hat tip-Margo I.
Terror in academia
The Spectator (UK)
Tues 15 April 2008
Three years ago, I published claims by a student in the International Politics department at Aberystwyth university that it was fomenting a climate of hatred of Israel, claims that were heatedly denied at the time.
The course re-conceptualises a number of commonly-held views on orthodox subjects and introduces a number of alternative approaches and perspectives through which to examine contemporary political terror. The aim of this course is to de-mythologise, de-mystify, and deconstruct the dominant policy, media, and academic discourses about terrorism. Specifically, it aims to provide the necessary analytical tools for a critical assessment of the discourses on terrorism, including the current ‘war on terrorism’, and the ways in which it has been constructed in policy, media, and academic discourses…The course will also consider the ways in which the dominant discourses of terrorism have allowed states to pursue a range of geo-political objectives and expand their powers. This course aims to introduce students to a distinctly ‘critical’ approach to the study of political terror through a thorough critique of orthodox terrorism studies and a clear articulation of an alternative ‘critical’ approach.
No prizes for guessing what that ‘alternative ‘critical’ approach’ might be. The handbook further instructs students to prepare a ‘learning log’ which will itself constitute 10 per cent of the final grade:
Each entry in your logbook should contain the following: (a) The lecture date, number, and topic; (b) the author and title of the books, chapters or articles you read as preparation; and (c) what you felt you learned in the lecture, plus any issues you found interesting or particularly informative.
The student wrote to me as follows:
I am a student studying the module ‘Understanding Terror: Perspectives on Terrorism’ in the department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University. A notable statement made in a lecture which I did attend was an implicit comparison between the treatment of Jews in Germany prior to the Shoah of World War Two, and that of Muslims today.Part of the assessment of the course involves submitting a learning log every week, which consists of a critical appraisal of the reading done for the lectures in the preceding week. I have noticed that those who mark these logs tend to be very quick to criticise when a student does not ‘tow the line’ (an example of ‘the line’ is in the forwarded email below) whereas simply regurgitating in note form what the various authors of the readings say earns ticks and no comments.We have also been told to read only books which they approve (unofficially in one of the seminars), something I found ominous. Passing this module is key to my obtaining a degree, and I will shortly find myself in the unpleasant situation (an essay and exam. form the main part of the assessment) of having to write what I know they want to read, rather than what I actually think, moreover I am certain that should I use any sources which they regard as unacceptable (although they have included a token number of these on their reading list), my work will almost certainly be marked more critically than that of someone who simply agrees with their beliefs.I should add also that at the start of the course, before any teaching occurred, we were given a questionnaire (attached) asking various things, essentially our opinions, on terrorism, its causes and so on. This was said to be to show how we had progressed during the course, but to me it was uncomfortably like some kind of political profiling document. A final point is that the seminars have a policy in which anything which anyone says cannot be attributed to them outside of it, apparently to shield those who have had ‘experience’ with terrorism. By this, I am hoping they mean as a victim rather than as a practitioner. Most notably of all, although Islam is quite clearly at the heart of anything to do with terrorism nowadays, it is never mentioned directly except alongside non-Islamic terrorists, although I suppose that they are trying not to discriminate by doing this.
In the light of the lively debates in seminars last week about state terrorism, I thought you might be interested to know about debates that are going on between members of the department and others. Here is one exchange that took place earlier this week between Dr Richard Jackson and a student who challenged him on the issue of state terrorism at a lecture he delivered at Oxford.Richard’s explanation of the background:
I gave a lecture at Oxford yesterday about the failings of terrorism studies and in passing I said that something like: ‘Palestinian terrorism receives a disproportionate amount of attention in the literature compared to Israeli state terrorism.’ During the question time a student excoriated me for making unfounded claims about Israel and said that I was a poor academic for not backing up my statements. He’s since emailed me asking for proof that Israel has ever practiced state terrorism.Richard’s written response to the student’s criticism:My assertion that Israel has been engaged in state terrorism lies first, in a clear understanding of what the aims and consequences of terrorism are. Second, by analysing Israeli actions such as the widespread use of torture, targeted killings, military attacks on civilian areas, collective punishments, and covert operations, we can see that they qualify as terrorism.Among scholars, there is now a broad consensus that terrorism is the use or threat of violence against civilians (or sometimes unarmed soldiers or police officers) for the purpose of terrifying or intimidating an audience for political purposes. It is a kind of political communication, a message of fear directed towards an audience. The essence of terrorism lies in its intention to spread terror for political advantage through the threat or infliction of violence by which standard it is clear that states can commit