Uri Avnery: The Reign of Absurdiocy

November 28, 2015

There is no such thing as „international terrorism“.
To declare war on „international terrorism“ is nonsense.
Politicians who do so are either fools or cynics, and
probably both.

Terrorism is a weapon. Like cannon. We would laugh at
somebody who declares war on „international artillery“. A
cannon belongs to an army, and serves the aims of that
army. The cannon of one side fire against the cannon of the

Terrorism is a method of operation. It is often used by
oppressed peoples, including the French Resistance to the
Nazis in WW II. We would laugh at anyone who declared war
on “international resistance”.

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military thinker,
famously said that „war is the continuation of politics by
other means“. If he had lived with us today, he might have
said: „Terrorism is a continuation of policy by other

Terrorism means, literally, to frighten the victims into
surrendering to the will of the terrorist.

Terrorism is a weapon. Generally it is the weapon of the
weak. Of those who have no atom bombs, like the ones which
were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which terrorized
the Japanese into surrender. Or the aircraft which
destroyed Dresden in the (vain) attempt to frighten the
Germans into giving up.

Since most of the groups and countries using terrorism have
different aims, often contradicting each other, there is
nothing „international“ about it. Each terrorist campaign
has a character of its own. Not to mention the fact that
nobody considers himself (or herself) a terrorist, but
rather a fighter for God, Freedom or Whatever.

(I cannot restrain myself from boasting that long ago I
invented the formula: „One man’s terrorist is the other
man’s freedom fighter“.)

MANY ORDINARY Israelis felt deep satisfaction after the
Paris events. „Now those bloody Europeans feel for once
what we feel all the time!“

Binyamin Netanyahu, a diminutive thinker but a brilliant
salesman, has hit on the idea of inventing a direct link
between jihadist terrorism in Europe and Palestinian
terrorism in Israel and the occupied territories.

It is a stroke of genius: if they are one and the same,
knife-wielding Palestinian teenagers and Belgian devotees
of ISIS, then there is no Israeli-Palestinian problem, no
occupation, no settlements. Just Muslim fanaticism.
(Ignoring, by the way, the many Christian Arabs in the
secular Palestinian „terrorist“ organizations.)

This has nothing to do with reality. Palestinians who want
to fight and die for Allah go to Syria. Palestinians – both
religious and secular – who shoot, knife or run over
Israeli soldiers and civilians these days want freedom from
the occupation and a state of their own.

This is such an obvious fact that even a person with the
limited IQ of our present cabinet ministers could grasp it.
But if they did, they would have to face very unpleasant
choices concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So let’s stick to the comfortable conclusion: they kill us
because they are born terrorists, because they want to meet
the promised 72 virgins in paradise, because they are
anti-Semites. So, as Netanyahu happily forecasts, we shall
„live forever by our sword“.

TRAGIC AS the results of each terrorist event may be, there
is something absurd about the European reaction to recent

The height of absurdiocy was reached in Brussels, when a
lone terrorist on the run paralyzed an entire capital city
for days without a single shot being fired. It was the
ultimate success of terrorism in the most literal sense:
using fear as a weapon.

But the reaction in Paris was not much better. The number
of victims of the atrocity was large, but similar to the
number killed on the roads in France every couple of weeks.
It was certainly far smaller than the number of victims of
one hour of World War II. But rational thought does not
count. Terrorism works on the perception of the victims.

It seems incredible that ten mediocre individuals, with a
few primitive weapons, could cause world-wide panic. But it
is a fact. Bolstered by the mass media, which thrive on
such events, local terrorist acts turn themselves nowadays
into world-wide threats. The modern media, by their very
nature, are the terrorist’s best friend. Terror could not
flourish without them.

