The Facts


new internationalist
issue 161 - July 1986

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Politics of fear
There has been a dramatic increase in political terrorism
by independent groups and by governments over the last century.
But the statistics are inreliable and often speculative. Like
wartime figures they tend to reflect the biases of whatever side
releases them; so a dose of healthy scepticism is good advice.

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[image, unknown] What exactly is terrorism? Well, it's more tricky than you might imagine. Defining terrorism has become an exercise in partisan politics. As a result, there are as many definitions as there are political battles in today's fractured world.

  • Until recently, terrorism meant violence against civilians to inspire fear for political purposes. But since the late 1970s the definition has been deliberately confused.

  • The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) expands the definition to 'the use of violence for political ends.'

  • But another definition by an ex-US Ambassador in Central America is more realistic; 'If they do it, it's terrorism; if we do it, it's fighting for freedom.'
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[image, unknown] GOALS Ethnic or religious minorities who feel they have a right to national self-determination. Their use of terrorist tactics often justified as response to repression by government forces. Political and cultural sovereignty is main goal. Attacks directed at government agents/supporters; may occur inside and outside country in question.

POLITICS Can be on right or left. Symbols of patriotism are extremely powerful and most nationalist struggles adopt strong political line.

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IRA (Provisional Wing) Fighting from the left for a unified, independent Ireland.

ETA Left Basque separatists for an independent, Basque-speaking homeland between France and Spain.

LTIE Known as the Tamil Tigers; one of five Tamil groups from left to centre fighting for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka.

PLO The Palestinian Liberation Organization; an umbrella group representing various factions, most of which have forsworn terrorism, fighting for a Palestinian homeland in the Middle East.


[image, unknown] GOALS Aim is authoritarian dictatorship combining strong leadership, stiff discipline and national supremacy based on philosophy of 'might is right'. Active around the world, especially in Europe and Latin America. Attacks on racial minorities (Jews and immigrants) and on left-wing groups. Violence integral to neo-fascism, sometimes as simple revenge with no long-term rationale.

POLITICS Democracy seen as slippery slope to socialism and erosion of social order. Belief in rule by militarized elite and conservative values of patriotism, nationalism and racial purity. Sense of ethnic superiority means difficulty co-operating across national borders. However, rabid anti-communism facilitates links between US neo-nazi groups and Latin American fascists.

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ORDINE NERO Black order-a small Italian neo-fascist group operating, sometimes closely, with the right-wing MSI party.

BRITISH MOVEMENT Along with the National Front, the main proponent of neo-fascism in the UK. Responsible for racial attacks on Asians, Blacks and Jews.

GREY WOLVES Turkish exile group largely based in West Germany; responsible for attacks on left-wing Turks and linked to the 1981 assassination of Pope John Paul II.

OJO POK OJO Eye for an eye - one of several neo-fascist death squads active in Guatemala; history of similar groups in Argentina, Brazil and El Salvador.


[image, unknown] GOALS To 'force the contradictions' in the capitalist state and quicken socialist revolution. Operate usually in advanced capitalist countries, although sometimes overlap with Third World leftist guerrilla groups that adopt similar terror tactics. Targets usually symbols of capitalism (businessmen) or the state (government/military).

POLITICS Include anarchism, Trotskyism and Maoism. Tend to see violence as a legitimate response to structural violence of capitalism. Political strategy usually short term: to foment revolution with little regard for what comes after.

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RED BRIGADES Well-known Italian far-left group, has used kidnapping, and 'knee-capping'

RED ARMY FRACTION Formerly West Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang; active in kidnappings and murders in late 1970s. Claims credit for recent bombings of US military bases.

DIRECT ACTION Canadian anti-capitalist peace activists, also called the Vancouver Five; imprisoned for bombing factory making Cruise missile components.

SENDERO LUMINOSO Left-wing guerrilla insurgency in the Peruvian Andes; combines Maoist doctrine of 'prolonged military struggle' with belief in the resurrection of the ancient Inca civilization. Bombings, sabotage and murder of opponents.


[image, unknown] GOALS Institutionalized violence by governments, either direct or indirect. Aim to repress political dissidents and enforce social conformity. Can be used by left or right-wing regimes to silence those deemed enemies of the state'. Occurs usually where there is definite challenge to those in power; in authoritarian regimes there is little space for opposition and no need to stifle it. Often directly linked to superpower conflicts.

POLITICS Used by authoritarian governments on both left and right to control political opponents. USSR and Western nations may turn a blind eye to government-sponsored violence on grounds of ideology or economic self-interest. Fighting communism/capitalism can lead to supporting despots or aiding dubious 'freedom fighters'.

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52 of 114 Third World nations could be accused of state terrorism. Worst offenders include:

Indonesia: Pro-Western Asian nation responsible for estimated 100,000 deaths in East Timor and current repression in Irian Jaya.

Iran: Summary execution of religious minorities and severe restrictions on political opposition.

Guatemala: One of worst human-rights records in Latin America. Rampant right-wing death squad less active under newly elected President.

Liberia: Tightly run West African police state; opposition jailed and murdered, trade unionists beaten.

(see also 'Wanted For Crimes Against Their People')

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· From 1975 to 1985, 4,000 people died and 8,000 were wounded in more than 5,000 terrorist acts.'

· Terrorist acts are increasing: in 1984 there were more than 600 incidents, a 20% increase over average levels of the previous years. 2

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[image, unknown] · In 1985, 87 terrorist attacks in 30 countries claimed 124 lives. 3


· 20,000 Americans die yearly in accidents and murders involving handguns.'

· Nearly 4,000 Canadians died in automobile accidents in 1984.5

· An estimated 17,000 Australians die yearly from smoking-related diseases.'

· In 1984, in Africa alone 5 million children died from disease and illness caused by hunger.7

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Official use of state violence against
citizens in the Third World (1985)8

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  • From 1975 - 83 more than two-thirds of the arms exporting to the Third World went to regimes using violence as a matter of policy. The main suppliers to these terrorist governments are the United States, the USSR and France.9

  • Since 1981, the US-financed contra war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government has resulted in 12,000 deaths, 6,000 orphaned children and 250,000 displaced from their homes.10

  • American aid to Central America has risen 2,000% since 1978; in 1985 70% of it went for 'security purposes' - military aid and police training to combat 'terrorism'.11
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1 Notes for a Speech by the Honourable Perin Beatty Solicitor General of Canada to the Law Faculty of the University of Toronto, March 10, 1986. 2 Address to the Issues Management Association, by Robert B. Oakley, Diretor of the US Office for Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning. September 13 1985. 3 Maclean's April 26, 1986. 4. From an anti-handgun ad produced by the Public Media Centre, San Francisco, USA 5. Statistics Canada. 6. Department of Health, New South Wales, Australia. 7. World Military and Social Expenditures 1985, Ruth Lever Sivard 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid 10. Report to the 42nd Session of the United Nations Commision on Human Rights Feb 3 - Mar 14, 1986. Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America 11. Central American Update, Vol VII, No.5, March/April 1986.

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