acts of terrorism in the same way that non-state actors can. When government agents for example, attempt to cause fear and intimidation to sectors of their own (or another’s) population in order to undermine support for a political movement through a violent campaign that involves kidnapping, torture, assassination and bombs in public places (the same acts that non-state terrorists commit), there is no doubt that this constitutes terrorism. Similarly, the ‘terror bombing’ of civilian areas during wartime to intimidate the population into submission, particularly when the bombing itself brings no strategic advantage, also clearly falls under the terrorism label. Similarly, it is clear that counter-terrorism itself can become terrorism when it fails to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, it is highly disproportionate and it aims to terrify or intimidate the wider population or a particular community into submission. Lastly, when torture is not used simply as a means to secure intelligence about imminent threats, but also as an attempt to undermine the morale of the leaders and supporters of the insurgents — by spreading widespread fear — torture then becomes a tool of state terrorism.It is clear on this basis that a number of Israeli actions therefore constitute state terrorism. First, the widespread use of torture by the Israeli security services, which is well documented and has been the subject of cases before the Israeli Supreme Court, is a form of state terrorism. The fact that many thousands of Palestinians have been tortured and that ordinary Palestinians live in terror that they may be arrested and tortured at any time, particularly if they show outward signs of support for certain political groups, clearly makes it a form of state terrorism. Such state terror was widely practiced in Latin America, South Africa, Northern Ireland and elsewhere.Second, the use of targeted killings, particularly when they involve bombing civilian areas are also acts of state terrorism. Given that they have little strategic value (they have never seriously affected the capabilities of Palestinian groups to launch attacks), they are retaliatory, they are extra-judicial, and they involve killing people who are not strictly speaking soldiers (they are not recognised by Israel as prisoners of war when they are captured, for example), makes them a form of terrorism. Imagine if Palestinian groups started planting bombs designed to kill members of the Israeli security forces when they were at home, and then asserted that they did not intend to kill the civilians who were nearby but only the soldiers. This would clearly qualify as terrorism too. The important point to note is that actions can have both military and terroristic motives, particularly if you are trying to send a message to another group. Thus, when Colombian death squads assassinate a union organiser or Israel assassinates a militant, they are both trying to trying to undermine the organisational capabilities of their opponents AND send a message to the group and its supporters. The use of violence to send a message is a form of terrorism. What is interesting is that Israeli officials frequently admit that they are sending a message to the Palestinians that the price they pay for supporting terrorism is such retaliation. The same argument can be applied to illegal kidnappings.Third, the collective punishments aimed at the entire Palestinian population, as well as house demolitions of families of militants, are a form of terrorism because they have no strategic value but are simply designed to send a message to the wider population — they are an attempt to intimidate them through violence into changing their political support. When non-state terrorists attack the water supply or electricity or disrupt a society for the purposes of sending a message, it is still considered terrorism. Israel’s similar disruptions are also therefore a form of terrorism. I would also add in this context that the use of sonic booms on a civilian population which are not strategic but simply designed to terrify and intimidate, also fit the definition of terrorism.Fourth, states can act in a terrorist manner during war when they use military force not for strategic purposes but for the purposes of intimidation or clearing areas of civilians. On this basis, the widespread bombing of civilian areas in the most recent war against Lebanon constitutes a form of state terrorism. It had little strategic value, as the Israeli military knew that the Hezbollah forces were underground and would still need to be driven out with ground forces; therefore, it was a kind of collective punishment against the population for their support of Hezbollah and an attempt to intimidate them into changing that support. The use of violence to intimidate a population for political purposes is a form of terrorism.Incidentally, the most common justifications for by Israeli officials for the use of strategic bombing in counter-terrorism — that unlike non-state terrorism it does not deliberately target civilians and that the large numbers of civilian casualties are unintended — is, in fact, rather specious. In most countries, if you know with a high degree of certainty that as a result of your actions innocent civilians are likely to be killed, then you clearly intended it and are guilty of murder. For example, if I spray machine gun fire in a crowded shopping mall aiming to kill a known murderer who is walking there, even if I don’t intend to kill innocent civilians, I will be guilty of murder because I know with a high degree of certainty that the consequences of my actions will be innocent deaths. Similarly, when Israel drops bombs in civilian areas, it knows with a high degree of certainty that innocent civilians will be killed; it therefore intends those deaths at some level. This is particularly the case if Israel fires those bombs and kills those civilians a hundred times in a row and a hundred times in a row it results in civilian deaths. In