The Common Good

What is Terrorism Anyway?

Sojomail - April 25, 2002



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+++++++++++++++++++++++ 25-April-2002 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
++++++++++++++++ What is Terrorism Anyway? ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *James Brown: room with a different view

 H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
     *So what is terrorism anyway?

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *Fishy aid

 S o j o C i r c l e s
     *New Circles in your neighborhood

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *The Holy Land

 P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
     *The life and times of Digna Ochoa y Plácido

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Scattered snapshots of U.S. Catholicism

 P. O. V.
     *Six common Israeli justifications...myth or fact?

 R e l i g i o n   M a t t e r s
     *Far from Kashmir: South Asians find common ground in U.S.

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *Jewish movement for peace

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers hit reply

 W e b s c e n e
     *A humorous guide to religious novelty items on the Web
     *Free encyclopedic knowledge online


Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"Martin Luther King was a misguided leader. He
worked to be recognized as the leader of black
America when what black America needs isn't a
leader, it is education. Giving speeches and
marching, that's not the concept that brings
about real freedom, equality, and justice. We
need a philosophy that is adopted in every
household that raising our children to be
responsible for their own actions is a must.
I don't see the leaders of the Jewish community;
I don't see the leaders of the Korean community.
Their strength is in local leaders, household

            - James Brown in "Sports Illustrated"
              April 15, 2002


H e a r t s   &  M i n d s
So what is terrorism anyway?

by Jim Wallis

Is the definition of terrorism simply in the mind 
of the beholder, as some say? Is it finally just a 
political definition, controlled ultimately by who
wins bitter conflicts? No.

The events of Sept. 11 and the cycle of violence in 
the Middle East make preventing terrorism more urgent 
than ever. Yet the nations of the world still cannot 
even agree on the definition of terrorism.

Two events this month highlighted the problem.

At the beginning of April, the Organization of the 
Islamic Conference met in Malaysia. In his opening 
speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad stated, 
"I would like to suggest here that armed attacks 
or other forms of attacks against civilians must be 
regarded as acts of terror and the perpetrators 
regarded as terrorists."  He concluded that Palestinian 
suicide bombers against Israeli civilians and Israeli 
Defense Force counter-attacks against Palestinian 
society should both be condemned as terrorism.

But his attempt at a clear and moral definition 
gained little support from the other delegates 
present, many of whom regard the Palestinian 
bombings as legitimate acts of resistance against 
the Israeli occupation. Three days later, the final 
declaration of the conference stated, "We 
unequivocally condemn acts of international terrorism 
in all its forms and manifestations, including state 
terrorism, irrespective of motives, perpetrators and
victims, as terrorism poses a serious threat to 
international peace and security...."  So far, so good. 
But then the statement declared: "We reject any attempt 
to link terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian 
people...." So much for moral consistency.

A Los Angeles Times story reported that "The U.N. General 
Assembly, meanwhile, stymied by a deep rift between the 
Western powers and leading developing nations, has 
quietly suspended its quest for a consensus definition 
of terrorism. Such a definition is a prerequisite for a 
long-delayed international convention that would give the 
U.N. efforts legal teeth by criminalizing terrorist activity 
anywhere in the world."

The United States does not want the definition of terrorism 
to include acts of violence against civilians that are 
committed by the military forces of recognized states, but 
only those by individuals or non-state organizations. Acts 
by states might be violations of international law but are 
not terrorism, according to the U.S.

Two of the clearest examples of the clash of definitions came 
from the Israeli and Iraqi ambassadors. Israel said, "Since 
its inception, Israeli citizens have been the targets of 
countless terrorist attacks. This past year, Israel has been 
compelled to engage in legitimate self-defense...." Iraq said, 
"The acts carried out by the Israeli authorities in Palestine
and the occupied Arab territories...are considered, according 
to all standards, organized terrorism against a whole 
population...." Both points of view would come under judgment 
by the famous words of Jesus, "Why do you see the speck in 
your neighbor's eye, but not the log in your own?

Is the violence we now witness each night on our television 
screens, legitimate self-defense or organized terrorism? 
It's the old cliché that one person's terrorist is another 
person's freedom fighter. It's also a very bad and dangerous 

In the General Assembly debate, Secretary General Annan, 
noting these difficult issues of definition, went on to 
say: "I understand and accept the need for legal precision. 
But let me say frankly that there is also a need for moral 
clarity. There can be no acceptance of those who would 
seek to justify the deliberate taking of innocent civilian 
life, regardless of cause or grievance. If there is one 
universal principle that all peoples can agree on, surely 
it is this.  Even in situations of armed conflict, the
targeting of innocent civilians is illegal, as well as 
morally unacceptable." 

Where are the moral lines? Where will the violence and 
counter-violence end? If Israeli helicopters firing rockets 
into a crowded refugee camp is justified in the name of 
self-defense, can we also justify a suicide bomber at a seder 
in the name of the struggle against occupation? It may be 
the particular obligation of religious communities to make 
clear that neither is morally justifiable.

