This answer is usually described as ‘a matter of perspective’. It is claimed that one side’s heroes are ‘naturally’ seen as the other’s villains.
As an example (and a safe one at that from an era that is long gone), Chingis (Genghis) Khan remains a hero to Mongols and large numbers of Central Asian people of Turkic or Mongol origins. Elsewhere, he is generally viewed with horror.
But this ‘explanation’ is surely not good enough. It cannot be the case that we do not know what is right or wrong.
We should be able to determine without any doubt who the ‘freedom fighters’ are as against ‘evil terrorists’ who exact death and destruction. Shouldn’t we?
Perhaps, the freedom fighters are the evil terrorists.
And likewise, the evil terrorists are also freedom fighters.
Regardless of whom we support, both warring sides usually see themselves as freedom fighters.
This is the case even with clearcut cases of aggression, as we saw in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yet the Americans tend to justify their regular aggressions around the world as somehow in the cause of ‘fighting for freedom’, and they describe their hapless victims and their rudimentary weaponry as ‘evil terrorists’ with ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
And both ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘evil terrorists’ regularly employ violent means with ease. Mercilessly. Brutally. Often against unarmed civilians by design.
There is so much beauty in the world. Yet human beings seem to always find a way to fight rather than negotiate.
We all hate. Even though we are ashamed of admitting it, it is undeniable that love is not the only driver in human relations.
But we justify our hate through some ideological self-deception that paints a picture of a ‘just’ cause such as ‘freedom’ in our minds.
A wonderful act of propaganda turns mass murder into an act of love for ‘freedom’ or ‘country’ or ‘god’ or some such balderdash.
So a short answer to the question put is: There really is not much of a difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist!
A freedom fighter is a terrorist because he fights with hate and a brutal determination to kill, and without hesitation usually.
There is no real ‘lesser of two evils’. Rather, there are two hateful, murderous evils trying to portray themselves as angels to themselves and others.
From a neutral perspective, villains and heroes behave in the same manner in war, and it is only in the judgement made by others that they become separated as ‘opposites’ in a ‘moral’ sense.
And therein lies the central weakness of ‘morality’ as a driver for war. No cause justifies war.
Instead, I would suggest we should focus on restraining the link between our naturally existing hate and our propensity to violence.
We have managed to remove ourselves from the food chain. So it is time to relax and put a lid on our ‘hate’ and ‘fight’ instincts, and thereby become more civilised.
Better to fight it out on a football field than a battle field.
On the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of “Mlada Bosna” (Young Bosnia), which is said to have led to World War I.
Ever wondered what the X factor is in one polity’s ability to subjugate another?
In raw power terms, it is quite easy to imagine the answer. A more powerful country can dominate another, just as predators can rule over their own or other species.
But this analogy does not stand up to scrutiny when it comes to modern colonialism, which is more parasitic than predatory.
Predators and parasites alike feed off their prey or hosts. Lions and sharks live this way, just as leeches and ticks do.
The main difference between them is that parasites eat their prey slowly and keep them alive for the long run, while predators slay, eat and then move on to another victim when the need arises.
Parasites work with or within existing organisms. Predators overcome and kill their prey.
Old style empires would invade, plunder and leave. Why stay when you could just carry away all the wealth and slaves you could grab? All the loot and none of the responsibility.
Today, imperialism is more ‘civilised’ and leech-like, and even boasts of ‘human rights’ and ‘nation building’ as if that were some new ‘discovery’ or even ‘art’. If not that, then it’s in the service of ‘rule of law’. Whose law, it is not clear.
For parasites to succeed, they need a suitable host with whom they can establish a symbiotic relation. This symbiosis is essential for the survival of the host and the parasite alike.
The parasite usually is in need of something that the host can offer, and without which the parasite cannot live for too long.
Leeches need blood, and they may even have medicinal properties at the same time as they suck your blood.
Colonial invaders who are after the natural resources or markets of another country may be able to offer advanced medicines.
Leeches lack the competence to produce the blood they need and have to be leeches to get it.
Colonial leeches lack the competence to produce what they need (e.g. energy) and resort to genocide for the purpose of stealing energy from others.
And leeches also cause fear, disgust and distress among their human hosts, just as colonial invaders do among the locals.
And leeches can cause death through infection and excessive bleeding among their hosts. Strangely enough, so do colonialists.
Most human hosts with common sense would prefer to take the medicinal properties of leeches and the advanced medicine of colonialists while doing away with the vile leeches and colonialists. But this is no simple task. Just ask the Palestinians.
Just like parasites, colonialists need to establish a symbiotic relation with their intended hosts in order to survive and/or succeed.