this case, it cannot be reasonably claimed that the civilian deaths were not intended.Fifth, as the discussion above states, when counter-terrorism becomes disproportionate and brutal, it becomes terrorism because it aims to intimidate and terrify the population. Clearly, when Israel responds to an act of Palestinian terrorism in which one or two civilians are killed with an invasion and the massive use of firepower which results in hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including many children, this is nothing but disproportionate (and therefore, a kind of state terrorism). Similarly, the use of live ammunition against demonstrators qualifies as disproportionate and a form of state terrorism, particularly when the soldiers are not in imminent danger.Lastly, I would argue that over the past fifty years, Israel has been involved in a great many actions which fit the definition of terrorism, including: the actions of the Irgun and other Zionist terrorist groups against both the British and Palestinians, the attack on Deir Yassin during the 1948 war and other such attacks on civilians designed to terrify them into fleeing, the first aircraft hijacking in the 1950s, the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, operations Accountability (July 1993) and Grapes of Wrath (April 1996), etc. You might also consider the following cases which illustrate that Israeli policy towards counter-terrorism has long entailed a terroristic element — the attempt to terrify and intimidate an audience. I found these on a brief internet search:* On September 17, 1948, four months after the official establishment of
Israel, U.N. Palestine Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was assassinated by members of an Israeli terrorist group, the so-called Stern Gang, while driving in the Israeli-controlled sector of Jerusalem. The U.S. government, at the time, believed the identity of the perpetrators was known to Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, but the perpetrators were never prosecuted. Thirty years later one of them, Yehoshva Zeitler —known to be a close friend of Ben Gurion’s —acknowledged that he was one of the assassins and explained that ‘we executed Bernadotte because he was a one-man institution who endangered the status of Jerusalem by his declared intention of turning her into an international city. He was hostile to Israel from the moment the state was established and actually laid the foundation for the present U.N. policy of supporting the Arabs.’ The message to other potential pro-Arab sympathizers was clear.* In early October, 1953, three people in an Israeli border village were found murdered —presumably by attackers who had crossed from Jordan. Later, on the night of October 14-15, an Israeli military force crossed into the small Jordan border village of Qibya and demolished 30 to 40 buildings, including the village school, the water pumping station, the police station and the telephone office. But the soldiers did much, much more. According to the official report by the Chief of Staff of the U.N. Truce Supervisory Organization, whose officers went to the scene immediately after the raid: ‘Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways, and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them. Witnesses were uniform in describing their experience as a night of horror, during which Israeli soldiers moved about in their village, blowing up buildings, firing into doorways and windows with automatic weapons, and throwing hand grenades.’ More than 50 men, women and children died. It was later acknowledged by Israel that the raid had been carried out by Force 101, a special unit set up for just this kind of operation under the command of Major Ariel Sharon.* During July, 1954, several bombs went off in Cairo and Alexandria, including two which set fire to the U.S. Information Service offices in both those cities and one which went off in a Metro-Goldwyn Mayer theater. Members of what the Egyptian authorities described as a ring of ‘Israeli spies’ and who were, in fact, Jewish were tracked down and put on trial. Two of them were executed and the rest jailed. The Egyptian action raised a furor among Israelis, who accused Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdul Nasser, of ‘trumping up’ charges against Jews. A few months later, however, a political scandal erupted in Israel —later known as the ‘Lavon Affair’ and forced out the admission from Israeli government officials that the members of the Cairo spy ring were indeed Israeli spies —highly trained members of Israel’s military intelligence service. A primary purpose of the bombing operation, it turned out, was to try to put a halt to what the Israeli government saw as an alarming trend towards better Egypt-U.S. relations —by creating the impression through the bombings that Egypt was basically unstable and anti-American.* On December 12, 1955, Israel carried out a three-pronged, meticulously planned attack by land and sea against Syria, on the northeastern shore of Lake Tiberias. More than 50 Syrians were killed. Israel told the U.S. Security Council, which condemned the raid, that the attack was a reprisal for Syrian hindrance of Israeli fishermen on Lake Tiberias, but U.S. truce observers declared there had been no such hindrance. In the opinion of American truce observer Commander E.H. Hutchison, ‘it was a premeditated raid of intimidation, motivated by Israel’s desire to test the strength of the Egyptian-Syrian mutual defense pact, to disrupt Arab unity further, to bait the Arab states into some overt act of aggression that would afford it the opportunity to overrun additional territory…’*On October 29, 1956, in the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Kasem, Israeli border guards shot and killed 43 Israeli Arabs, including seven children and ten women. The victims were farm workers who were returning home on foot unaware that while they were laboring in the fields a daily Curfew — imposed because of the Suez war had been moved forward from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. The government kept the massacre secret for two months, but was forced to hold a trial after word of it was leaked. At the trial it was revealed that the border police had been given orders to enforce the new curfew in a way that would impress the inhabitants of the local Arab villages: violators were to be shot, not arrested, even if they had not heard about the change in the curfew. Several of the defendants testified that the police officer in charge had said that if some Arabs were killed it would make the task of enforcing the curfew that much easier. The officer told the court that he was obeying the orders of the military. A number of the defendants were given sentences, but less than a year later all of them were freed.