One size does not fit all: terrorism and politics

Every day we are confronted with images on media about new armed groups who are terrorizing inhabitants in different countries. Lately, all these groups are linked with “radical Islamist” or “jihadist” ideologies or are even part of the global jihadist network. Automatically, they are all labeled as terrorists. But, what about other armed groups that carry out the same violent practices? Are they also named “terrorists”? No, as long as they do not claim Islamism ideology, they fall into the category of classic rebel or guerilla groups. An overlook to the list of international terrorist organizations shows us that most groups in it are “jihadi-linked”, demonstrating the clear political character of the term “terrorism”, not used for showing a clearly kind of violence, but for pointing to a certain enemy. 

There are certain “terrorist” groups whose activity has no difference with that of the ones classified as “terrorists”, even if they are not acknowledged in the list. For example, when we talk about violence in Nigeria, we automatically think about Boko Haram. But we always forget the long history of violence that this country carries, and also about another kind of insurgency already operating in the south of the country: the armed groups in the Niger Delta. These groups have a long story of grievances because of the economic situation and the environmental pollution provoked by the oil companies, but after a long period of fighting the government, this has turned into a means of enrichment by the leaders of the different armed groups. This is why, after the amnesty signed in 2009, they have resumed an armed struggle in 2015 due to the end of the amnesty and of privileges. But their practices have nothing to envy to that of “terrorists”: infrastructure sabotage, oil smuggling, kidnapping of national and foreign citizens, piracy and innocent civilian murders. 

Another example of this biased application of the label “terrorist” is the case of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), an armed group of Ugandan origin, led by Joseph Kony since the 80s. At the end of 2000, it was almost expelled from Uganda but then started acting in other weak countries as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republican and South Soudan. Its original aim of fighting for the rights of the Acholi etnia got lost soon and right now it works as a criminal structure at the service of the personal enrichment of the main leaders and, especially, of Kony. Currently, the group terrorizes civilian populations in these countries, kidnapping and murdering thousands of them. One of their leaders, Dominic Ongwen, was detained and now he is facing trial at the International Criminal Court charged with 70 war crimes. But they are not considered as international terrorists, as long as their ideology is claimed Christian fundamentalism.

Finally, we end with the example of Yanyawid. Yanyawid got worldly notorious because of the genocide in Darfur. This tribal Arab militia was used by Soudan’s government to smother the rebellion in Darfur and right now it still continues fighting separatist rebels in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan. This militia has been accused of several human rights’ violations since 2003. The United Nations estimates the number of casualties in 400,000 since the conflict started. In addition to this genocide, yanyawid keep looting villages and murdering their inhabitants and more than 2 million Darfuris’ are still displaced in refugee camps and 5 million live from humanitarian aid. If it is not enough, Soudan’s government has integrated yanyawid into the army in units called Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and has moved 3,000 of them to Khartoum, the capital city, to work in security. They are thought to have participated in the smothering of 2013 demonstrations which ended with hundreds of dead and injured.

These are only some examples but the same situation can be applied to different armed groups in South Soudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and throughout many countries.  Violence is violence, it does not matter why we claim we do it for. All violence has dramatic consequences for civilian populations, but focusing only on so-called “Muslim terrorism” make us the risk of leaving aside other violence which is not interesting for the war on terror that we are waging now. Violence is a huge problem we face nowadays, and we have to address it all, no matter the objectives or ideologies which sustain it. The goal of everyone who fights for ending violent conflicts is to address them through peaceful means, through dialogue and reconciliation, through political inclusion and the struggle against inequalities, but not through more violence. Because, at the end, as Martin Luther King stated, “violence only begets violence.” By Victoria Sanchez

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