In an interview this week on Talk TV, Piers Morgan subjected Jeremy Corbyn to an extraordinary barrage of questioning:
‘Are Hamas a terror group? Are they a terror group? Answer the question! Are they a terror group? Are they a terror group? Are they a terror group? Are they a terror group? Why can’t you say it? Are Hamas a terror group? Are Hamas a terror group?’
Although politicians like David Lammy have lately been responding to the question of whether they support Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza with, ‘It’s not a yes or no’ question, when Corbyn tried to say something other than ‘yes’ or ‘no’, Morgan loudly barracked and interrupted him. We never got to hear what Corbyn wanted to say before Morgan ended the interrogation saying, shamefully:
‘And you wonder, and you wonder, why people think you had a problem with Jewish people!’
Morgan later commented on the interview:
‘There are grave concerns about the soaring death toll in Gaza as Israel now seeks to eradicate Hamas. But there can’t be any moral ambiguity about Hamas itself: they are a terror organisation who just committed one of the worst terror atrocities in history.’
‘If you can’t call Hamas a terror group, you’re a terrorist sympathiser.
‘Corbyn retains a big following among left wing people… he does them no favours whatsoever.’
Morgan proudly highlighted that former Foreign Secretary, now Home Secretary, James Cleverly had posted a comment over a link to the interview on X (formerly Twitter):
‘As Home Secretary, I can confirm that Hamas are a terror group.’
In a subsequent interview, Morgan similarly asked the Guardian’s Owen Jones if he thought Hamas was a terror group. Jones answered:
‘Yes, if you engage in violence against a civilian population, that’s terrorism.’
We certainly agree that violence against a civilian population is terrorism. But that, in fact, is not the meaning of ‘terrorism’ as it is all but universally understood and used in the ‘mainstream’. The actual meaning of ‘terrorism’ was explained by Noam Chomsky:
‘It’s very simple: if “they” do it, it’s terrorism; if “we” do it, it’s counterterrorism. That’s a historical universal.’
In reality, ‘terrorism’ is a propaganda label that is slapped solely on Official Enemies and never ‘us’.
Bearing Owen Jones’s definition in mind, Corbyn might have asked Morgan if he thought the German Luftwaffe was ‘a terror group’ in World War Two. An odd question, one might think, given the German air force’s obliteration of civilian cities like Guernica, Warsaw and Stalingrad, among numerous other crimes. ‘No’ seems outrageous, but ‘yes’ raises awkward questions.
If the Luftwaffe was a terror group for its mass killing of civilians, how about Britain’s RAF that firebombed Dresden and Hamburg? How about the US Army Air Force that firebombed every Japanese city with a population over 50,000 and, of course, atomic bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Has a ‘mainstream’ politician or journalist ever described these as ‘US nuclear terror attacks’? Despite being, by Jones’s definition, the ultimate acts of ‘terror’, the incineration of 180,000 civilians in giant fireballs is not labelled terrorism for precisely the reason explained by Chomsky.
And yet, after 25,000 people were brutally burned to death in the German city of Dresden in 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote to Arthur Harris, the Commander-in-Chief of Britain’s Bomber Command:
‘It seems to me that the moment has come that the bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed… The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.’
Despite even this, could any right-thinking person agree with the German suggestion that RAF flight crews were ‘Terrorflieger’ (‘terror flyers’)? In reply to a Media Lens reader who had suggested, reasonably, that ‘a terrorist is one who brings terror to another person’, Channel 4 news presenter Alex Thomson wrote:
‘Your definition of a terrorist as one bringing terror is nonsensical as it would encompass all military outfits from al Qaeda to the Royal Fusiliers.’ (Email, forwarded to Media Lens, 25 February 2005)
Some Are More Valuable Than Others
Why does all of this matter? In a remarkable letter to Tim Davie, the BBC’s Director of News, BBC correspondent Rami Ruhayem excoriated BBC coverage of the current phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A former journalist for the Associated Press, Ruhayem has worked as a journalist and producer for BBC Arabic and the BBC World Service since 2005. He wrote:
‘Words like “massacre”, “slaughter”, and “atrocities” are being used—prominently—in reference to actions by Hamas, but hardly, if at all, in reference to actions by Israel.
‘When the BBC uses such language selectively, with the standard of selection being the identity of the perpetrators/victims, the BBC is making a statement—albeit implicit. It implies that the lives of one group of people are more valuable than the lives of another.’ (Ruhayem, letter to Tim Davie, 24 October 2023, our emphasis)
Journalists in the ‘mainstream’ have no problem at all in describing Hamas’s abominable violence on 7 October as a ‘massacre’; but they rarely, if ever, describe the abominable razing of entire apartment blocks, indeed entire residential areas – killing dozens of Palestinian family members in a single blast – as a ‘massacre’. As Ruhayem says, this use of language makes one group of people seem more valuable; it makes one set of crimes against civilians seem far worse, even when the side being dehumanised is suffering ten times the number of casualties inflicted by an occupying, apartheid state arguably intent on genocide.
Similarly, when we accept the standard application of the label ‘terrorism’ solely to Official Enemies, we are assisting a propaganda campaign raising ‘us’ up and dehumanising ‘them’. That makes it easier for ‘us’ to kill ‘them’ because it makes it easier for ‘our’ public to accept the killing. That is an incredibly serious matter.
