Janus, Terrorism and Peacemaking
For it was a witty and a truthful rejoinder which was given by a pirate to Alexander the Great. The King asked the fellow, ‘What is your idea, in infesting the sea?’ And the pirate answered with uninhibited insolence, ‘The same as yours, as in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate: Because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor’.
St. Augustine City of God (Book IV, Chapter IV)
Emperors and Pirates
Janus was, in Roman myth, the god who had two faces, one at the front and the other at the back of his head. Janus looked in both directions, and, being able to do so, could not be taken in by a single perspective. The language of terrorism is very much with us these days, and the political use of the term has certainly intensified since 9-11. Janus can very much be a guide for us in this paper, as we ponder how the language of terrorism is employed, who uses it and to what end. In short, it is essential to gaze in all directions as we dissect the functional use of the language of terrorism.
The apt and insightful passage from St. Augustine in City of God mentioned above can, if heeded, clarify some often ignored realities. Terrorists are usually defined as those that threaten and disrupt the national security of the state. This does beg an important and significant question, though. What have been the decisions made by a state, at domestic and foreign policy levels, that threaten national security? The terrorists, like the pirates, are usually seen as the problem, but the state, like Alexander, is exempt from such questioning and scrutiny. And yet, it is often the state, like Alexander, that has much greater capacity to silence opposition and use greater violence against the pirates-terrorists. Many states often, in domestic and foreign policy, oppress and terrorize others through the use of death squads and the military, but when those who have been terrorized dare to fight back (with fewer arms and less sophisticated technology), they are branded with the terrorist term. Alexander can inflict massive hardships and brutality on people, but because he is emperor, he cannot be defined as a terrorist. The small scale pirates that oppose the emperor are called the terrorists. This simple yet often ignored point must be held front and centre in our understanding of how ‘terrorism’ is used. The large and vicious sharks are not seen as such, but the smaller fish, when they, in their limited sort of way, attack the sharks, are seen as the enemies of state security. Let me offer a few illustrations of this point.