The Criteria Of Terrorism And Terrorists

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”
 – George Orwell

With the reported discovery, attempted capture and assassination of Osama Bin Laden being announced last night questions that have been lingering in the shadows since the terrorist attacks on the US on 9/11/2001 have stepped into the light. Questions like what  lead to the US 9/11 attacks. The exploration of those questions leads to questions of American foreign policy and hegemony. Those questions lead to who and how are the terms “terrorism” and “terrorists” reshaped and to whose benefit. Those questions open up a new round of examination and each level of inquiry seems to only lead further down the rabbit hole.

i was living in Harlem when the attacks took place. i watched the television news cameras trained to the aftermath of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and thought it to be a horrible accident. When the second plane hit it became clear that this was an attack of epic proportions. Whoever planned this knew that with the first plane hitting there would speculation as to what happened, judgement would be withheld on whether or not it was an attack or an accident. In the process of trying to figure out what happened, every available camera would be trained on the World Trade Center and when that second plane hit all the hope of a horrible accident would be drained from us and there would be no doubt that this was an attack. The second plane hitting the World Trade Center just a few minutes after the first would change the world. In the moment that second plane hit the US would experience the fear, vulnerability and insecurity that the US has not felt since it announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to the European powers and backed up with its imperial adventure in 1898 with the Spanish-American War.

In the years following those attacks i struggled with the questions of defining “terrorism” and “terrorists” and how those terms are defined and by who and to what benefit. This is the question that you chase into the rabbit hole. It was something that would not leave me alone because these were terms that i was already wrestling with in terms of the way US political prisoners and prisoners of war (PP & POW) are treated.  People like Oscar Lopez Rivera, Russell Maroon Schoatz, Leonard Peltier, Sundiata Acoli, Herman Bell, Marshall Eddie Conway and David Gilbert, who had decided that they couldn’t stand by and allow US hegemony to exercise its will over Puerto Rican, African-American and Native American Peoples. They stood up in defiance to US empire within its own “borders” and in doing so their actions were often labeled as “terrorism” and they were often labeled as “terrorists”. With this recent terrorist attack on the US how did these words “terrorism” and “terrorist” change?

Within the zeitgeist of 1970 – 1980 the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist” didn’t hold the same kind of weight that they do in a post US 9/11 world. The US government and corporate media had refined and redefined “terrorism” and “terrorist” to now encompass anyone who disagreed with the American empire. The US was drawing a line in the sand and it couldn’t be more clear than when President Bush declared “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists”. The US government and the corporate media had now found a way to compress all dissent to American Empire by expanding the definition of “terrorism” and “terrorists”.  As an added bonus this new refinement of the definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist” now seemed to remove any doubt that the actions that US PP & POW’s were accused of, convicted of and were serving incredibly long sentences for, were anything but terrorist actions and that they couldn’t be anything but terrorists.

In the days, weeks, months and years following those attacks the supporters of members of the Black Liberation Army, Weather Underground, American Indian Movement and Puerto Rican separatists groups languishing for three and four decades in the US now had to fight to keep them from being categorized in this new expanded definition of “terrorism” and terrorist”. We were saddled with the responsibility of having to explain that they were not terrorist’s, because their actions were not acts of terrorism. They were freedom fighters who fought against US oppression.

This issue of “grandfathering” in US PP & POW’s was one that led me to the writing of my film MACHETERO. It was this expansion of the terminology of “terrorism” and “terrorist” in the post US 9/11 attacks that inspired me to make a clear delineation that would exclude US PP & POW’s from the new “terrorism” and the new “terrorist” definition. The film takes a stand against including US PP & POW’s within this all-encompassing and ever-expanding terminology. In trying to get people to think about how and who defines these terms i needed to stay away from the US 9/11 attacks because they were so polarizing so i used a different approach to begin a dialogue that would get people to think outside of the parameters that were being defined within this post US 9/11 zeitgeist.

The issue of US imperialism in Puerto Rico is an issue that unfortunately most people don’t know about. Oddly enough it was the fact that many people didn’t know about the colonial relationship that the US has with Puerto Rico that allowed me to bring up the issues of how and who defines “terrorism” and “terrorist” in a kind of hermetically sealed bubble that could possibly circumvent post US 9/11 polarization.

Now the issues of terrorism and terrorist are on the minds of many once again and so i invite you to explore some of these issues through the prism of my film MACHETERO. Although the film has not yet been released on DVD. There is plenty to entice your thoughts on theses issue on the MACHETERO website, Facebook Page, YouTube clips and reviews from film festivals to get the wheels turning until the film is released later this year.

– vagabond

Check out the film’s trailer…




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