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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

Armed Insurgents, not Terrorists

January 7, 2016

Tags: Terrorism defined, Rightwing terrorism

Over the past few days there have been many news reports about the occupation of public land in Oregon. There’ve been multiple analysis pieces also, like the one in Common Dreams titled “Rightwing Terrorism on Display as Militants in Oregon Beckon Reinforcements.” I like Common Dreams and agree with their emphasis on the stark disparity between the government’s response to these armed white Christians and how it would respond if the occupiers were Muslims, blacks or Native Americans. The article notes that the mainstream media would be calling non-whites “terrorists” rather than “militia members” or “principled patriots.”

But do we want to label the occupiers “terrorists” as the Common Dreams headline suggests?

I define terrorism as serious violent acts against civilians designed to instill widespread fear in order to make a religious or political point. The 9/11 attacks, the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the recent attacks in Paris fall within that definition. So do our drone strikes in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many of the world’s governments commit terrorism, although none admit it.

Mass shootings, however, carried out by deranged individuals, property destruction not intended to kill, or even violent resistance to oppression, are not terrorism. Shooting 20 children in Sandy Hook – horrible though it was – was not terrorism, and neither were the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Recently executed Shiite opposition leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was not a terrorist, despite the Saudi government’s claims.

Those occupying the Malheur National Wildlife headquarters in Oregon, are armed and dangerous but they have not, as far as I know, harmed anyone during their occupation. Even if they violently resist an FBI effort to retake the buildings by force, that would not make them terrorists.

One of the columnists quoted in the Common Dream article got it right: “This is an act of armed sedition against lawful authority. That is all that it is and that is quite enough. These are men with guns who have declared themselves outside the law. These are men with guns who have taken something that belongs to all of us.”

We on the left are correct to protest when law enforcement and the mass media slap the terrorist label on progressive activists they seek to repress. Secretary of State Kerry’s labeling Edward Snowdon a terrorist was just as outrageous as the government’s charging two young men in Illinois with terrorism for freeing mink in an animal rights protest. But we must resist the temptation to respond that “if you call left-wing protesters terrorists, then you should give the same label to right-wingers and attack them with equal firepower.” Playing fast and loose with this extremely inflammatory term is a bad idea no matter the political position of those involved. It will be used to counter our protests against government misapplication of the term, as well as to justify their falsely labeling our protests as terrorism.

While these right-wing militia types could easily, and possibly already have, committed terrorist acts elsewhere, let’s not get carried away and label as terrorist the militant actions of those we disagree with, unless the label really fits.

Selected Works

Memoir
"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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