Defining a Terrorist: A Critical Examination of the Discourse of Terrorism
Turkey vs. the PKK
In this section, I apply this analysis to the ongoing conflict between the Turkish government and Partia Karkarem Kurdistan or Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) since 1984 (Klein 2010: 83-84). The example of Turkey's ongoing battle with its Kurdish minority group is a highly controversial issue within ongoing Turkish domestic policy. Whilst the Turkish government uses the term 'terrorist' to label the PKK, PKK sympathisers would argue that it is battling an ongoing attempt by the Turkish government to control and oppress a Kurdish identity (Meho & Maglaughlin 2001:6).
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Young Turk2 Nationalist movement, James Brown argues that redefining Turkish identity led to an attempt by Kemal Ataturk to create a secular and purely Turkish state in which national unity and territorial integrity were upheld, eliminating the idea for a separate Kurdish state (1995: 117). Through a clear separation in identity narratives, post-Ottoman Ethnonationalist discourse sought to restructure nationalist identities through the use of 'othering.'
Separatist movements were identified as an attack on the Turkish identity and an attempt to dismantle the modern, Western Turkish state. This began to eliminate any notions of legitimate power with separatist movements seeking self-determination following the end of World War 1. There consequently resulted the creation of a rift between the savage 'terrorist' and the 'civilised modern democratic Turkish authority,' hence defining power and disempowerment in post-war Turkey (Toros 2008: 412).
With the ongoing Europeanisation of the modern Turkish state, Ataturkites continued to define a social hierarchy of identities acceptable to the new state. In the creation of a fully homogenous state, the state championed the motto “How happy is the one who says ‘I am a Turk’" (Ataturk 1933, retrieved 7/01/2016). This was an attempt by the Turkish government to manipulate the perceptions of the 'other,' and enforce a collective Turkish identity narrative. Kurdish identity was suppressed and, in a famous speech, Ataturk claimed that 'there are no Kurds here, only mountain Turks' with a misplaced sense of identity (Hassanpour 1992; Özcan 2006: 68). Once the Turkish Republic was established, social elites attempted to eliminate all traces of minority identities in favour of the vision for a secular European nationalist state (Klein 2010: 81).
The Turkish state sought to discredit the notion of a separate Kurdish identity by suppressing all mention of 'Kurds' and eliminating any connection to language and culture thereby criminalising the identity. Hassanpour argues that cutting off ties to identity resulted in the "linguistic genocide" of a the Kurdish language and the definition of a Kurd as an “uncivilised person” in the Oxford Turkish-English dictionary (1992). Banning the language as early as 1925, and 'othering' the Kurdish identity successfully demonised and suppressed identity discourse, painting the Kurds as anti-state and 'savage' (Scalbert-Yucel 2010: 118).
The concept of a 'savage' Kurdish identity was complete once the Turkish government labelled the PKK as a 'terrorist' organisation (Toros 2008: 411). This inevitably stabilised the ongoing conflict into a recognisable physical ideology that Western powers could understand. Turkey's semi-European status and its democratic values were enough incentive to aid the West in supporting turkey's cause against a 'terrorist' group. Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani stated in a speech following 9/11:
Without the narrative of an oppressor/oppressed conflict, the fight against the rise in Kurdish nationalism was painted as a fight against the forces targeting democratic western values. This also consequently delegitimises any survival narratives from separatist groups, and legitimises military action by the Turkish government by preventing any further analysis of the social aspects of the conflict (Blakeley 2007: 230).
Consequently, the use of the label 'terrorist' is used deliberately as a delegitimising tool (Toros 2008: 411). Political violence is classed as terrorism against the state regardless of the social narrative of conflict. Responsibility for state retaliatory violence, therefore, is diminished and the concept of state terrorism becomes irrelevant. Instead, Kurdish terrorism is redefined as 'home grown terrorism,' - 'Turks' who are disenfranchised from their 'Turkish roots' and are categorised as 'inherently violent' as a result of a lapse in the understanding of their identity.