*On July 18,1981, Israeli planes bombed Beirut, killing more than 300 civilians. The Israeli army’s chief of intelligence told reporters that the motive behind Israel’s massive raid on a densely populated quarter was to generate Lebanese civilian resentment against the presence of Palestinian guerrillas there. “I would say at least they have something to think about now,” he said. A few days later, Israeli jets again dropped bombs over Lebanon. According to The New York Times, ‘Witnesses, including Western reporters caught in the attacks, said nearly all of the casualties appeared to be civilians, most of them burned alive in their cars, trapped in clogged traffic.’*In October, 1982, an Israeli court began the trial of seven Israeli soldiers on charges of beating up West Bank Palestinians. The soldiers had said they were just following standing orders. Documents introduced at the trial included some issued by the then Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan, which called for the punishment of the parents of students who participate in demonstrations, expulsion from the West Bank of Arabs considered troublemakers by the Israelis, and ‘economic punishment’ of whole villages. Eitan said Arabs should be imprisoned for investigation, without formal charges, for up to 18 days as allowed by Israeli law in the occupied territory, released for a few days and then reimprisoned. ‘Harrass them,’ Gen. Eitan said, according to the documents. He also urged the creation of a special ‘detention exile’ camp in the West Bank and said that the Arab population should be informed that ‘the inhabitants of Jewish settlements (in the West Bank) must carry arms and open fire when attacked.’ After the documents were introduced at the trial, Gen. Eitan commented: ‘None of these methods were illegal.’ The court agreed, but convicted four of the soldiers, on February 17, 1983, for having gone beyond Eitan’s recommendations. They were given token sentences.I would also suggest that you carefully examine the following reports from Human Rights Watch to see how Israeli actions clearly fall under the definition of terrorism in a number of different areas.I hope this explains why I used the term ‘Israeli state terrorism’ in my talk. There are a great many more individual instances of Israeli state terrorism than I have time to detail here; the key point to note is that when violence is used to send a message or intimidate a broader population, then it is terrorism.
I am writing to ask you if either the university or Ms Breen Smyth has any comment to make, first about this student’s allegations of gross political bias on this course along with pressure on students to toe a particular line; and second, about whether it is appropriate to include on the reading list for students on this module someone with Dr Jackson’s apparent animus against Israel and his tendentious recycling of hateful propaganda, taken from either Arabs or their left-wing Israeli sympathisers, as facts; and indeed whether the whole ethos of this module, as set out in its handbook ‘Understanding terror: perspectives on terrorism’ as being ‘…to introduce students to a distinctly “critical” approach to the study of political terror through a thorough critique of orthodox terrorism studies and a clear articulation of an alternative “critical” approach’, is not simply a form of subversion.
This was his reply:
I write in reply to your email concerning the module in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University ‘Understanding terror: perspectives on terrorism’. In recognition of the nature of the subject this module has been designed in such a way to be as sympathetic as possible to those who have experienced terrorism or who feel strongly about it. The aim is to be objective, with no bias and no prejudice against any race or country. There is no sense that any view is necessarily correct. The information for students considering taking the module is explicit that the purpose is to examine accounts of terrorism and subject them to critical analysis. Students taking the module are asked to reflect on this.As with all modules, there are various means whereby students provide feedback and there is a variety of fora where modules are discussed. Feedback may relate to module content, teaching style and assessment. This is the first occasion this module has run and student feedback will be sought in the usual way; students may approach staff in the Department at any time. As with all degree level modules in the Department, work for this module will be double marked internally to ensure consistency, fairness and accuracy, and then sent to an external examiner for further review.The module handbook includes a wide variety of sources, written from a variety of perspectives. This is, of course, entirely consistent with the module’s aim of not advocating a particular view and encouraging students to examine critically different accounts of terrorism. I note that Dr Jackson’s work has appeared in a number of leading journals which have very high standards of peer review, and the book to which you refer was published by a leading University press.Yours sincerelyNoel Lloyd, Vice-Chancellor, Aberystwyth University