I find it necessary that we get our definitions right because in the world we live in, labels are more powerful than guns. I find it ignorant of people that they support “freedom fighters” and denounce “terrorists” the reason being because the line diving is so thin that it goes unnoticed when we cross the borders. To filter out the premises of the two and their branches namely, militant, separatist, martyr, victim, ‘war on terror’, ‘war on peace’, ‘war for peace.’
To better understand the classification of the two main terms here, let’s use the Oxford dictionary. According to it terrorist means a person who takes part in terrorism (where terrorism means the use of violent action in order to achieve political aims or to force a government to act) and freedom fighter means a person who takes part in a campaign to achieve greater political freedom and it further elucidates “the term freedom fighter is used especially about somebody who uses violence to try to remove a government from power, by people who support this.”
Here’s the funny part, the definition of either is subjective in its morality for it to emotionally induce the reader with support or to stand against it. The masses generally have media driven sense of terrorism, and freedom struggle, now I hope the point is clear enough here about why media shouldn’t be the driver of morality. Now media (by which I mean the mainstream most watched prime time channels) projects a ideology of itself, that ideology is paid by the shareholders, in many countries it’s the government in power, North Korea, USA, Russia, India and UAE etc. What that points out to is that the goal of the government (or the political party owning a particular media) will be the standard of morality the people watching the media will have. Now some media personnel understand this back and forth of labels, as Reuters’ then Global News Editor Stephen Jukes wrote: “We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word ‘terrorist’.” Now one might say that that doesn’t dismiss the premise of terrorism and freedom struggles, well, let’s look into it then.
When you imagine terrorist, what do you see? It most probably is stereotypical of movies, and we know how all the terrorist and heroes in war movies are Pentagon backed notion (read all about it over here). But, if it’s someone who committed an actual globally recognized terrorist attack let’s see; Christchurch shooter, 26/11, 9/11, Peshawar school massacre and others as such. No one arguing for their legitimacy is in their right mind; why? Because they killed “innocent” people. So the notion is that killing innocent people is terrorism. It’s right because that’s why you even have the idea of war crimes. War crimes include not killing “innocent” people. Now innocent itself is subjective, no one can be globally innocent, unless its children, elderly (in most cases) and animals (in most cases). What does it say? Either you have to be not developed enough to oppose any side to be innocent, be not able to fight and thus cause no direct harm or support to either side, or be an animal whom we’ll eat afterwards (depends on the animal of course). So fundamentally innocence comes out of the inability to oppose or support in a battleground, be it of words or weapons.
Subash Chandra Bose (I am taking his example because Indian freedom struggle is recognized globally as a “freedom struggle”) addressing a rally in 1944 said, “…men, money and materials cannot by themselves bring victory or freedom…. all patriots should have but one desire today – the desire to die so that India should live – the desire to face a martyr’s death, so that the path to freedom may be paved with the martyrs’ blood […] Give me blood and I promise you freedom.” Then the British government designated Bose a terrorist. Wrongful to do that? Why? I’ll tell you why: because Bose didn’t call for the raping of women, butchering of innocent children and elderly, slaughtering of animals, but to “give blood” so that to fight off (violent) the oppressive regime of the British. Now what does this tell you about “violence”? With all the negative connotations that are attached to it, violence doesn’t necessarily mean wrong, for that many wars that we have supported, self-evidently have been violent. India armed the rebels in then East Pakistan for them to violently fight off against the “oppressive order” of Pakistan, India supported the notion of violence if that’s all that remains to get the goal of freedom, as that’s human. To extend an Olive branch before I’m accused of hate speech or something; first, all means of non-violent opposition be tried for the goal, by the way, India did try that and it didn’t work out (during Indian freedom struggle). As Nelson Mandela implies, there’s a difference between non-violence and pacifism. Pacifists do not use violence ever, even in self-defense (bring the other cheek forward). But, as Mandela points out “sometimes men and nations, even if non-violent had to defend themselves when they are attacked.” I personally am against pacifism, I find it rather weak and an invitation to violence, because those who can be violent will be violent when they know that there will be no retaliation, imagine pacifism during rape, no don’t, because you know how horrible that is. It was funny but insightful when Noam Chomsky pointed out that “from the US point of view, there is good terrorism and bad terrorism.”
It alludes to yet another point on terrorism, if the terror is instigated against an oppressive order its freedom fighting and the one dying during the clash, the ones fighting the oppressive order will be dying a martyrs death, because as the non-violent means were futile, this was the only way left. By the way, even during the absolute non-violent political freedom struggle of India, Winston Churchill in his role for the Secretary of States for the Colonies referred to Gandhi as “seditious” and his party the Congress a “militant movement.”
I’ve talked about separatism before (you can read that here), martyr is subjective too, so is victim, and are the wars on “terror or for peace.” Either side is claiming the same thing. Either side is using the same labels. But one is fighting oppression and the other for oppression. Terrorism in itself has been morphed into a weapon-term, because everything will stand against that thing which is labelled as “terrorism/terrorist.” One has to be really careful in thinking of anything as terrorism, one thing is clear; if its against innocent folks, then it is terrorism, but fighting against army or any kind, won’t be, because that is a fight against something that directly opposes them in the same violent manner. Freedom struggle runs parallel as well, for that to to fight for freedom there must be a cage, if there is that cage with no consent, applied with force, breaking that cage is lawful and human – read about the morality of Indian freedom struggle here.
Freedom fighting (and thus freedom fighter) is about fighting off something that is dominating your land, showering atrocities, and oppressing the people, labelling that as terrorism escapes all reasoning given the hundreds of freedom struggles in history. Terrorist and freedom fighter go unfortunately hand-in-hand, for that no matter where you are fighting, the one you’re against will and has to label you a terrorist for that its own existence demands that it has something to save itself from because the unity through the North Star that it built itself upon, that unity will soon reach the awe in realising the number of them.