See More on Facebook

Opinion

Is there a link between revolutionaries and terrorists?

Salman Tarik Kureshi argues that there is not much difference between freedom fighters and terrorists.


Written by

Updated: March 16, 2018

“One man’s terrorist,” goes the received wisdom, “Is another’s freedom fighter”. But this is foggy thinking, the kind of value assumption that justifies whichever side one feels sympathetic towards. The assumption that terrorist violence is a component of most liberation movements and revolutions bears examination.

The largest and most significant of liberation struggles, that of our own subcontinent, was driven by the non-violent agitational campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and the parliamentary constitutionalism of the Quaid. The terrorist tactics of, say, the RSS, were aberrations that played a negligible role in the totality of these freedom movements.

Elsewhere, too, national freedom has been attained through agitation (South Africa, Kenya, Ghana), constitutional negotiation (Sri Lanka, Nigeria), armed struggle (Turkey, Vietnam, Algeria, Bangladesh), even military coups d’état (Egypt, Libya) and a host of other means. Terror against non-combatants was not a major strategic component of these liberation movements. Terror was successfully employed by the Zionists, but that was a done deal anyhow, and by the Palestinians (notably without success).

Beyond freedom movements, is there a relationship between revolutionaries and terrorists? I have previously likened terrorists to storm crows flying before the winds of incipient revolution. There’s an enormous amount of violence that accompanies revolutions, almost axiomatically. As Mao Zedong said, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” But does revolutionary violence deliberately target innocent non-combatants? Is terrorism part of revolutionary strategy?

In the French Revolution, the guillotine was kept busy severing heads. But the French Terror was directed, first, against the functionaries and perceived supporters of the ancien regime and, thereafter, against factions of the revolutionaries themselves.

Pre-revolution Russia witnessed successive bursts of terrorist violence from such groups as the Decembrists, the Nihilists and the Narodnaya Volnya populists. However, both the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which actually conducted the 1917 revolution, were explicit in their denunciation of terrorist methods. The violence of the socialists’ campaigns against the Kulaks, the purges within the Bolsheviks themselves and the Stalinist purges were after, and not part of, the revolution.

The Chinese revolution comprised the campaigns of an armed revolutionary force — the Red Army — during the 1930s and 1940s. Mao was especially careful to target land barons, warlords and the Japanese, and not the ordinary people, who were thought of as the ‘sea’ in which the communists ‘swam like fish’. The campaigns of large-scale mass violence, and the later internecine violence of the Red Guards against the communists themselves during the Cultural Revolution, occurred well after the revolution.

As Lenin said, “A revolution is not a pink tea party.” In each of these cases, there was violence aplenty against the leaders of the pre-revolutionary tyrannies. Successful revolutions used violence to clean up perceived remnants of the old order, and then resolved factional disputes amongst revolutionaries themselves in that strange process where revolutions seem to devour their own children.

Now, many may consider the violence of revolutions unacceptably wasteful of human life. The point is that, barring occasional aberrant behaviour accompanying the breakdown of a state, we have not previously seen terror against non-combatants be­­­­ing systematically used as part of revolutionary strategy. In fact, it was considered counterproductive and cowardly. Both Lenin and Mao categorically rejected terrorist tactics and denounced the perpetrators of such occu­­r­­­­rences.

But, come the media age of the 21st century, and things have changed. Beginning with the spectacular attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in September 2001, which many of us saw happening in real time on our TV sets, terrorist tactics have been the principal component of the campaigns of the so-called Islamist militants — whether the TTP and various Lashkars and Jaishes in Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban, IS in the Middle East, Boko Haram in West Africa, etc.

Traditional revolutionaries and liberationists eschewed terror tactics against the non-combatants they hoped to lead. But today’s religious warriors observe no such niceties. They are uninterested in cultivating democratic support or catalysing popular uprisings. Their methodology is to terrorise local populations into submission, in order to enjoy the power gained from running their proto-states. Simultaneous terrorist actions against the West prompted the emergence there of the likes of Trump, le Pen, Wilders, Farrage, etc, thereby promoting hatred, divisions and barriers between nations.

Terrorism, I would suggest, is not the weapon of the weak, but of the vicious. Such an appreciation is especially significant today, when such asinine mantras as ‘negotiating with the Taliban’ are doing the rounds of power corridors here and abroad.

