Sunday, October 28, 2007

Missing the Point and the Tiger

A certain candidate for the forthcoming Democratic Elections in the United States has claimed the LTTE cannot be described as a terrorist group. We understand the yardstick not fitting the measured but must we restate the obvious? Maybe reframing the issue in post 9/11 jargon and within the theories of terrorism would help.

The LTTE’s acts fall within many different categories of terrorism ever identified (Schmidt). These include Nationalist and Separatist/Ethnic terrorism (LTTE defines it as Tamil vs Sinhalese), Insurgent Terrorism (LTTE’s Insurgent Behaviour), Political Terrorism (elimination of political dissenters), Social Revolutionary Terrorism (correcting social ills like Caste, Gender-discrimination) and Pathological Terrorism (pregnant women suicide bombers).

Whilst acts such as indiscriminate bombings, armed assaults on civilians and focused assassinations are considered criminal offences in national or international law, mere crimes do not become terrorist acts (means rather than ends). There must be a distinct political motivation for it to become terrorism (i.e. LTTE’s demands for Eelam through political cessation). There is also a distinct connection between guerilla-warfare and Terrorism. Mao Tse-Tung in his book ‘Guerrilla Warfare’ (1937), concluded terrorism as a second stage of a three stage model of insurrection (1. Organisation, consolidation, and preservation of base areas; 2. guerrilla war; 3. conventional army to destroy the enemy). Mao would have been proud of the LTTE (at least in theory) for they seem to embody all three characteristics of guerilla warfare.

Terrorists also frequently elevate irregular practices of warfare into regular tactics. Suicide bombing for example is an irregular tactic the LTTE has regularized, internalized and regimentalized in, for example, the Black Tigers. Terrorists avoid open combat and avoid meeting its adversaries in conventional warfare.

Schmidt claims that “Acts of terrorism, then, can be understood as a special kind of violence; the peacetime equivalent of war crimes.” The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions stipulates that “irregular fighters”(guerrillas, partisans, resistance groups) must fulfill four conditions:

1. Irregulars must be ‘commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates’; (The LTTE seems to have a loosely defined Rank and File)

2. They must have a ‘fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance’; (Violation by LTTE suicide bombers, recent Black Tiger infiltration squad, pistol gang etc)

3. They must carry their arms ‘openly’; (Violation: suicide bombers, Pistol Gangs etc)

4. They must conduct their operations ‘in accordance with the laws and customs of war’. (Violation: child combatants, pregnant women suicide bombers etc)

Terrorist violence is aimed at behaviour-modification by coercion and propaganda by persuasion. Terrorism, when using violence against one victim, seeks to coerce and persuade others. The immediate victim is merely an instrument for a calculated impact on a wider audience. Terrorism is perpetrated as an indirect strategy aimed at a larger audience than the victims of the specific act itself. For example the audience of the Dr Thiruchelvam assassination was the moderate Tamils seeking a negotiated solution.

From which angle we look, the Tigers bear all the hallmarks of a terrorist outfit. So what next? Perhaps we should wait and see how the candidate greets the reality of the world outside the US to make further conclusions. The International Community can be ignorant at times, but it is certainly not foolish.

(1) A.P. Schmid et al. Political Terrorism. A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, and Literature. Revised, expanded and updated edition prepared under the Auspices of the Centre for International Affairs, Harvard University. Amsterdam, North-Holland Publishing Company, 1988, p. 48. – with additions by J. Post.


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