Since the attacks of September 11th, 2001 on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon the world has been involved in a war of terror. Over time the meaning of the word has changed as the situations in various countries evolved. This week we saw how the word “terror” means different things to different people.


On Tuesday the town of Khan Skeikhoum in Iblid province of Syria was attacked by aircraft that used gas weapons killing 72 civilians, including children and injuring many more. The town is a strong hold of the anti government fighters in the civil war in that country.

On Thursday, as a result of the horrifying images of the dead children from Syria, United States President Donald Trump ordered an attack by Tomahawk missiles on the Syrian government airbase of Shayrat in Homs province from which Tuesday’s attack had been launched, thus drawing the ire of Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad’s ally Russia.

One word

In both cases the word “terror” was used to describe the attackers. On Tuesday the Al-Assad government described Khan Sheikhoum as a cove of terrorists and in turn many foreign governments condemned the use of gas weapons as terror tactics.

In speaking of the order to launch the missile attack President #Donald Trump stressed the need to fight terror. Whereas in the aftermath of the American attack the Syrian and the Russian reaction said that the American raid was assisting terrorists.

With the one word governments and movements have found a means to justify an act that others condemn.

In the original War on Terror the enemy was Al-Qaeda and then became the Taliban. Over time and with each western intervention the enemy became ISIS and now there are many who simply want to use the blanket phrase of “Radical Islamic terrorism”.

Tellingly, the new National Security Advisor General H. R. McMaster, a veteran of wars in the Middle East, opposes the use of the tell all phrase as counterproductive to finding a long term solution to the terrorism.

Old problem

What we now call terrorism is not a new problem and has been part of world politics since time immemorial.

The Viet Cong who fought a guerrilla war during the Vietnam conflicts would undoubtedly now be called terrorists.

The same could be said for any group of freedom fighters against dictators or foreign occupation as they are forced to use ingenuity to fight better armed enemies.

One man could be regarded as the symbol of the paradox of the freedom fighter/terrorist. When Nelson Mandela died he was honoured as a statesman and leader of the country that had suffered the racist segregation of Apartheid and in South Africa was mourned by black and white alike, including by the man who was his warder for years. He had been jailed for 27 years as a terrorist against his national government, a government he considered illegitimate as do the people of Khan Sheikhoum consider Bashar Al-Assad.


In labelling activities as “terrorist” as happened this week by all sides of the Syrian conflict, the politicians often forget what had inspired the actions. The record of the Al-Assad dictatorship of torture and deaths of opponents are as much terrorist activities as the uprising of the people targeted by the gas on Tuesday.

Terrorists is not a label and the use of this word is an evasion of the responsibility to finding the solution to the problems that gave birth to the fighters. In labelling every act of violence as simple “terrorism” and punishing the single offender does nothing to explain why youths from western countries are willing to enrol in groups as ISIS.

For terrorism to end world leaders must stop referring to their opponents as simple “terrorists” and address the issues that gave rise to each group.

Military strikes and invasions are not the solution.

The world’s leaders must act to address the dictatorships and the inequalities that they often tolerate in their allies as we have seen by Russia and the United States.

Until this happens terrorists will always be with us.