It would seem very simple: The targeted murder of innocent people, as a means of instilling fear, should be regarded as terrorism no matter what the cause or the objective (political, ideological, economic or whatever). But by this definition, it seems that every war, no matter its size, can be defined as terrorism, as long as civilians are hurt or fear being killed.
Unlike traditional wars which are fought between military units on military fronts, terrorists target the “homeland” – civilians.
Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, is portraying itself as a champion against terrorism and in the process, has redefined terrorism.
In the beginning, the West defined terror
For years, the West seemed to have the monopoly on deciding who is a terrorist. This isn’t surprising. After all, terrorism was born as a method for “underdogs” to fight the strong, or for those seeking independence against those enjoying statehood. Since the West was usually the target for terrorist attacks, the West defined who was a terrorist.
Iran was long ago defined by the West as a state supporter of terrorism because of its support to organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Taliban and others which are defined to this date as terrorists by most Western countries (US/Canada, Australia/New Zealand and the EU). Iran’s support to these organizations included funding, training and supplies. Iran’s relation with Hezbollah is probably the strongest and Hezbollah militias fight in all of Iran’s battles and wars in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
A wider definition of terrorism
Over the last few decades, the superpowers sometimes chose to support local terrorist militias to help fight their wars instead of engaging the enemy on traditional battlefields. This may have been strategically necessary to win wars against enemies who also used terrorism, but it seriously hurt the West’s legitimacy to criticize the use of terrorism.
Furthermore, these same organizations, sometimes backed by the superpowers, began terrorizing countries in the Middle East and suddenly supporters of terrorism became victims of terrorism.
ISIS is a classic example of the birth of a terrorist organization in our era. Born as a political Sunni entity against Shiite domination, it brought terrorism to a new savage level. It wasn’t enough to simply kill civilians. Ritual beheadings, burning alive, systematic rapes, horrifying torture/amputations and firing squads became the norm – and all the horrors were filmed and shown to the world shamelessly. Unfortunately, ISIS also influenced the redefinition of terrorism in other ways.
Tehran redefines terrorism
Two years ago, Rouhani launched his WAVE (World Against Extremism and Violence) initiative at the General Assembly of the UN, strategically placing Iran as a champion in the fight against terrorism. Although Iran supports terror organizations, this fact was overlooked under the cause of eradicating ISIS. As the rampage of ISIS widened across Syria and Iraq, Iran took the front stage in becoming a legitimate partner in counterterrorism.
From the Iranian perspective, they have their own definition of who is a terrorist:
- “The West”: The West, especially the US, was defined as supporters of terrorism for its support of militias as well as for waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which took the lives of civilians and local militia.
- The Regional Enemies of Iran: These include primarily Israel (for its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians) and Saudi Arabia (for its support of terrorist militia such as Al Qaeda). Other countries such as Bahrain and the UAE are sometimes included in this list.
- The Enemies of Friends of Iran: This definition was tailor-made by the Iranians to describe the rebels fighting Assad. While Tehran uses designated Hezbollah terrorist militia to fight Syrian rebels to uphold Assad’s regime, which has already caused the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, it reserves the right to define the Syrian rebels as terrorists and themselves as freedom fighters.
It is time to define categorically and unequivocally what is terrorism and who can be defined as a terrorist in order to prevent the abuse of such terminology by countries like Iran.