A predator would not need such a relation, but modern colonialist leeches do.
No empire today is strong enough to occupy and rule any other country by sheer force alone. They need local collaborators.
These local collaborators are the secret ingredient in the success of colonial projects.
Without the collaborators, there could nor would be any colonies anywhere on the planet today, at least not where there are people already living (this could be a function of the largest human population in human history, as uninhabited land is increasingly scarce).
For the local collaborators to be successfully incorporated into the colonial project, they need to be convinced of their own ‘righteousness’. They tend to be offered sweet rewards for their collaboration, and subsequently subjected to ‘modern education’ founded on the culture and agenda of colonisers.
In no time at all, a whole class of local collaborators can be weaned to protect the interests of the empire. A lot of cash for a small group of collaborators is further sweetened by new causes and wonderful ‘modern’ ideas to ‘fight for’, such as ‘human rights’, ‘secularism’, ‘women’s emancipation’, ‘democracy’, ‘anti-terrorism’, ‘elections’, ‘free markets’, or even ‘independence’ (from a rival colonialist leech). Never mind that not a single one of these ‘values’ or ‘causes’ is anything remotely new in human history. Just like the drive for ‘development’ – whatever that concept is supposed to mean.
The language and drive of such externally driven causes often runs in direct contradiction to the local culture and serves to confuse and humiliate. As long as enough local people can be mobilised and separated from the rest in service of such ‘causes’, the colonialist is laughing all the way to the oil field.
After all, the colonial leach has already mastered the art of deception and propaganda back home against its own people, who dutifully fall in line and acquiesce to the cause of imperial plunder.
An effective colonial strategy is to choose local collaborators who are a minority or otherwise disadvantaged and with long standing grievances.
Such battle fronts can be drawn along class, caste, tribe, race or sectarian lines, and always infused with some ideological tinge that is bound to instil a sense of ‘decency’ for the collaborators involved in the colonial project, willingly and/or unwittingly.
Such collaborators will form the foot soldiers for the empire and deflect attention from the colonisers’ natural resource grab while the local population is busy fighting each other over causes implanted by leeches. Without these local collaborators, colonial leeches would wither away quickly.
A concrete example of the above:
King Idris of Libya (1889-1983) served the purpose of colonisers well from 1951 to 1969 with national oil resources virtually owned by foreigners (UK and USA) right up to Gaddafi’s 1969 coup. Idris sided with the British during World War II, and was awarded the British Order of Grand Cross of the British Empire for his support in the defeat of German and Italian forces in North Africa during World War II.
By 1951, Libya had been ‘united’ into one ‘country’ and Idris was crowned King. He came from the eastern border with Egypt, and ruled Libya from Benghazi. A handful of wealthy local families (around 6) from coastal cities like Benghazi and Misrata owned the bulk of local businesses and trade, facilitated foreign rule in exchange for money and power for their own families and those under their patronage.
Gaddafi not only removed the king, he also deposed all the collaborating local families, confiscated their property and wealth and redistributed them to those from the poorer regions of the country.
Four decades later, descendants of the same families engineered Gaddafi’s fall in collaboration with MI6, CIA and Al Jazeera (Qatar).
One example of this sabotage was phone calls made to Al Jazeera and broadcast live to the whole world, claiming that Gaddafi was slaughtering civilians.
Problem was, the first phone calls to Al Jazeera were being made by grandchildren of the deposed families living in and calling from London. Agitators who had little to do with Libya other than in name, and were looking for a ‘worthy’ cause to give their own exiled lives some special ‘meaning’.
The London-based Libyan families organised the propaganda warfare with the help of foreign media such as Al Jazeera and CNN, and they organised convoys of weapons and cash for local rebels.
They also coordinated ground level movements and attacks with NATO and Arab intelligence services and mercenaries. Foreign (western) mercenaries directed much of the fighting on the ground.
How do I know all this? Because one member of one of the Libyan comprador families told me so.
Gaddafi had in fact encouraged Libyans to go out and demonstrate during the ‘Arab Spring’ roller coaster 2 years ago. He was supportive of the people’s grievances, at least in his public utterances before the demonstrations took place.
But the first shootings in the streets of Benghazi were foreign sabotage, and occurred just one day before mass demonstrations were planned.
The initial phone calls that were broadcast ‘live’ on Al Jazeera with ‘Libyan’ people screaming “They are killing us. Please save us!” were actually made from London.
The Libyan compradors now regret what they did. At least according to my lamenting Libyan source who was in a mood to pour her heart out.
But I doubt they know that they are the real problem for Libya, as much as the foreign invaders.
And I even doubt that they realise what a destructive role they tend to play against their country, even when in exile.