The importance of characterization: terrorist or guerrilla?

The importance of characterization: terrorist or guerrilla?
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Who is a terrorist, a guerrilla, and a freedom fighter? Is the state innocent? The terror inflicted on the "others" by those who claim "homeland-nation" must be questioned.

By Sahap Eraslan

Guerrilla warfare and acts of terrorism are very fluid and can be defined in terms of the aims of an action. Waldmann writes that guerrilla warfare challenges the state with a specific military strategy, aims to harm the state in various ways, constantly distracts the state with particular actions, and thus prevents development. Guerrillas use their actions as a means/method of communication. The actions inflict damage through violence but also constantly warn the state, aiming to gain psychological superiority in the war.

Waldmann emphasizes that it is essential for the state to categorize an act and gives the example of Algeria: In Algeria, a small group of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale - Front for National Liberation) takes action against the French. The state defines this action as a "guerrilla movement" and positions itself accordingly. However, these actions are ordinary acts of terrorism and have no supportive mass behind them. The French, seeking protection from the guerrillas, isolated themselves by retreating to their barracks and sheltered areas and viewing the Algerian people with suspicion. In this paranoid environment, they minimized their relations with the public and started to take a stand against the people they viewed with suspicion. The support of the people for the FLN grows in this environment. In short, what started with a few sensational "acts of terror" turned into a popular movement and ended with the defeat of the French. It should be noted that Waldmann neglects the effects of colonialism, the role of cultural differences in this conflict, human rights violations, and the objection to a two-class society.


The core of the cadre that founded the Republic was composed of soldiers. It was inevitable that those who founded the state with weapons would internalize the tendency to protect the state with weapons. This 'mission' was culturally internalized.

Mothers call their sons "pasha". Our entertainment, festival, and circumcision attire are officer uniforms. In times of crisis, we tend to take up our swords. After all, "Every Turk is born a soldier," and "The military hearth is the hearth of the Prophet." This is A matter so sacred, inviolable!

National holidays are not about learning lessons from the war and declaring "never again." We celebrate national holidays with narratives of slaughtering enemies and "throwing the Greeks into the sea." We haven't even learned the alphabet of peaceful problem-solving yet. We have known violence as a part of love. "He beats, and he loves!" "A rose grows where the mother/father hits." Didn't we grow up with narratives glorifying the crime and sanctifying the perpetrator? The intertwining of state, nation, and violence is the most natural state we have internalized.


This state of mind creates a symbiotic relationship between the state and terror. The war and terror industry is a product of this. After an act of terrorism, the state overreacts and uses disproportionate violence, thinking that it is symbolically showing its strength. The reaction of terrorist organizations to the state's constant rhetoric of "we have ended terrorism; they are almost over" is to prove that they are not over. If possible, they sensationalize this reaction. Thus, this negative symbiotic relationship is perpetuated. It looks like a harmful dependency, but they keep each other alive and sustain each other.

The everyday discourse of fascist and racist parties in different countries is based on "homeland-nation." In psychoanalysis, there is a form of defense called pathological splitting (Spaltung), and this construct is often activated: "us and our enemies"; since the absence of terror and enemies would make racism redundant, terrorism-loving is a common issue for racists. In these debates, it is necessary to explore ways of protecting against terrorism that appear to be terrorist fighters but is created through this discourse. Who is a terrorist, a guerrilla, a freedom fighter, and whether the state is innocent is a matter of serious debate. The terror inflicted on the "others" by those who say "homeland-nation" should also be questioned.

Hans-Joachim Heintze writes that human rights violations by terrorists were first discussed at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. Until then, states had been persecuting terrorists as "internal affairs". At this meeting, the violation of terrorists' human rights by states is being discussed as an issue. Not every state can persecute its terrorists. Only by respecting and protecting the human rights of the terrorist can the state avoid becoming a terrorist state. The state's primitive response to the terrorist justifies the terrorist and makes the state a terrorist state.

The most important task of the state is to reduce the people's fears. If there is a fear of earthquakes, minimize people's fears by taking measures. If people don't feel safe, provide people with security. Terror, on the other hand, tries to spread fear and humiliate the state.

Since its emergence, terrorism has been the name of the oppression that emerges in the dynamic between the state, those in power, and the people. The condition cannot legitimize its terrorism by declaring someone a terrorist. The meaning of terrorism has been expanded and used in a tabloid context. Regardless of the context in which it is used, the terrorist sits at one end of the seesaw and the state at the other.


Arno Gruen develops a concept in his book Wahnsinn der Normalität: "Perverting empathy" (Pervertierung der Empathie).* By this concept, Gruen means pitying and sympathizing with the aggressor instead of empathizing with the victim. In the final analysis, this translates into understanding the certainty, necessity, and even justification of the atrocities committed! The dead deserved to be killed or persecuted. This is an attitude we often encounter in news reports on terrorism, which aims to innoculate the perpetrator.

Our mother both loves and beats us!" This is how the glorification of the perpetrator begins. The fact that the heroes of our childhood fairy tales and dreams are often "tyrants in the role of saviors" also impacts our tradition of glorifying perpetrators. It is not enough to defeat, burn, destroy and kill in war. Arno Gruen is right; this is a perversion of empathy or all emotions.

* Arno Gruen, Wahnsinn der Normalität - Realismus als Krankheit: Eine Theorie der menschlichen Destruktivität (Munich: DTV, 1992), p. XXX

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