Taking the 'Terror' out of Terrorism ...
That would leave 'ism'. Doesn't make much sense, but it means more than a word so widespread and unquestioningly accepted that few people question the official definition of 'Terrorism'.
"You're Either With Us or Against Us"
Ever since George W. Bush reduced one of the most complex era-defining issues of the day into a glib distillation of two sides, things have taken a bizarre turn for the worse.
Suddenly we live in a world of black-and-white. There are no half-way measures, or if you believe there are, that's tantamount to being sympathetic with terrorism, which means you're one of them. This is dangerous logic if nothing else because it instantly narrows the discussion. And yet many people are quite happy with this because of the seriousness of the subject. We're forced to conclude that terrorism is one of the few truly taboo subjects of today. Of course, you can talk about terrorism, but you have to take the appropriate stance, or you're a traitor.
If terrorism is an act of political violence, then surely the War on Terror is one form of political violence to wipe out another.
The recent additions to the "Terrorism Bill" (2005) make it illegal to glorify or justify terrorism. This is worrying, since justification doesn't necessarily imply defence; it's simply the logical reasoning of a cause for an action.
By outlawing this, the British government are practically saying there is no cause of terrorism. You can't rationalise it. It just exists. It's a fact of life. Just as you can get killed crossing the road, so there are also countless dangerous dark-skinned madmen, waiting in the shadows, plotting to kill you for no other reason than some insane religious dogma that promises paradise and virgins.
The dialogue has effectively been closed. If you think terrorism is a symptom of a wider problem, rather than an inexplicable phenomenon, then you must be a terrorist. We hope this boardgame might play its humble part in opening up that dialogue.
Terrorism n. An Act of Political Violence
The best way of tackling the "War on Terror", we thought, was to try and define the title:
- War - gave us few problems, although there was some dispute over when a war was simply an invasion and what constitutes two opposing sides.
- on - is a preposition we're pretty comfortable with, meaning, in this context 'against'.
- Terror - tricky. Terror is defined as intense fear. Hmmmm.
Clearly this last word was going to be problematic. The thought of cleaning the bathroom might fill you with "intense fear", but you'd be hard-pressed to label the toilet a terrorist. The government's desire to outlaw the philosophical action of justification fills us with fear, but is Tony Blair a terrorist?
"My Weapons of Mass Destruction are THIS big!"
It seems there is no clear-cut, globally accepted definition of terrorism - neither in a linguistic, nor a militaristic context. The United Nations spent over 8 years trying to find a definition that all its members would agree to. It gave up. Mainly because any definition implicated one or more of its members in 'terrorism'.
Title 22 of the US Code (Section 2656f(d)) defines it as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets". This definition shows promise, but then, isn't invading Iraq - whether cynically to get your hands on cheap oil, or altruistically to get rid of a corrupt regime - an act of "premeditated, politically motivated violence"? Fortunately the US Code clarifies that terrorism has to be perpetrated by "subnational groups or clandestine agents". There seems little reason for this addendum, other than to safeguard against the notion that a country or government might at any time be found guilty of terrorism.
If terrorism is an act of "politically motivated violence", then surely the War on Terror is one form of political violence to wipe out another form of political violence. Suddenly we find ourselves in an Orwellian language swamp where the keeper of the definition controls the reality of the word.
Terrorists are Monsters!
But but butbutbut but terrorists deliberately target civilians. They have no regard for human life! They are subhuman monsters. That's what defines a terrorist. OK, fair point, the adjectives "brutal" and "barbaric" are frequently put to good use when describing a terrorist attack. So how about you want to mount a massive military operation to achieve a political aim - let's say, for example, in Fallujah. And you know that an "unavoidable" result of this military action is going to be the death of hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent civilians ... is that any more commendable - or any less "brutal or barbaric"?
And let's say you have the option to minimise civilian casualties and deaths, but instead you utilise cluster bombs, napalm derivatives, white phosphorus (the use of which is banned in civilian areas) and depleted uranium-tipped shells, all of which guarantee widespread and indiscriminate death and suffering among "non-combatants". Let's say you prevent medical intervention, sniper doctors and other civilians trying to help, you round up and arrest random groups of people based on spurious or little evidence / intelligence and hold them against their will in a prison where they are routinely tortured and beaten ... aren't these also pretty terrifying actions?
The sad fact is that the use of force for political ends, whether in the context of a declared war or otherwise, is inextricably bound up with terror.
We believe a death is a death. There aren't degrees of death. You're either dead or not, so why is one form of killing OK but another inhuman? As political scientist Grenville Byford notes: "The sad fact is that the use of force for political ends, whether in the context of a declared war or otherwise, is inextricably bound up with terror". In our eyes, the world is full of terrorists and many of them run powerful nations. The only certainty in this illogical "war" is that both sides are dangerously wrong.
So coming back to the game... We don't know what will happen in the world, but all we ask for in playing War on Terror, the boardgame, is open-mindedness. Instead of expressing knee-jerk horror and outrage at the casual and indiscriminate funding of terrorism in our game, accompanied, as it is, by tongue-in-cheek humour, think about real-world events. Think about what separates a terrorist act from a sanctioned act. One takes place within the rules and one without. And who writes the rules?
Well, in this case, we did.