Turkish domestic policy has subjected minorities to forced assimilation, and the imposition of 'Turkishness,' as Article 66 of the 1982 constitution states "everyone bound to the Turkish State through the bond of citizenship is a Turk" (7/11/1982, retrieved 15/11/2015). This leaves little room for separate identity discourse and subjects all citizens to the category of a strict 'Turkish' ideology. With the use of the term 'terrorist,' the government is granted agency to control the acceptable parameters of Turkey's social make-up. This has limited understanding into the critical oppression narrative that the PKK has used to justify the use of political violence as being 'the only way' to preventing the elimination of a cultural identity. In an interview with a PKK group in Dersim Province, members have claimed that:
Ultimately, the use of the term 'terrorist' by the Turkish government has been argued as being a deliberate attempt to break the social cohesion of a pluralistic society, and is set within mainstream political agendas of the Turkish government.
The term 'terrorist' has immense global power in effectively categorising and compressing identity narratives. Colonial legacies of understanding the cultural differences between 'us' and the 'other' have dominated modern day discourse over the so called static and solid character of identity. Huntington's analysis of the eight blocs of 'civilisation' embodies the Eurocentric understanding of the categorisation of different identities (Said 2001). This has fed into the ways in which Western discourse has simplified the development of the concept of the 'terrorist' and how it is used as a tool to reinforce these categorisations. In an increasingly globalised context, interaction between the West and the East have resurfaced these narratives. With 9/11 and the increase in political violence dominated by Islamic identity discourse, Eurocentricism dominates MTS.
During the course of the writing of this paper, over 130 lives were lost in Paris in what President Barack Obama has labelled a "terrorist" attack and an "attack on all of humanity," (13/11/2015, retrieved 17/11/2015). MTS has enabled the state to consequently justify air strikes in Syria by Western powers in the ongoing fight against the 'terrorist.' The use of the term 'terrorist' therefore becomes more an issue of perspective as is evident in the ongoing conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish separatists. The danger is how the term 'terrorist' as a tool is applied and whose agenda it ultimately serves (Jackson 2007: 248).
Abrahms, M. (2007). Why Democracies Make Superior Counterterrorists. Security Studies. 16, 223-253.
Address to the United Nations General Assembly on Combatting Terrorism, (1/10/2001), Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani 107th Mayor, http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/rwg/html/2001b/un_remarks.html, retrieved 17/11/2015.
Allen, C. (2010) Islamophobia. London: Ashgate. (Available from www.islamophobiabook.com).
Atatürk’s 1933 Speech at the 10th Anniversary of the Republic of Turkey canada.ca/mka/quotes/short-speeches/10th-anniversary/">http://theataturksocietyofcanada.ca/mka/quotes/short-speeches/10th-anniversary/, retrieved 7/01/2016.
Blakeley, R.J. (2007). Bringing the State Back into Terrorism Studies. Bringing the State Back into Terrorism Studies.
British Conservative Party Conference, (2-5/10/2015), Theresa May's speech, http://press.conservatives.com/post/98799073410/theresa-may-speech-to-conservative-party, retrieved 10/11/2015.
Brown, J. (1995). The Turkish Imbroglio: Its Kurds. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 541, 116-129.
Eickelman, D. F. (2002). Bin Laden, the Arab "Street," and the Middle East's Democracy Deficit. Current history - New York then Philadelphia. 101, 36-39.
Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of the earth. New York, Grove Press.
Ganor, B. (2002). Defining Terrorism: Is One Man's Terrorist another Man's Freedom Fighter? Police Practice and Research. 3, 287-304.
Hassanpour, A. (1992). Nationalism and language in Kurdistan, 1918-1985. San Francisco, Mellen Research University Press.
Hindess, B. (2007). Terrortory. Peace Research Abstracts Journal. 44, 243.
Huffington Post online, (Posted 07/13/2010, updated 05/25/2011). 'France BURQA BAN: French Parliament Approves Ban On Face Veils,' http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/13/france-burqa-ban-french-p_n_644433.html, retrieved 11/11/2015.
Huffington Post online, (05/02/2013), 'The Week's Controversial Boston Marathon Bombers Cover (PHOTO),' http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/02/the-weeks-boston-marathon_n_3203817.html, retrieved 11/11/2015.
Huntington, S. P. (1993). The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs. 72, 22-49.
