Tuesday, November 03, 2015

A radical human rights abusing genocidal insurgency, not a terrorist group

I'm pretty sure I am in the minority on this one, but I don't think the Islamic State is a terrorist group. My understanding of the definition of a terrorist is a (a) non-state actor, (b) that commits violent acts, (c) directed against civilians, (d) for political reasons. Even though no country has officially recognized ISIS as a state, they do call themselves a state, they control territory and govern it using their legal system. In other words, they meet the definition of a state, albeit an unrecognized one, which means they are not a non-state actor and thus not a terrorist group. (For the same reason, I think Hamas ceased being a terrorist group when it became the de facto government of Gaza).

It is true that there have been terrorist attacks in various places in the world that are said to be inspired by the Islamic State. But I have yet to see any evidence that the leadership in Raqqa is actually calling the shots on any of those attacks. Besides, even if they did directly order the attacks, we have a different category for that: state sponsor of terrorism.

Yeah, I know this is just a semantic issue. But semantics matter! And they especially matter when it comes to what we label as "terrorist." It drove me crazy when Iraqi soldiers (or irregular units like the Fedayeen) were casually called "terrorists" during the early days of the Iraq War, or when attacks on U.S. soldiers were called "terrorists attacks." Both clearly weren't, but the label served a political purpose of tying the Iraq War in people's minds to the War Against Terrorism that Bush declared after 9/11.

And yet whenever I try to keep people to keep to the actual definition of "terrorism" someone inevitably accuses me of defending whoever I am arguing does not deserve the "terrorism" label. That's absurd. There are other bad things other than terrorists. Really really bad things, which includes really awful state actors. Neither Hitler nor Stalin were terrorists, but were still awful. Saying the Islamic State is not a terrorist group doesn't mean you are defending the group, it just means people are giving it the wrong label. There are plenty of other labels for horrible groups we can use that have the virtue of being accurate.