Can terrorism be an effective strategy?

March 27, 2007 at 7:29 pm | Posted in Miscellania | 7 Comments

I’ve noticed two news items in as many days that have paralleled each other. The first is the historic new government between Ulster Unionists and the Sinn Fein. The second pertains to the still faint possibility of negotiations between Israel and the Hamas-led government. It got me thinking; both Sinn Fein and Hamas owe their roots to what academics can properly describe as a terrorist infrastructure, and terrorism is a term and word usually vilified in the Western press. But should it be? After all, one can argue that terrorism may be an effective tool or technique to reach long-term demands.

Let’s start with Sinn Fein, which was formerly a political front for the IRA. The Provisional IRA was founded in December 1969 and had demanded the reunification of the British-controlled Northern Ireland with the independent state of Ireland or, at times, a new independent state of Northern Ireland. The organisation used bombings, kidnappings of Protestants, shootings, bus hijackings and other assorted terrorist techniques in an attempt to pressure the British government to give in to their demands. Did this work? The short answer would be no, it did not work because Northern Ireland is still a province of the United Kingdom (the UK is officially comprised of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; Bermuda is still a direct colony of the UK even today). But the long answer would be yes, it did work, as Sinn Fein was able to get IRA members considerable more political power, starting with the Good Friday agreement of 1998 and ultimately culminating in the power-sharing agreement at the Stormont Parliamentary Building in Belfast a couple of days ago. This is not the same thing as full-fledged Independence or reunification, but this latest agreement is not merely symbolic; it gives Northern Ireland significantly greater autonomy. In short, Sinn Fein and the IRA recognised the need for compromise. However, consider this, if the IRA hadn’t used terror as a strategy for decades–the bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations–they would have had significantly less leverage at the negotiating table. In other words, if an organisation uses terrorism for years, then stops, but only under the condition that serious negotiations can begin, the other party becomes more than willing to listen as an alternative to bloodshed. Thus, the IRA knew when to cease their hostilities. Of course, there are always die-hards within any such org that refuse to compromise on the original stated goal of independence/reunification, so this process hasn’t exactly been smooth-sailing, but it now appears that the worst is over.

Hamas, on the other hand, is a very different terrorist organisation, one with a maximalist mindset that refuses any sort of meaningful compromise. It refuses to recognise the state of Israel, and will always deny it such recognition. This was evident after its landslide victory last year, when, pressured by months of international sanctions, it gave its approval for its armed wing to enter Israeli territory from the unoccupied Gaza-strip in order to kill three Israeli soldiers on guard duty; Lt. Hanan Barak, Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker and Cpl. Gilad Shalit. In actuality, the latter of the three was instead kidnapped, and is being held captive, presumably in the Gaza strip, to this day. This act does not seem to me to be especially strategic on Hamas’s part, because this act occured almost a year after Israel left the Gaza strip, a key demand of Hamas. It is one of many examples that showcase Hamas’s unwillingness to compromise; it is so obsessed with obtaining all of Israeli territory that so far not even the famed summit at Mecca two months ago caused its members to renege on this unworkable demand. Hamas aims to use terrorism as a means to achieve the end, rather than as a bargaining chip, and that of course is impossible, since suicide bombings alone do not have enough destructive force against the IDF by any stretch of the imagination.

I’m not sure where I’ve heard this adage before, but I feel it rings true: “Those who demand everything get nothing.” Think about that some more. Think about how the modern state of Israel was founded. Yes, the tragedy of the Holocaust helped nations realise the seemingly apparent necessity of a Jewish homeland, but some Jews living in British-occupied Palestine formed their own terrorist groups–i.e. the Haganah and its even more militant offshoot, the Irgun-Stern gang. They too were collectively responsible for hotel bombings (specifically the King David) and the slitting of British soldiers’ throats. Yet in the end, when the UK and the newly formed UN made an offer of a partitioned independence between Jews and Arabs, the Jewish negotiators reluctantly agreed, figuring a half a loaf of bread was better than none at all. The Arabs living in British-occupied Palestine were vehemently opposed, arguing as to why they should give up any of their loaf which they viewed, justifiably, as currently theirs. In the end, the terrorist organisation Haganah did in fact get everything, but only because the Arabs demanded everything, not because the Jews did. 

So, to conclude, in my opinion terrorism–the use of coercison and violence to help achieve political goals– can sometimes work, if said terrorists know to quit when they’re ahead and not to be foolishly stubborn.  This is pretty controversial, I acknowledge. What is your opinion?     



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  1. i don’t agree with you – practically defending the Arab position & rejecting the Jewish one!
    Terrorists are evil murderers who want everyone else to believe as they do. -The “Jewish terrorists” were only fighting for their rights. I see a distrinct difference.

  2. I’m not making any moral distinctions. I’m attempting to passively and objectively view terrorism as a technique used by a variety of different groups, from the Irgun-Stern to the IRA to Hamas. And it would appear that SOMETIMES terrorism can be effective.

  3. Eric – have you ever considered submitting articles to some sort of political newsletter, or websites or something. You seem knowledgable and have opinions on these matters, I bet they would use some of your stuff…

  4. I have my doubts. Lots of people have interesting opinions; I would hardly stand out. I wouldn’t really know where to “submit” such articles if the truth be told, anyway.

  5. Maybe to the Independent, or the Guardian. Both from the UK, I believe, left wing. Doesn’t hurt to e-mail to ask if they accept submissions?

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