“Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.” ~ Peter Ustinov
By Robert Parry, Consortium News
If the Fox News promoters of racial profiling had been in charge of investigating the terror attacks in Norway on July 22, 2011, they might well have encountered blond, blue-eyed Anders Behring Breivik and his two smoking-hot guns only long enough to ask if he’d seen any suspicious-looking Muslims around.
After all, it has been a touchstone of the American Right, as well as right-wing Israelis, that Muslims are the source of virtually all terrorism and thus it makes little sense to focus attention on non-Muslims. A clean-cut Nordic sort like Breivik, who fancies himself part of a modern-day Knights Templar, is someone who would get a pass.
Or, as Israel’s UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman told a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2006, “While it may be true – and probably is – that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim.” [Washington Post, March 7, 2006]
So, if you were tuned in to Fox News after the Norway attack, you would have seen smug-looking Fox talking heads recounting how this attack was surely an act of Islamic terrorism and even one exchange about the value of racial profiling to avoid wasting time on non-Muslims.
Yet, while the biases of Gillerman and Fox News represent a large chunk of the conventional wisdom, the reality is that terrorism is far from some special plague associated with Muslims. In fact, terrorism, including state terrorism, has been practiced far more extensively by non-Muslims and especially by Christian-dominated nations, both historically and in more modern times.
Terror tactics have long been in the tool kit of predominantly Christian armies and paramilitaries, including Breivik’s beloved Crusaders who slaughtered Muslims and Jews alike when Jerusalem was conquered in 1099.
Terror, such as torture and burning “heretics” alive, was a big part of the Roman Catholic Inquisition and the intra-Christian bloodletting in Europe in the middle of the last millennium. Terror played a big role, too, in genocides committed by Christian explorers against the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and other unfortunate targets of colonialism.
More Crusading ‘Knights’
During the Jim Crow era in the American South, white Christians organized Ku Klux Klan chapters, which, like Breivik’s Templars, considered themselves Christian “knights” harkening back to the Crusades. The KKK inflicted terror on blacks, including lynching and bombings, to defend white supremacy.
In the 20th Century, there were countless examples of “red” and “white” terror, as Communists challenged the Capitalist power structure in Russia and other countries. Those violent clashes led to the rise of German Nazism which empowered “Aryans” to inflict terrifying slaughters to “defend” their racial purity from Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other “inferior” races.
To prevail in World War II, the Allies resorted to their own terror tactics, destroying entire cities from the air, such as Dresden in Germany and Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
After World War II, the United States created the CIA to conduct what amounted to a war of terror and counter-terror against revolutionary movements around the world. This “low-intensity conflict” sometimes spilled into massive slaughters, such as U.S. terror bombings that killed estimated millions across Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
The CIA also recruited, deployed and supported proxy terrorists throughout Latin America. A generation of South and Central American military officers was schooled in how to intimidate and repress political movements seeking social change.
A fierce slaughter occurred in Guatemala after the CIA ousted an elected government in 1954 through the use of violent propaganda that terrified the nation. The CIA’s coup was followed by military dictatorships that used state terror as a routine means of controlling the impoverished population.
The consequences of the U.S. strategy were described in a March 29, 1968, report written by the U.S. embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Viron Vaky.
“The official squads are guilty of atrocities. Interrogations are brutal, torture is used and bodies are mutilated,” Vaky wrote. “In the minds of many in Latin America, and, tragically, especially in the sensitive, articulate youth, we are believed to have condoned these tactics, if not actually encouraged them. Therefore our image is being tarnished and the credibility of our claims to want a better and more just world are increasingly placed in doubt.”
Vaky also noted the self-deceptions within the U.S. government that resulted from its complicity in state-sponsored terror.
“This leads to an aspect I personally find the most disturbing of all – that we have not been honest with ourselves,” Vaky said. “We have condoned counter-terror; we may even in effect have encouraged or blessed it. We have been so obsessed with the fear of insurgency that we have rationalized away our qualms and uneasiness.
“This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it, for we never really tried. Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that as long as Communists are being killed it is alright. Murder, torture and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the victims are Communists. After all hasn’t man been a savage from the beginning of time so let us not be too queasy about terror. I have literally heard these arguments from our people.”
Vaky’s lament, however, mostly fell on deaf ears. Before long, much of Latin America was governed by murderous regimes, including the Southern Cone dictatorships which went so far as to create an international assassination combine called Operation Condor to spread terror among political dissidents by killing critics as far away as Washington and European capitals.
The Bush Role
These terror operations reached a peak when George H.W. Bush was CIA director in 1976. In that year, U.S.-backed Cuban terrorists blew up a Cubana Airline plane killing 73 people, with the evidence pointing at Cuban anti-communists Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles.
But those two right-wing Cubans continued to receive help and protection from the United States, including from the next generation of Bushes, Jeb and George W. (Thanks to the Bushes and their readiness to harbor these terrorists, Bosch lived out his golden years in Miami and Posada was spared extradition to Venezuela.)
