Wednesday, 3 November 2010


At the last Renegade Writer’s group Peter Coleborn canvassed for stories for the new ‘Wild Stacks’ magazine so I thought I’d oblige. Unfortunately the story I’d intended to submit ‘Image Rights’ – a Demi-Monde story featuring General Mikhail Dmitrievitch Skobelev - defied every effort of mine to find a suitably intriguing final twist. So I was obliged to start from scratch.

The story I’ve come up with will be called ‘To Infer is Human’ and the plot turns on the definition of who is or isn’t a terrorist. I’ve got to say researching plastic bombs and terror organisations on the internet wasn’t something I did with a great deal of enthusiasm. The stories about your surfing being monitored by the Secret Service are too legion for that and the last thing I want are the men in grey wandering down my drive.

But anyway...

Now being a simplistic sort of bloke I assumed that as we seem to have been fighting ‘the War on Terror’ since Noah was a boy and that there are all manner of laws now designed to deter and to punish terrorists that there would be a well tried and tested definition of what a terrorist is on the statute books. But there isn’t. Nobody it seems can agree on a catch-all (sorry!) definition. There’s even a 48 page report by Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C. entitled ‘The Definition of Terrorism’ in which the good Lord states: ‘Hard as I have striven (good word that!), and as many definitions as I have read, I have failed to conclude that there is one (definition) that I could regard as a paradigm. This report will not offer major new statutory language’. Terrific!

Now this I saw as interesting. Why couldn’t the powers-that-be come up with a universally accepted definition? And the answer, as in so many things, is politics. Terrorism is a somewhat nebulous beast and – sorry to regurgitate a very tired maxim – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter, so I suppose legislators have to be very careful that the definition they adopt doesn’t end up hanging them on their own petard. Let me give you an example.

Being something of a naïf I would have thought that any definition of terrorism would – naturally – contain a reference to terror, the aim of most terrorists, as I judge it, being to scare the shit out of the civilian population until they lose confidence in the existing government (or, if that fails, to blow them to bits). But the United States Law Code states that in its opinion ‘the term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience’. Not a word about them being associated with ‘criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public’ (this is part of the UN’s definition) and the reason is that the US wants to include acts of violence against property and property (pipelines, empty abortion clinics, out of hours synagogues etc.) are pretty impervious to being terrorised. The lawyers must be having a field day.

I’m rambling now but I hope you get the picture: countries are wary of defining ‘terrorism’ too precisely in case their own activities could be judged as ‘terrifying’ (I mean, I could argue that the War of Independence was a terrorist action) and that I hope is a great basis for a story.

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