Jackson, R. (2005). Writing the war on terrorism: language, politics and counter-terrorism. Manchester, Manchester University Press.
Jackson, R. (2007). the core commitments of critical terrorism studies. European Political Science. 6, 244-251.
Jackson, R. (2007). Constructing Enemies: ‘Islamic Terrorism’ in Political and Academic Discourse. Government and Opposition. 42, 394-426.
Jackson, R. (2011). Terrorism: a critical introduction. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.
Jackson, S., & Jones, J. (1998). Contemporary feminist theories. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=9595.
Kant, I., Walker, N., & Meredith, J. C. (2007). Critique of judgement. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Klein, J. (2010). Turkish responses to Kurdish identity politics: recent developments in historical perspective. In R. L. Stansfield, The Kurdish Policy Imperative (pp. 79‐97). London: Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Laqueur, W. (1987). The age of terrorism. Boston, Little, Brown.
Lewis, B. (1990). The roots of Muslim rage: why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified. Atlantic Monthly.
Maylor, U. (2007). Diversity and citizenship in the curriculum: research review. Nottingham, DfES Publications.
Meho, L. I., & Maglaughlin, K. L. (2001). Kurdish culture and society an annotated bibliography. Westport, CT, Greenwood Press. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=491445.
Özcan, A. K. (2006). Turkey's Kurds : A Theoretical Analysis of the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan. London : Routledge Advances in Middle East and Islamic Studies.
Precht, T. (2007). Home grown terrorism and Islamist radicalisation in Europe: from conversion to terrorism : an assessment of the factors influencing violent Islamist extremism and suggestions for counter radicalisation measures : research report funded by the Danish Ministry of Justice. Kbh, Ministry of Justice.
President Obama Offers a Statement on the Attacks in Paris, (13/11/2015), https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/13/watch-president-obamas-statement-attacks-paris, retrieved 17/11/2015.
Prevent Strategy, (06/2011) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/97976/prevent-strategy-review.pdf, retrieved 25/11/2015.
Rudaw News, (18/8/2015). 'PKK declares autonomous region in Turkey’s Dersim province,' http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/turkey/180820151, retrieved 15/11/2015.
Said, E. W. (1979). Orientalism. New York, Vintage Books.
Said, E. W. (2001). The Clash of Ignorance - Labels like "Islam" and "the West" serve only to confuse us about a disorderly reality. The Nation. 273, 11. http://www.thenation.com/article/clash-ignorance/.
Scalbert‐Yucel, C. (2010). The liberalization of Turkish policy towards the Kurdish language: the influence of external actors. In R. L. Stansfield, The Kurdish Policy Imperative (pp. 116‐129). London: Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Somanader, T. (15/10/2010) ‘All Terrorists Are Muslim’ In Defense Of O’Reilly’s ‘Muslims Killed Us’ Remark,' http://thinkprogress.org/media/2010/10/15/124417/kilmeade-muslim-terrorists/, retrieved 13/11/2015.
Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? Basingstoke, Macmillan.
Toros, H. (2008). "We Don't Negotiate with Terrorists!": Legitimacy and Complexity in Terrorist Conflicts. Security Dialogue. 39, 407-426.
Turkish Constitution, (7/11/1982), https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.pdf, retrieved 15/11/2015.
Warner, D. (1991). An ethic of responsibility in international relations. Boulder, Colo, L. Rienner.
1.) In the days following the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush made a speech outside the White House declaring 'this war on terrorism' as a 'crusade' to 'rid the world of the evil-doers,' (Press conference, 16/09/2001). Following this, Counterpunch columnist Alexander Cockburn authored the term 'the tenth crusade' to signify the ongoing historical struggle of the West to bring civilisation and religion to the East (Counterpunch, 07/09/2002).
2.) The Young Turk movement began as a response to the perceived gradual encroachment of European powers on Ottoman sovereignty. Once the Public Debt Administration was implemented, granting Britain and France power over Ottoman finance and debt rehabilitation, the movement sought to reestablish and redefine Turkish identity. This ultimately resulted in the expulsion of the Ottoman sultan and the establishment of a Turkish state.