Fuzzy and ideological definitions of terrorism just make 
it easier to kill people. When you know your actions will 
kill innocent non-combatants, that's terrorism. And it 
must be clearly named as unacceptable - no matter who does
it (individuals, groups, or states), and whatever the 
weapons, the expressed intentions, or political 
justifications. Deliberately taking the lives of innocent 
civilians must simply be morally condemned. That's a clear
definition of terrorism and a beginning of resistance to it.


F u n n y   B u s i n e s s

Give a man a fish, he owes you one fish.
Teach a man to fish, you give up your
monopoly on fisheries.


S o j o C i r c l e s
SojoCircles growing from coast to coast

SojoCircles are bi-weekly study groups that meet to discuss
issues of faith and politics, particularly in times of
intense conflict in the Middle East. As Sal Hundley, of
Park Forest, Illinois, writes: "We find that we're straying
from the "curriculum" more, as the events of the past few
weeks have driven us to talk about the dynamics of the
crisis in Palestine/Israel. We also continue to search for
an understanding about Islam and have created a group reading
list to share with one another."

To find out if there's a SojoCircle already meeting in your
area, please visit for a complete listing.
There are new SojoCircles starting this week in the following

Mobile, Alabama. Monnie Anderson:
Cleveland, Ohio. Bernadette Washington:
Atlanta, Georgia. Sara Henry:
San Jose, Costa Rica. Eric Liljenstolpe:
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Douglas Armstrong: (414)264-5944
Austin, Texas. Charlie Jackson:
Layton, Utah. Annette Engler:

No SojoCircle in your neighborhood? Consider starting one of
your own. For information, contact us at 800-714-7474 or at


S o u l   W o r k s
The Holy Land

by John H. Osborne
The Holy Land is no place to go.
"not recommended" says the travel advisory.
It's no place to go!
Travel brochures out of date.
Inspirational adventures?
Don't go! We can't predict your fate.
Don't go to Bethlehem or Nazareth,
Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
Don't look for God or Jesus or Muhammed.
The holiness has departed.
The Temple is desolate -
The Mosque weeps tears.
Not sights which tourists wish.
Nor Jewish, Palestinian or any mother.
This is no Holy land.
Nor promised land.
Moses would reject the dream.
Wilderness has overtaken it.
Desert in the hearts of men.
Poisoned wells of compassion.
Look elsewhere for the Holy Land
But do not claim it for yourself
lest God be driven out once more.

*John H. Osborne is a writer/poet from New Zealand.


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P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
The life and times of Digna Ochoa y Plácido

by Philip Lee

Digna Ochoa y Plácido was a nun who started her activist
career as a lawyer. Her father was a union leader in
Veracruz. In the sugar factory where he worked, he was
involved in a struggle for drinkable water, better roads,
and land certificates. Digna studied law because she was
always being told that her father and his friends needed
more lawyers. Her father was imprisoned for a year and
fifteen days, during which time he was tortured. All the
charges against him were fabricated. When Digna first
studied law she intended to practice in the attorney
general's office, become a magistrate, and help people
fight injustice. Finding corruption in the prosecutor's
office, she switched to defense.

Her first case was against police officers involved in
the illegal detention and torture of several peasants.
The police began to harass her with threatening telephone
messages and letters. Later she was kidnapped, held
incommunicado for eight days, and tortured. On October 
19, 2001, Digna Ochoa was murdered.

To link to the full feature, go to:


B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
Scattered snapshots of Catholicism

71%: Percentage of devout U.S. Catholics who believe
     priests should be allowed to marry

1.97 million: Number of children in parochial elementary schools

2.5 billion. Spending on social services by Catholic Charities

*Source: Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, April 2002.


Poll of U.S. Catholics by the Washington Post:

Do you think the church can be trusted to handle [sex
abuse] in the future?

Can be trusted:    59%
Cannot be trusted: 36%

Do you think there are similar problems in other countries
with the way church leaders have handled the issue of
sexual abuse of children by priests?

Yes: 83%    No: 9%   No opinion: 8%


P. O. V.
Six common Israeli justifications...myth or fact?

Myth 1: There is no moral equivalence between suicide bombings
on the one hand, and Israel's killing of Palestinians on the other.

Myth 2: Israel's invasion of Palestinian cities and refugee camps
is self-defense against suicide bombings.

Myth 3: Arafat refuses to condemn suicide bombings in Arabic.

Myth 4: Arafat has not done enough to stop terrorism.

Myth 5: Arafat spurned Barak's generous offer at Camp David and
broke off negotiations with Israel.

Myth 6: Arafat started the intifada.

Link here to read the debunking...and see if you agree:


R e l i g i o n   M a t t e r s
Far from Kashmir: South Asians find common ground in U.S.

Akhila Raman hasn't told her parents she has new
friends from Pakistan. Raman, a 32-year-old Berkeley
software consultant, thinks the news would shock her
Hindu mother and father, who live in a part of India
where anti-Muslim sentiment is not uncommon. "My parents 
are conservative," says Raman, who is from
Tirunelveli, a city in southern India where her mother
and father still live. "Maybe I should tell them that
Pakistanis are not monsters."