The next best friend of the terrorist is the politician. It
is almost impossible for a politician to resist the
temptation to ride on the wave of panic. Panic creates
„national unity“, the dream of every ruler. Panic creates
the longing for a „strong leader“. This is a basic human

Francois Hollande is a typical example. A mediocre yet
shrewd politician, he seized the opportunity to pose as a
leader. „C’est la guerre!“ he declared, and whipped up a
national frenzy. Of course this is no „guerre“. Not World
War III. Just a terrorist attack by a hidden enemy.
Indeed, one of the facts disclosed by these events is the
incredible foolishness of the political leaders all around.
They do not understand the challenge. They react to
imagined threats and ignore the real ones. They do not know
what to do. So they do what comes naturally: make speeches,
convene meetings and bomb somebody (no matter who and what

Not understanding the malady, their remedy is worse than
the disease itself. Bombing causes destruction, destruction
creates new enemies who thirst for revenge. It is a direct
collaboration with the terrorists.

It was a sad spectacle to see all these world leaders, the
commanders of powerful nations, running around like mice in
a maze, meeting, speechifying, uttering nonsensical
statements, totally unable to deal with the crisis.

THE PROBLEM is indeed far more complicated than simple
minds would believe, because of an unusual fact: the enemy
this time is not a nation, not a state, not even a real
territory, but an undefined entity: an idea, a state of
mind, a movement that does have a territorial base of sorts
but is not a real state.

This is not a completely unprecedented phenomenon: more
than a hundred years ago, the anarchist movement committed
terrorist acts all over the place without having a
territorial base at all. And 900 years ago a religious sect
without a country, the Assassins (a corruption of the
Arabic word for „hashish users“), terrorized the Muslim

I don’t know how to fight the Islamic State (or rather
Non-State) effectively. I strongly believe that nobody
knows. Certainly not the nincompoops who man (and woman)
the various governments.

I am not sure that even a territorial invasion would
destroy this phenomenon. But even such an invasion seems
unlikely. The Coalition of the Unwilling put together by
the US seems disinclined to put „boots on the ground“. The
only forces who could try – the Iranians and the Syrian
government army – are hated by the US and its local allies.

Indeed, if one is looking for an example of total
disorientation, bordering on lunacy, it is the inability of
the US and the European powers to choose between the
Assad-Iran-Russia axis and the IS-Saudi-Sunni camp. Add the
Turkish-Kurdish problem, the Russian-Turkish animosity and
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the picture is still
far from complete.

(For history-lovers, there is something fascinating about
the reemergence of the centuries-old struggle between
Russia and Turkey in this new setting. Geography trumps
everything else, after all.)

It has been said that war is far too important to leave to
the generals. The present situation is far too complicated
to leave to the politicians. But who else is there?

ISRAELIS BELIEVE (as usual) that we can teach the world. We
know terrorism. We know what to do.

But do we?

For weeks now, Israelis have lived in a panic. For lack of
a better name, it is called „the wave of terror“. Every day
now, two, three, four youngsters, including 13-year old
children, attack Israelis with knives or run them over with
cars, and are generally shot dead on the spot. Our renowned
army tries everything, including draconian reprisals
against the families and collective punishment of villages,
without avail.

These are individual acts, often quite spontaneous, and
therefore it is well-nigh impossible to prevent them. It is
not a military problem. The problem is political,

Netanyahu tries to ride this wave like Hollande and
company. He cites the Holocaust (likening a 16-year old boy
from Hebron to a hardened SS officer at Auschwitz) and
talks endlessly about anti-Semitism.

All in order to obliterate one glaring fact: the occupation
with its daily, indeed hourly and minutely, chicanery of
the Palestinian population. Some government ministers don’t
even hide anymore that the aim is to annex the West Bank
and eventually drive out the Palestinian people from their

There is no direct connection between IS terrorism around
the world and the Palestinian national struggle for
statehood. But if they are not solved, in the end the
problems will merge – and a far more powerful IS will unite
the Muslim world, as Saladin once did, to confront us, the
new Crusaders.

If I were a believer, I would whisper: God forbid.

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