Some of the worst examples of state terrorism occurred in Central America during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Reagan threw the support of the U.S. government behind the blood-soaked militaries of Guatemala and El Salvador (ironically, in the name of fighting terrorism). He also unleashed a terrorist organization, known as the Contras, against the leftist government in Nicaragua.
The butchery was shocking. Tens of thousands were slaughtered across Central America with the U.S.-backed Guatemalan army engaging in genocide against Indian populations of the highlands.
Though Reagan was the leading proponent in this application of terror in the 1980s, he is today one of the most honored U.S. presidents with scores of government facilities, including National Airport in Washington, named after him. (He is routinely cited by all sides in policy debates, including by President Barack Obama.)
Though Israel has been the victim of many horrible acts of Islamic [sic] terrorism, it also is not without guilt in the dark arts of terrorism. Militant Zionists employed terrorism as part of their campaign to establish Israel as a Jewish state in the 1940s. The terrorism included killings of British officials who were administering Palestine under an international mandate as well as Palestinians who were driven violently from their land so it could be claimed by Jewish settlers.
One of the most famous of those terrorist attacks was the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where British officials were staying. The attack, which killed 91 people including local residents, was carried out by the Irgun, a terrorist group run by Menachem Begin. Another veteran of this campaign of Zionist terrorism was Yitzhak Shamir.
And, these Jewish terrorists were not simply obscure figures in Israeli history. Begin later founded the Likud Party and rose to be Israel’s prime minister. Shamir was another Likud leader who was later elected prime minister. (Today, Likud remains Israel’s ruling party.)
In the early 1990s, as I was waiting to interview Shamir at his Tel Aviv office, I was approached by one of his young female assistants who was dressed in a gray and blue smock with a head covering in the traditional Hebrew style. As we were chatting, she smiled and said in a lilting voice, “Prime Minister Shamir, he was a terrorist, you know.” I responded with a chuckle, “yes, I’m aware of the prime minister’s biography.”
The classic definition of “terrorism” is the use of violence against civilians to achieve a political goal. But the word ultimately has been transformed into a geopolitical insult. If “our” side is the target, it’s “terrorism,” even if it’s a case of local militants attacking an occupying military force. Yet, when “our” side is doing the killing, it is anything but “terrorism.”
So, for instance, when Palestinians trapped in the open-air prison called Gaza fire small missiles at nearby Israeli settlements, that is decried as “terrorism” because the missiles are indiscriminant. But in 1983, when the Reagan administration lobbed artillery shells from the USS New Jersey into Lebanese villages (in support of the Israeli military occupation of Lebanon), that was not “terrorism.”
Yet, when Lebanese militants responded to the U.S. shelling by driving a truck bomb into the U.S. Marine base at the Beirut airport, killing 241 American troops, that was widely deemed “terrorism” in the American news media, even though the victims weren’t civilians. They were military troops belonging to a country that had become a participant in a civil war.
As a Washington-based reporter for the Associated Press then, I questioned the seeming bias that the wire service was showing in its selective use of the word “terrorist” as applied to the bombing. Responding to my concerns, a senior AP executive quipped, “Terrorist is the word that follows Arab.”
Working journalists understood that it was an unwritten rule to apply the word “terrorism” liberally when the perpetrators were Muslims but avoid the term when describing actions by the United States or its allies. At such moments, the principle of objectivity went out the window.
Eventually, the American press corps developed such an engrained sense of this double standard that unrestrained moral outrage would pour forth when acts of “terrorism” were committed by U.S. enemies, but a studied silence – or a nuanced concern – would follow similar crimes by the United States or its allies.
So, when President George W. Bush carried out his “shock and awe” assault on Iraq, there was no suggestion that the destruction might be an act of terror – despite the fact that it was specifically designed to intimidate the Iraqis through acts of violence. Bush then followed up with a brutal invasion that has since resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.
Many Muslims and others around the world denounced Bush’s Iraq invasion as “state terrorism,” but such a charge was considered far outside the mainstream debate in the United States. Instead, Iraqi insurgents were labeled “terrorists” when they attacked U.S. troops inside Iraq.
[This pattern continues to this day. On Monday, after Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government targets and offices related to NATO’s occupation of the country, the New York Times’ lead story characterized the offensive as “the most audacious coordinated terrorist attacks here in recent years.” However, the Times never describes raids by U.S. military forces, which have claimed large numbers of civilian lives, as “terrorism.”]
This double standard reinforces the notion that “only Muslims” commit acts of “terrorism,” because the Western news media, by practice, rarely applies the t-word to non-Muslims (and then only to groups opposed to the United States). By contrast, it is both easy and expected to attach the word to Muslim groups held in disfavor by the U.S. and Israeli governments, i.e. Hamas and Hezbollah.
This double standard was on display in 2011 at Rep. Peter King’s Homeland Security Committee hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims. King refused to expand his investigation to include what some see as a rising threat from Christian Right “radicalization.”
Much like the Norway slaughter, a number of examples of domestic terrorism in the United States have emanated from the Right’s hostility toward multiculturalism and other policies of the modern American state.
Such cases of domestic terrorism have included the gunning down of presumed liberals at a Unitarian Church in Kentucky; violent attacks on gynecologists who perform abortions; the killing of a guard at Washington’s Holocaust Museum; and the shooting of a Democratic congresswoman and her constituents in Arizona.
