ARE YOUR FREEDOM FIGHTERS MY TERRORISTS?
TERROR VS. FREEDOM
Are They Opposites?
There IS a difference between "freedom fighters" and "terrorists." Freedom fighters fight for freedom (duh). Terrorists fight against freedom, merely spreading terror. Freedom fighters do not use terror tactics against their own people. Terrorists don't even HAVE a people, as international criminals, outlaws and rejects of their own societies.
First of all, freedom fighters are fighting an occupying foreign power, or a despotic regime in their OWN country (or as a small part of the local militia in somebody else's country). The majority of their forces are local citizens. They are NEVER hired mercenaries or outside invaders, brought in against interests of the local people, or without their consent.
Second, they do not target, terrorize or exploit their own people, and they avoid doing so to innocent civilians anywhere. (Military and other strategic targets held by invaders, or oppressive local forces, are legitimate targets; as are those individuals who actively support or unjustly benefit from the invaders' or despots' activities.)
Third, they must have the active support of their own people, at least in the region(s) for which they are fighting. The local people must desperately want and need the help of the freedom fighters, and help them in return.
Fourth, there must be no other alternative to violent action. For insurrection to be legitimate, the people whose territory has been invaded or oppressed must have little or no access to power or redress of grievances by peaceful means.
Fifth, the invaders, or despotic local forces, must initiate violence. Deliberate starvation, enslavement, rape, torture, mass arrests, execution without fair trials, and brutal exploitation would serve as justification for violent reaction by freedom fighters.
Sixth, true freedom fighters do not themselves become despotic forces and do not violently oppress and exploit their own people. They must establish basic freedoms at the earliest opportunity to retain their claim to be for liberty and justice. Freedom fighters must respect and observe local values, traditions and customs, and not attempt to impose new or alien ideas in an oppressive manner.
In general, I would not call those who wage wars of national independence "freedom fighters," in the current sense. At least not the old anti-colonial fighters, from the 1700's through the 1970's. Nor the nationalists and nation-builders of Europe, Asia and elsewhere. In both cases, theirs were broader and deeper-rooted movements, encompassing the whole nation, and based on long-standing grievances or aspirations widely held.
Freedom fighters and terrorists are less broad-based, and more reactive to recent history, or current events. And, in the modern sense, I think that both freedom fighters and terrorists are not usually armies, but smaller forces, almost by definition incapable of actually taking over or running a large modern country by themselves. It's not even their goal.
One thing terrorists and freedom fighters share is a desire to kick out a foreign army, or break up a local regime, usually not of long standing. True freedom fighters would then let society go on to set itself right, politically, or return to a previous, more desirable order. Terrorists, though, would attempt to seize power for themselves, even if they were not capable of governing, and did not have the support of the local people for all their goals. That's another reason they should never be called "freedom fighters."
By these criteria, the American revolutionaries might not be seen as freedom fighters, in the contemporary sense. They were not violently oppressed, and they did have peaceful alternatives. Theirs was a broad-based movement, rooted in long-standing grievances and aspirations, against their own mother country, which had become entirely alien and separate from them in fact, if not in law. The American Revolution was the result of a historical process, not merely a reaction to current events.
But neither would Al Qaida be freedom fighters. (As they are local to nowhere, and oppressive in the extreme, themselves.) The French and Russian revolutionaries may have started out as freedom fighters, but they became terrorists and despots, as their self-styled elites turned against their own people in the pursuit of alien ideology and raw power. The Old IRA would most likely be freedom fighters by my criteria, but most elements of the new IRA would probably not be.
Reagan's Afghan Freedom Fighters may have been legitimate; even the Taliban, at first, but not in the end. The Sandinistas walked the line, but they did finally submit to elections. Castro did not. Guerillas in Columbia and Peru don't seem to mind killing their own people, and they unlikely to ever stand for elections. As to the Zapatistas, time will tell; likewise, the PLO: Can they win, and can they govern? Will they ever hold elections, and can they truly represent the best interests of their people? That's the crucial, final difference between terrorists and freedom fighters.
I don't think this is hair-splitting. I think that there are absolute, demonstrable, objective differences between freedom fighters and terrorists. I don't think it matters which side you are on, the distinction. There would always be arguments between partisans, but the above criteria would ultimately either be met, or not. Anything else is politics, and propaganda. Like the Bushies claim to be "liberating" Iraq.
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