Thursday, October 9, 2008

Constructing 'Terrorism' Historically

I set out to write a post on the history of terrorism in Canada. Instead, I’ve written why it’s not possible to really write about that. There is no list of incidents because it all comes down to ideology - how you define a terrorist act is not something that everyone can agree on.

The dictionary tells me that terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. Many states would fall into that definition, but I don’t think the authors meant to include, for example Canada, when they wrote that. As with many terms, its definition is created by the person using the word. A few groups are happy to call what they do terrorism – their intent is to inflict terror – but many others have the term imposed on them by outside parties or governments who deem their actions unlawful. Was the FLQ an independence movement or was it a terrorist organization? What about the Minute Men? The Mohawk community from Kanesatake (who in 1990 attempted to protect sacred land near Oka, Quebec from development)?

The first use of terrorism has been traced to the French Revolution and the ‘Reign of Terror.’ Its first recorded use in Canada is just after Confederation. The institution of Canada was created and imposed on Turtle Island in 1867 after several hundred years of colonization and brutality. This period, of course, is not usually defined as terrorist in nature by mainstream writers. Instead they pinpoint the assassination of D’Arcy McGee, a federal minister, in 1868 as the first act of domestic terrorism to occur. But what could be more systematically terrorizing than the attempted annihilation and more coercive than the forced assimilation of the indigenous peoples of this land?!

Depending on your viewpoint, you could examine terrorism in Canada as

1. directed by the state against indigenous peoples and lands;
2. state terrorism by Canada in other parts of the world;
3. attacks directed against provincial, federal and private institutions in Canada; or
4. the activities of organizations within Canada in support of conflicts in other parts of the world.

Any others? These are the ones I came up with when thinking about the idea. Much of the mainstream focus in Canada is on groups deemed to be terrorist that are operating within its borders, or on possible attacks from some vaguely defined outside threat from ‘others.’

There’s a great t-shirt from Native Press in the US with the slogan “Homeland Security: Fighting terrorism since 1492” and a picture of several Native American folks with rifles. That’s not usually what we see in the media when talking about terrorism and security, though is it? There is some lit that talks about how the public’s attention is diverted from the history of oppression of indigenous people by the media characterizing attempts to resist (such as land reclamations or protests against environmental destruction) as ‘terrorist.’

I think it's important that we continue to examine and deconstruct how terrorism has been historically defined and by who, as well as how it's being used in the present context. You probably already have an idea of my politics, but to be clear, I’ll say I define myself as anarcho-feminist, and working from an anti-oppressive standpoint is important to me.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with a lot of points mentioned here. The fact that English and French came to Canada and basically confiscated land from the Natives was an act of terrorism. It is very similar to the Israel's confiscation of Palestinian lands under Britian's 'law' back in the day.

Unfortunately, man continues to neglect history and only looks forward. No one is learning from the past!!

Seeking Info. said...

So they're saying that the Native Indians have been victims since 1492?

Kay Thoms said...

It's a play on the Homeland Security department which is the department created to protect the US post-9-11. I think it's supposed to make people think about the idea of the US being home - who's homeland is it - and also who's called a terrorist. The idea is that indigenous people have been actively resisting colonization by protecting their homeland but most people don't think about homeland security in such a way. Thanks for the link to the picture!