From Breivik’s manifesto urging European Christians to rise up against Muslim immigrants and liberal politicians who tolerate multiculturalism, it is also clear that the Nordic/Christian mass murderer was inspired by anti-Muslim rhetoric that pervades the American Right. That bigotry has surfaced in ugly campaigns to prevent mosques from being built across the country or even an Islamic community center that was deemed to be too close to 9/11’s Ground Zero.
Rep. King’s hearings were inspired by the work of noted Islam-basher Steven Emerson, whose Investigative Project on Terrorism has sought to link the locations of mosques to the incidence of terrorism cases. Emerson, who has close ties to Israel’s Likud and American neocons, also was a key figure in the campaign to block the Islamic community center near Ground Zero.
In 2010, Emerson went on right-wing activist Bill Bennett’s national radio show and insisted that Islamic cleric Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leading force behind the community center, would likely not “survive” Emerson’s disclosure of supposedly radical comments that Rauf made a half decade earlier.
Emerson said, “We have found audiotapes of Imam Rauf defending Wahhabism, the puritanical version of Islam that governs Saudi Arabia; we have found him calling for the elimination of the state of Israel by claiming he wants a one-nation state meaning no more Jewish state; we found him defending bin Laden violence.”
However, when Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism released its evidence several days later, it fell far short of Emerson’s lurid descriptions. Rauf actually made points that are shared by many mainstream analysts – and none of the excerpted comments involved “defending Wahhabism.”
As for Rauf “defending bin Laden violence,” Emerson apparently was referring to remarks that Rauf made to an audience in Australia in 2005 about the history of U.S. and Western mistreatment of people in the Middle East.
“We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,” Rauf said. “You may remember that the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations. And when Madeleine Albright, who has become a friend of mine over the last couple of years, when she was Secretary of State and was asked whether this was worth it, [she] said it was worth it.”
Emerson purported to “fact check” Rauf’s statement on the death toll from the Iraq sanctions by claiming “a report by the British government said at most only 50,000 deaths could be attributed to the sanctions, which were brought on by the actions by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.”
What Emerson’s “fact check” ignored, however, was that Rauf was accurately recounting Leslie Stahl’s questioning of Secretary of State Albright on CBS “60 Minutes” in 1996. Emerson also left out the fact that United Nations studies did conclude that those U.S.-led sanctions caused the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five.
In the 1996 interview, Stahl told Albright regarding the sanctions, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
Later, an academic study by Columbia University’s Richard Garfield put the sanctions-related death toll of Iraqi children, under five, at 106,000 to 227,000.
Emerson didn’t identify the specific British report that contained his lower figure, although even that number – 50,000 – represents a stunning death toll and doesn’t contradict Rauf’s chief point, that U.S.-British actions have killed many innocent Muslims over the years.
Also, by 2005, when Rauf made his remarks in Australia, the United States and Great Britain had invaded and occupied Iraq, with a death toll spiraling from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands with some estimates of war-related deaths in Iraq now exceeding one million.
Far from “defending bin Laden violence,” Rauf’s comments simply reflected the truth about the indiscriminate killing inflicted on the Muslim world by U.S.-British interventions over the decades. British imperialism in the region dates back several centuries, a point that Emerson also ignored. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Islam Basher Claims to Unmask Cleric.”]
It is Emerson’s kind of anti-Muslim propaganda that has infected the ability of the U.S. political system to deal fairly with Middle Eastern issues. Rep. King’s one-sided hearings became another opportunity to exacerbate American hostility toward Muslims.
Emerson has boasted about his role in helping to structure King’s hearings, but lashed out at King when the congressman refused to include Emerson on the witness list. “I was even going to bring in a special guest today and a VERY informed and connected source, who could have been very useful, possibly even critical to your hearing, but he too will not attend unless I do,” Emerson wrote to King. “You have caved in to the demands of radical Islamists in removing me as a witness.”
In a particularly weird twist, Emerson somehow envisioned himself as the victim of McCarthyism because he wasn’t being allowed to go before the House Homeland Security Committee and accuse large segments of the American-Muslim community of being un-American. [Politico, Jan. 19, 2011]
But such is the strange world of the propagandists who have managed to associate the crime of “terrorism” almost exclusively with Muslims, when the ugly reality is that the blood of innocents covers the hands of adherents to many other faiths (and political movements) as well.
It is that sort of anti-Muslim bigotry which feeds the Christian Right terrorism of an Anders Behring Breivik.
[In the wake of Breivik’s killing spree, the Center for American Progress produced a report on the well-funded bigotry of Emerson and other Muslim-bashers. Entitled “Fear, Inc.,” the 129-page report listed Emerson as one of five “scholars” who act as “misinformation experts” to “generate the false facts and materials” that are then exploited by politicians and pundits to frighten Americans about the supposed threat posed by Muslims. To read more on Emerson’s “misinformation” role, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Unmasking October Surprise ‘Debunker.'”]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, “Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush,” was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, “Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq” and “Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth'” are also available there.