Terrorism is, of course, an highly loaded term, used by various groups in very different ways. For those from one culture or society a group may be a terrorist organisation; whereas to another culture or society that same group may be freedom fighters.
Peter Ustinov (1921-2004, the great English actor who won numerous awards, as well as serving as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and as the President of the World Federalist Movement), summed up this divergent thinking thus:
“Terrorism is the war of the poor. War is the terrorism of the rich.”Terrorism is the threat of violence that is designed to engender fear, anxiety, and/or intimidation in another person or community. It’s linguistic roots date back at least as far as the Reign of Terror perpetrated by the French revolutionary government in 1793-94. Thus, originally, the term was associated with state terrorism. Only more latterly has it become associated (at least in the west) with non-state organisations.
Terrorism has been perpetrated by all shades of political opinion, from Stalin’s communist Russia to Franco’s fascist Spain, from Allende’s CIA-backed Chile to Idi Amin’s ethnic cleansing in Uganda.
All of that changed in 2001 however, and our political leaders decided that it was time to act and declared a “War on Terror.” (The irony of the term seems to have escaped many of them). Trying to discover who, if anyone, is winning that war, is an extremely difficult task. But, we in the west have thrown truckloads of money into the war. “Time” magazine estimated that the US has spent over $5 trillion since 2001. The UK is spending around £3.5 billion per year and Australia around $4 billion per year. That’s a lot of money, but are we removing terrorism.
If the purpose of terrorism is to strike terror into our hearts and undermine our sense of security and way of life, then it may be more appropriate to look closer to home. Of all the homicides in western nations the proportion that are family or domestically related ranges from around 20% through to 40%.
Hence, the bedrooms and living rooms of our societies may be the real sites of terror, all the more so for women. Around 2/3 to 3/4 of all domestic assaults are by men on women. What is more is that the number of deaths related to domestic abuse is currently running at around ten times the rate of deaths from traditionally labelled “terrorist” acts.
How much are we putting into counteracting this family/domestic terrorism? In Australia, about 1% of that spent on the “war on terror” and other countries about the same. What is of further concern is that in the UK and Australia at least, the amount of funding to prevention of domestic violence is being cut.
Let’s look at another close-to-home example: incarceration rates of indigenous or black people versus those of white skin. If you are black in the US or UK, you are around 6 or 7 times more likely to be jailed than if you are a white person. Maori people in New Zealand are eight times more likely than their Pakeha (white people) compatriots to be imprisoned. In Australia, the rate is significantly higher, with Aboriginal people being around 14 or 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than a white person.
The question then has to be: where are the real terrorists? Being a woman means that you have a 20% - 30% chance of being terrorised by a male partner or ex-partner. Being an indigenous or black person means you are much more likely to be threatened with incarceration.
Yet, as the funding levels show, as a society we are more likely to spend money on a “war on terror” than to look at the terror we are creating and perpetuating in our own homes and communities.