Putting Owen Jones’s definition aside, Chomsky often cites this definition of terrorism found in US army manuals:
‘… the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature. This is done through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear.’ (US Army Operational Concept for Terrorism Counteraction, TRADOC Pamphlet No. 525-37, 1984)
By this definition, Chomsky points out, the major source of international terrorism is the West, notably the United States. Chomsky has no problem with using ‘terrorism’ to describe the actions of Official Enemies:
‘September 11 will surely go down in the annals of terrorism as a defining moment…’
The problem is when ‘our’ terrorism is written out of journalism and history by the biased use of language.
In his 2002 documentary, ‘Palestine Is Still The Issue’, John Pilger interviewed Dori Gold, then Senior Adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister. Pilger asked why Israel fails to condemn its own leaders for their historic terrorist acts in the same way that they condemn terrorist acts against Israel:
‘When those Israelis, who are now famous names [Menachem Begin, Yitzak Shamir and Ariel Sharon], committed acts of terrorism just before the birth of Israel, you could have said to them, “Nothing justifies what you’ve done, ripping apart all those lives.” And they would say it did justify it. What’s the difference?’
Sticking to the standard definition and use of ‘terrorism’, Gold replied:
‘I think we have now, as an international community, come to a new understanding. I think after September 11th the world got a wake-up call. Because terrorism today is no longer the mad bomber, the anarchist who throws in an explosive device into a crowd to make a point. Terrorism is going to move from the present situation to non-conventional terrorism, to nuclear terrorism. And before we reach that point, we have to remove this scourge from the Earth. And therefore, whether you’re talking about the struggle here between Israelis and Palestinians, the struggle in Northern Ireland, the struggle in Sri Lanka, or any of the places where terrorism has been used, we must make a global commitment of all free democracies to eliminate this threat from the world. Period.’
Pilger asked: ‘Does that include state terrorism?’
Gold: ‘No country has the right to deliberately target civilians, as no organisation has a right to deliberately target civilians.’
Pilger: ‘What about Israeli terrorism now?’
Gold: ‘The language of terrorism, you have to be very careful with. Terrorism means deliberately targeting civilians in a kind of warfare. That’s what the terrorism against Israeli schools, coffee shops, malls, has been all about. Israel specifically targets, to the best of its ability, Palestinian terrorist organisations.’
Pilger: ‘All right, when an Israeli sniper shoots an old lady with a cane, trying to get into a hospital for her chemotherapy treatment, in front of a lot of the world’s press for one, and frankly we’d be here all day with other examples, isn’t that terrorism?’
Gold: ‘I don’t know the case you’re speaking about, but I can be convinced of one thing: an Israeli who takes aim – even an Israeli sniper – is taking aim at those engaged in terrorism. Unfortunately, in every kind of warfare, there are cases of civilians who are accidentally killed. Terrorism means putting the crosshairs of the sniper’s rifle on a civilian deliberately.’
Pilger: ‘Well that’s – that’s what I’ve just described.’
Gold: ‘That is what – no. I can tell you that did not happen.’
Pilger: ‘It did happen. And – and I think that’s where some people have a problem with the argument that terrorism exists on one side.’
So, the argument intended to exonerate Israel, ‘Terrorism means deliberately targeting civilians in a kind of warfare’, is forced to resort to the absurd claim that Israel doesn’t deliberately target civilians.
But anyway, Chomsky has offered a deeply disturbing response to this commonly heard argument that Western governments do not fall as low as ‘terrorists’ because they don’t intentionally set out to kill civilians. He argues that, to the extent that it exists – of course, there is overwhelming evidence that Western states do deliberately target and massacre civilians – this lack of intentionality points to a mindset that is actually more morally depraved even than that attributed to ‘terrorists’ who kill with intent:
‘Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them.
‘Thus, when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it, I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters.
‘There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.
‘I’ve written about this repeatedly, for example, in [the book] “9/11“. And I’ve been intrigued to see how reviewers and commentators… simply cannot even see the comments, let alone comprehend them. Since it’s all pretty obvious, it reveals, again, the remarkable successes of indoctrination under freedom, and the moral depravity and corruption of the dominant intellectual culture.” (Chomsky, ZNet blog, ‘Samantha Power, Bush & Terrorism,’ 31 July 2007)
In conclusion, to return to Piers Morgan’s question: Is Hamas a terror group?
Yes, if we also accept that Israel is a terror state, or at least that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) is a terror group.
The problem is that, as Chomsky says, only the first part of the assertion labelling Hamas can be seen or heard. First, no state-corporate politician or journalist would dream of describing the IDF as ‘a terror group’. Even more insidiously, members of the public who might somehow encounter the suggestion would not be able to make sense of it. As Channel 4’s Alex Thomson said, the claim appears ‘nonsensical’ – how could the Royal Fusiliers possibly be considered ‘terrorists’ along with al Qaeda?
Even if the suggestion could somehow defy the propaganda system to reach the public, it would be rendered invisible, inaudible by the sheer weight of patriotic conditioning. A remarkable triumph of propaganda filtering.
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