No neat boxes for terrorism


October 04, 2001

As residents of New York, they have seen and felt firsthand the terror of the attacks against the United States. But, as the world's representatives to the United Nations General Assembly discuss how they plan to combat world terrorism, each sees the problem through the prism of his own country's experience.

The debate, which began Monday, is expected to continue through tomorrow. An unprecedented number of representatives - 165 - have asked to speak.

The first speakers declared that terrorism needed no definition, but it quickly became apparent that while condemnation of the attacks was universal, definitions of terrorism were not.

Here are excerpts of some of their remarks:

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Let me touch on one controversial area where this assembly has a job to do. Increasingly, questions are being raised about the problem of the definition of a terrorist.

Let us be wise and focused about this. For the most part, terrorism is terrorism. It uses violence to kill and damage indiscriminately to make a political or cultural point and to influence legitimate governments or public opinion unfairly and amorally.

But there are also wars and armed struggles where actions can be characterized, for metaphorical and rhetorical force, as terrorist.

This is a highly controversial and subjective area, on which, because of the legitimate spectrum of viewpoints within the United Nations membership, we will never reach full consensus. Our job now is to confront and eradicate terrorism pure and simple: the use of violence without honor, discrimination or regard for human decency.

Shamsad Ahmad, Pakistan

(Pakistan is engaged in a dispute with India over Kashmir, a conflict that has engendered acts of terrorism.)

We must tackle the causes that give rise to forces of hatred and violence. Individual acts of madness or behavioral insanity of groups that snuff innocent lives are both crime and disease. Crimes must be punished, disease treated at its roots.

Terrorism will continue to haunt us if the roots of terrorism which lie in the inequality of societies, in the exploitation of downtrodden, in the denial of fundamental rights and in the sense of injustice are not addressed.

Most countries, if not all, represented here today have at one point in history or another chosen their own destinies based on the principle of self-determination of peoples. Yet, in contravention of this universal principle, there are peoples even today who remain deprived of their fundamental right of self-determination.

It is time for courageous decisions, for correcting historic wrongs and for redressing endemic injustices. Our universal obligation to fight terrorism in all its forms must not deflect us from the need for a just, lasting and honorable settlement of the Palestine and Kashmir disputes, which will bring durable peace and stability to the world at large.

Kamalesh Sharma, India

On Monday, a few hours before the General Assembly began its debate on terrorism here, in India a suicide bomber drove his car, packed with explosives, into the compound of the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, while two accomplices sprayed bullets at anyone in sight.

Forty people are dead so far, among them schoolchildren and women, many more injured. A terrorist organization called Jaish-e-Mohammed has jubilantly claimed responsibility, naming the man who drove the car. Jaish-e-Mohammed was set up by Masood Azhar, a foreign terrorist who was caught in India, tried and sentenced. Two years ago, an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan by terrorists who demanded his release, and those of a few other terrorists also in Indian jails.

Using tactics that the world will now find familiar, they slit the throats of passengers and threatened to kill the others. Very reluctantly, to save innocent lives, we handed over the convicted terrorists to the Taliban in Kandahar; the hijackers and their prizes then disappeared into Taliban-held territory, from where they have since reappeared to kill, terrorize and incite to terrorism.

It cannot be admissible to argue that freedom fighters or any other group would be the only individuals who would be above all laws. Terrorism is defined by the act, not by a description of the perpetrator.

Umit Pamir, Turkey

(Turkey has often been criticized for the way it has fought against Kurdish separatists.)

Through the tumultuous years of our fight against terrorism, the United States always stood, and at times singularly, by Turkey. Now, in their hour of need Turkey firmly stands by the United States.

Our own experience with terrorism has clearly shown that this fight has two fundamental dimensions. The first one is the moral pillar. If there were any arguments that terrorists might also have a defensible cause, Sept. 11 must have put this forever to rest. There are no gray areas in the fight against terrorism, nor are there "good terrorists" and "bad terrorists."

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