Terrorist or Freedom Fighter? A breakdown of US-Middle East relations



According to Peter Sederburgs definitional criteria on terrorism, only in conditions where there is indiscriminate force on noncombatants (with some exceptions) can we use the contested word “terrorist”s. However, in creating an extensive definition of the word, there is variety depending on who is giving the definition. Senator Jeremiah Denton in introducing the anti-terrorism law, gave a definition implying that anyone who uses force against the United States’ laws or state policy. While countries not aligned with the Washington Consensus do not acknowledge this and see terrorism as being committed by imperialist occupiers against an oppressed population or segment of the population. With the direct definition given by Peter Sederburgs, we can identity two examples of this in regards to US- Middle East relations. The bombing of Iraq and the bombing of Afghanistan, as well as the drone bombing in Pakistan and Yemen.

Concerning the War in Iraq, according to the U.S Consensus, the war specifically was targeted at assaulting “pro-saddam loyalists and insurgents”, however these people in the criteria were indistinguishable from non-combatants and thus the line between whether combatants or civillians were being deliberately targeted is blurred. That is why this could be considered an act of Terrorism because regardless of said intent, most those that were killed in Iraq were civilians. The Afghanistan War and the subsequent bombing is harder to define as terrorism because in that war the entire ruling governance of the Taliban was the declared enemy and the bombing of this country specifically aimed at these people. However even though in this war civillians did also die, there was more of a distinguishable difference between the targeted populations in Iraq compared to Afghanistan.

Sedderburg alludes to the fact that it is very difficult to objectively write out who is the aggressor and who is the victim and who is committing terrorist acts, This leaves a lot of ambiguity for certain people to jump to label an act as “Terrorist” and another as not, just based on sheer personal bias (Sederburg, 19) The author attempts to get as close as possible to an objective definition of terrorism, breaking down basic signs of terrorism vs just war and the caveats that one must take into consideration. He also clarifies the misconception that terrorist targets are not arbitrarily chosen and are chosen for a variety of strategical and political reasons (Sedderburg, 34).

He also goes to describe how Guerilla forces that sometimes target a bus believing it is full of government agents and find out it is full of civilians after are committing an act of terrorism (Sedderburg 35). This line of thinking if extrapolated to the recent debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq seems to be encompassed if one sees the sheer number of civilians killed in Iraq, often conflated with the term “insurgent” or “enemy combatant”. At the same time the author states that in a war almost anything can be devoid of the term “terrorism” unless civillians are deliberately targeted to scare the population. This has implications that relate to consideration that certain acts in a war can be declared terrorism, but not the entire war itself as an effort (Sedderburg,32), considering the intent is always claimed to be moral. In regards to State Terrorism, the author makes an important distinction that in cases where a state leader (tyrant) continuously kills civilians for their own personal gain (such as Assad in Syria), the word terrorism does not apply (Sedderburg 19) The drone bombing of Pakistan and Yemen (as well as many other countries) is considered terrorism by the definition of Noam Chomsky because although the targets are claimed to be combatants, over 90% of the time the victims are civilians (Sedderburg. 23).

Sedderburg eloquently and efficiently explains how Terrorism as it is used in every day discourse has so much variation among personal bias that it is important to objectively identify which characteristics a specific violent act fall under by classifying those targeted and those who are being attacked. It’s important to analyze whether a country that is being classified as “terrorist” such as the PLO (Sedderburg, 29) actually represents the government and the people and is staying within its own local boundaries, while if an Imperial power like the United States directing an attack/


Overall if we use the definition given by the author Sedderburg, we have to take certain things into consideration when we jump to give a conclusion that a certain act is terrorism. Are the intended targets combatants or non combatants? And what is the outcome? In the case of Iraq and the drone strikes, although the targets are claimed to be combatants, due to the narrow definition and accuracy of the targets, this can be classified as terrorism. Although is this a continuous attack by a tyrant, it is something else much harder to classify.

Citation: Sederburg, Peter. N.p.: United South Carolina, 1989. Print.

Macarthur, John. Second Front. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.


Abdo, Geneive. Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America after 9/11. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.