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Is terrorism ever justified?
Maryam Namazie: I want to ask you about the phenomenon of terrorism. The Iranian President Khatami has just said 'the roots of terrorism are in injustice, and in order to get rid of the horror of terrorism, people must try to restore justice in the world'. Is there a link between terrorism and the need for justice?
Bahram Soroush: Well, there is a link, but the link is not what Khatami is alluding to. The link is that terrorists capitalize on the issue of justice and injustice, such as in the case of Palestine for example. They bank on the oppression that the Palestinian people have suffered to justify their own terrorist methods and reactionary aims. But in the sense that terrorism is rooted in injustice, I don't see a link at all. I see a justification. Some may say that people are driven to despair; that these are acts of desperation. But even if that were the case, that is not a justification for killing unsuspecting, innocent civilians, and to claim that they are fighting oppression. Terrorism is the method of particular political movements. Just as states are using terrorist methods, bombing populations wholesale, the same is being done by non-state, 'private' actors.
Maryam Namazie: Khatami has said terrorism is the result of injustice and people having no alternative and being forced to 'resist' in this way. My question to you then is: how come there are terrorist movements in Palestine, where there is an occupation by Israel, or terrorist actions in Iraq, where there is a US occupation? How can there not be a link between the two?
Bahram Soroush: It's not that people are driven into committing those acts. These are clearly defined political movements and organisations which have chosen this method in their rivalry with particular states. They are using the oppression of the Palestinian people, and in the case of Iraq, the attack and injustices against the Iraqi people, in order to justify their own reactionary politics. Their objectives are very different from what the people want. A Palestinian is protesting against the oppression that the Palestinians have suffered for years, but these organisations are following other objectives and have another political agenda. These organisations are taking root in the absence of large, secular organisations which could really build a line of resistance against that oppression. The fact that they are able to recruit some young people into their ranks, for example as suicide bombers, is because of the political vacuum that exists on the Left of society. If you have a large civil rights, progressive, working-class and socialist movement, then people would naturally choose those movements. For example, Hamas is able to become a significant organisation in the absence of such a Left, humanitarian, progressive alternative. So it depends how you look at it in terms of the link. There is a link in the sense of using the injustice as a justification, as ideologically and politically justifying their aims. And their methods are no different from the terrorism of the state of Israel or the terrorism and bombings of the US government. The outcome, the end result, is the same.
Maryam Namazie: But a lot of people will say: how can you compare the two? How can the whole might and force of US militarism be equated with a suicide bomber or even the Hamas, however despicable they are? A lot of people will say: there is a vacuum and these reactionary forces have taken space in that vacuum, and given that there is no Left and progressive alternative, they are 'the resistance'. How can they really be compared to each other?
Bahram Soroush: The only difference between the two, if I put it simplistically, is that one is a larger force and the other is smaller. For example, if Hamas had access to more sophisticated weaponry, I'm not sure they would refrain from using them. Their ideology is racist, anti-Semitic and inhumane. They think killing the Jews is fine. Killing innocent people is fine. Their own ends justify that. Imagine if they were more powerful, the scale of their atrocities would be comparable to the US government's. Are we then allowed to choose between two sides because one is weaker? If we are going to choose sides, it should be on the basis of progressive principles, on the basis of who is on the side of people, and who is a reactionary, brutal force fighting any sign of progress in society and spreading hatred amongst people. In the contest of terrorists, there is no progressive side.
Maryam Namazie: A lot of people will say they want to support the resistance but how can they tell what is a legitimate form of resistance and what is actually terrorism?
Bahram Soroush: They can tell by their methods. If somebody goes and destroys oil and water pipelines, blows up unemployed workers and ordinary people, captures and beheads lorry drivers, workers and engineers from Turkey, Egypt and the USA, you can tell what their aims are. Those methods suit those political ends.
Maryam Namazie: But there are times when legitimate resistance also might include violence…
Bahram Soroush: The issue of terrorism is not an issue of violence. Terrorism is an act of violence which is indiscriminate. It can and does include people; unsuspecting, innocent people who are not involved at all. The teenagers in a nightclub in Jerusalem, what have they done? A lot of them may have been in demonstrations for peace and against their own government. Or blowing up people on the train in Spain? A lot of them were part of the 90% who opposed the war against the Iraqi people. So these people are not promoting friendship amongst people; they are just promoting hatred. That is their ideology. That is terrorism. And that is very different from the resistance people put up; like the resistance against the Nazi occupation, legitimate attacks against them, the sabotage of their military presence in France, for example.
Maryam Namazie: And what we are seeing in Iran too; the sabotage and resistance of people against the Islamic regime of Iran.
Bahram Soroush: Exactly. There is clearly legitimate resistance. And it's not a question of condemning all violence. In the long term, of course, we are striving for a society where there will be no violence at all. But we are living in the real world. We are being attacked - by the most violent and brutal means, in at least 80-90% of the world; like in Iran, for example. So if you put up resistance against that, try to stop it - that is not violence; that is not terrorism. Terrorism is when you involve other people; people who are not at all connected with your supposed target of attack.
Maryam Namazie: One final question, is terrorism ever justified then?
Bahram Soroush: Not at all. Not in my view.
The above is an International TV (http://www.anternasional.tv/english) interview dated August 9, 2004.
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