(This article was written by Salman Tarik Kurseshi and originally appeared in the Dawn Newspaper)



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


ANN Members
About the Author: Asia News Network is a regional media alliance comprising 24 media entities.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Opinion

In any other country, govt. would have resigned

Saman Indrajith argues that the Sri Lankan government should have resigned. The entire government would have resigned if a disaster like the Easter Sunday carnage had happened in any other country, but such things would never happen in Sri Lanka, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka told Parliament, yesterday. Participating in the debate on gazette declaring a state of emergency, Field Marshal Fonseka severely criticised both the government and the Opposition for allowing the deterioration of intelligence services. He said that soon after the end of the war in 2009, he had proposed to build a national intelligence agency combining all intelligence units and divisions and to make it the best in South Asia. But no such thing had happened. Instead, the intelligence operatives had been used to stalk and surveillance of political enemies and their children, the former Army Commander said. Fonseka said: “


By The Island
April 25, 2019

Opinion

In Indonesia, a nation of voters won’t be swayed

Change no longer the rallying cry in Indonesia. When Joko Widodo first ran for president in 2014, Indonesia was in the mood for change. Everything about Mr Joko then was about hope and change: his path to power, his man-of-the-people image, his focus on services. A businessman selling furniture in Solo, he was not part of the Jakarta political elite and triumphed at the polls as an outsider candidate. Leaving aside whether Mr Joko has delivered on his promises or what one might think about his opponent Prabowo Subianto, what is striking today is that change is the furthest thing from voters’ minds. If the projections from the pollsters hold up, then the results of 


By The Straits Times
April 18, 2019

Opinion

Managing Pakistan’s slowing economy

The government will find it challenging to keep Pakistan afloat. In case you’ve missed it, there have recently been a slew of forecasts that say the economy is likely to slow to less than 3.5 per cent GDP growth this year (from 5.8pc last year), and next year will be even more difficult as it is expected to contract further to 2.5pc or thereabouts. The World Bank has put these projections out most recently, but the State Bank agrees (though they have not put out any projection for next year at this stage), and the data that the government and the IMF are dealing with during their talks says more or less the same thing. Meanwhile, inflation is set to rise further for a few months, crossing 13pc, as per the World Bank, before it stabilises. The IMF and government projections show inflation to be elevated all thr


By Dawn
April 12, 2019

Opinion

Thais wont mobilize in protest even if junta wins elections.

Thailand’s ersatz elections will not bother most Thais even if army comes back to rule. Every country has their breaking point, where corruption, abuse and living standards reach a point where people are compelled to take to the streets and demand a change. Thailand’s breaking point appears to be much higher than most. After all, a decade of political infighting, street riots, and military crackdowns has made mass protest much less palatable for the common Thai. Despite this, the military seem to be doing their utmost to push the populace to their limit. Reports from early and overseas voters tell of an election deeply flawed with spoiled ballots, discounted votes and confusing polling procedures. Some votes have been disregarded altogether, including those that voted for the Thai Raksa Chat Party who was disqualified by the Election Commission for running a princess to be p


By Cod Satrusayang
March 20, 2019

Opinion

Dialogue important after India-Pakistan crisis

As India and Pakistan wake up to the real possibilities of war, it is time to give dialogue another chance. Although the 2019 India-Pakistan standoff may have passed its immediate intensity, it is clear that the entire episode has left a slew of new worries for policymakers all over the world. It is crucial that lessons are learnt and crisis-handling procedures between the two countries put in place. Because there is no doubt that Pakistan and India were perilously close to war. In a digital age, resonating with the red noise of alternative facts fuelled by ultra-nationalisms, it was clear that the Modi regime’s need to bolster its flagging electoral ratings before an election took the Indian act of border incursion into Pakistan’s Ba


By Dawn
March 15, 2019

Opinion

Time for trusting Thai junta coming to an end

After four years of military rule, the military’s credibility is at an all time low. By the time the military holds elections on March 24, Thailand will have spent 1,767 days under military rule. During that time, dissent has been suppressed, freedom of expression has eroded, the press has been attacked publicly and privately by the government and the population will not have had a single say in matters of governance. And yet a constant mantra that the military has chanted throughout that time has been the almost paternalistic “trust me.” “Trust me, I am replacing the democratically-elected government for the good of the people.” “Trust me, we need to lessen criticism of the junta for unity’s sake.” “Trust me, this constitution is necessary to have elections.” “Trust me, we will hold an election within a year.”


By Cod Satrusayang
March 7, 2019