applies the terrorist label.

The "insurgent" side views them as Iraqis (with the aid of outsiders) who are fighting back against an unwanted authority, attempting to reclaim their country from those who would enforce a different worldview upon them - Michael Moore's "Minutemen" statement really captures this sentiment well.

If you've read me before now, I think it's rather obvious which side I take. But that disclaimer aside, whatever we choose call them, the January 30th elections will put the lie to one title or the other. And this is why I'm leaning toward predicting an attack-filled election.

The implication in the title "insurgent" is one of a revolutionary, and the connotations of revolution (especially in the United States) are always thought of as being the voice of "the people." The divisions are drawn between, in this case, the Iraqi Government, with their supposed US Puppet Masters, and the rest of the Iraqi people. The worldview that this assumes is that the people at large are not willing to submit to the power that the US and its allies bring to bear.

The implications of the word "terrorist" are quite the opposite. Where "insurgents" would be assumed to fight (or think they are fighting) for the people, terrorists fight against the people. The tactics of terror are, of course, meant to inspire the population to fear, rather than to revolt; and to acquiesce not to the US's power, but to that of the terrorist movement. In this case, it is not a battle between the US and "the people," it is a battle between the US and "terrorists," with "the people" in the unfortunate and tragic middle.

If the elections are held, and the Iraqi people speak, then these groups can no longer be called "insurgents." It doesn't matter who the Iraqis vote for, in the end. It can be safely assumed that the opposition forces are not going to be on the ballots. If the Iraqi people turn out, then, they are making their choice. It doesn't matter if it is socialism, libertarianism, communism or capitalism - it isn't terrorism.

Once Iraq votes, the "insurgents" will no longer be fighting against some outside force trying to impose its will. They will be fighting against the will of the population. And that, by definition, names them "terrorists."

On the other hand, if the January 30th deadline comes to pass, and the votes are taken, but none or only a small minority of the people cast their vote (whether or not they were intimidated is irrelevant - the fact that they could be intimidated is an implicit acceptance of the status quo), then the term "terrorist" no longer applies (except perhaps to their methods). In this set of circumstances, the opposition truly is the "insurgency," because they would have the tacit approval of the people.

So one way or the other, when January 30th rolls around, the name game will be decided. It is in the interests of the opposition forces, whether they are called "insurgents" or "terrorists," to do all in their power to stop the vote; because if the Iraqi people vote, the opposition has lost, and the rest is just clean up.

And the only way to stop an election? Keep in mind that delaying the election only delays the final conclusion by a few months. In order for these opposition forces to win, they must absolutely destroy any hope at all of an election. Or better (and perhaps easier), allow January 30th voting to occur, but convice, by word or deed, the people to stay home. An empty election is better than a disrupted election - but the primary way to achieve either of these results is gruesome violence.

One way or the other, the future of Iraq will be decided in two months. And while the label of the forces in opposition may seem insignificant, it is directly tied to the course of the nation.

Comments:
They are not revolutionaries, they are "insurgents" or "partisians".

International law traditionally regards insurgents as forces fighting an occupying power, in spite of the presence of forgien nationals providing assistance and aiding them. Before you chime in with "BUT WHAT OF TERRORISM", I would like to point out that this definition has been upheld in various treaties and legal publications over the years. Resistance to occupying forces was often regarded as a sort of customary "right" of occupied people for hundreds of years. The tactics they use is inconsequential to the definition (although in recent years they are expected to at least try to respect the security of noncombatiants and to focus their attentions on valid targets)

Semantic quibbles aside, the Americans and Coalition in Iraq are not an "invited presence". They are an occupying power. There is no question that Iraqis and auxilary forces that fight coaltion forces should be called "insurgents".

Furthermore, since large portions of the country are out of coalition adminstration, to say that insurgents are going against the will of the people is laughable.

The US has tenuious hold on the country, and pretends that the Iraq Interm Authority is calling the shots (it isn't). As long as an occupying power remains in the country and is the sole source of competent security over isolated pockets of the country, it is difficult to say that the elections and the government represent a popular consensus. I'm sure someone with a background in international law also would discuss the notions of de facto and
de jure sovreginty (ie, how can the people make a decion regarding the future of their country when they are being occupied?) but I am tired.

In sum, insurgents, not terrorists.
 
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