To link to the entire feature, go to:


Are you an environmentalist or are you beginning to explore
environmental issues? This terrific study guide offers an
exciting challenge to all of us who share creation. "Holy
Ground" contains practical reflections and models for action
through articles and study questions concerning issues of
environmental racism, eco-feminism, and more. To order, click


B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
Jewish movement for peace

The Tikkun Community is seeking to build a national
organization of Jews and non-Jews to offer a counter-voice
to Ariel Sharon and George Bush (who most recently, after
the carnage in the West Bank, has decided to call Sharon
"a man of peace"). The goal is to create a group of people
in every community who will do two things:

A. Meet with elected public officials to let them know
that many Christians and Jews deplore Ariel Sharon's
policies and know that Israel will only achieve safety and
security when it ends the occupation.

B. Challenge the biased coverage in the media by constantly
calling and writing about their coverage.

A founding meeting of the local Tikkun Community in Los
Angeles will be held this Sunday, April 28, from
1:30-5:30 p.m. at the University Synagogue (11960 Sunset
Blvd. in Los Angeles.) The meeting includes a mini teach-in
on the Middle East (1:30-3 p.m.) followed by an
organizational meeting (3-5 p.m.).

A similar event will take place on the last day of
Memorial Day weekend in San Francisco, at 1 p.m. on Monday,
May 27. For more information, call: (415) 575-1200, or go to:


Call to Renewal's
"Pentecost 2002: Speaking the Truth About Poverty"
National Mobilization on Welfare Reform
May 20-22, 2002
Washington, D.C.

*Join your state delegation!
*Be part of the movement!
*Speak out to overcome poverty!

To register and for more details, go to


B o o m e r a n g

Conor O'Reilly writes from Portsmouth, New Hampshire:

Articles like David Batstone's "Soul-searching in the
corporate world" [SojoMail 04-17-02] are water in the
desert. For the vast majority of us the corporate world
is where we have to work out our salvation "in fear and
trembling." It is within the for-profit market system
that we must follow the call to be good stewards.

Only by being good stewards will companies survive and
prosper over the long-term. If what counted was the long-
term success of companies, then Christians would have
great deal to offer. Unfortunately, what counts most
often is not stewardship but salesmanship, the ability
to persuade others to buy into, or buy out, the company.


Rev. Joe Bradford writes from Ringgold, Virginia:

I am no longer in the corporate world for the very reason
David Batstone says may be missing - it is soulless.

I had a boss who took pride in his ability to look you
in the eye, not blink, and lie to you straight-faced.
His deceptions were never grand but his delusion was
that he was "sharp" enough to actually get away with it.
I was a corporate representative for a Fortune 500
company and most of my customers ($250,000 - $1 million+ 
purchasers) HATED the guy - for that very reason;
he couldn't be trusted.

There are souls in corporate America but many seem to
be left at the door. This same guy remarked (and once
again took pride in) that his sister had died and "no
one knew, because I didn't bring it to work." I told
him I felt sorry for him (didn't set too well with him
and his ego) that he couldn't be "human" and work at
the same time. I don't think the corporation expected
that of him. I think it was his interpretation of what
the corporation expected. To his chagrin he was passed
over several times for promotions. I suspect that the
upper management didn't trust him either.


Bob Lee writes from Los Angeles, California:

It greatly disturbs me that so many of our corporate
giants are so ethically and morally dense. Some of it
may be due to people wanting to put things on autopilot,
to gain a "sure thing." But when corporate officers are
enticed with performance incentives based on one-
dimensional metrics - for example, rewards of stock
options if the stock price is boosted or maintained at
a certain level for a certain period of time - is it
any wonder that they adopt a "by any means necessary"


D.A. Wassoc writes from Magalia, California:

There are no souls in corporate America. I'm a
recovering yuppie, now rapidly aging baby boomer.


Mike Gallen, a chaplain to the unemployed for the
Catholic diocese of Munich, Germany, writes:

I'd like to say a big "thanks" for SojoMail. The
American-centricity of a lot of your examples and
metaphors (baseball, congregationalists, Billy Graham...)
- I manage to ignore them, and I've had more than
a few of your citations translated and distributed on
the streets of Munich. I have, and will continue to
recommend you everywhere-ever!


John Roberts writes from Houston, Texas:

I am impressed with your balanced coverage of the Middle
East situation. The bias that comes from being Christian,
or being Jewish, as opposed to being Islamic, often
becomes an automatic determination of what is good and
what is not. In my experience, bias is the shield
that protects corruption. What intrigues me more is
the investment that the Christian community has in
Israel's existence. I can see it from a political point
of view but what about a spiritual one? Our inheritance
is in the spirit not in the land. Suppose the Jews were
removed from Palestine and the Arabs denied Christians
access to religious sites or even if they destroyed
them? Is there some spiritual edict that says we are to
make some claim on Jerusalem? Suppose all the strife in
the world could be eliminated by relocating the state of
Israel? From a Christian point of view, would that be
something worth achieving? I think these are questions
we as a Christian community need to answer in order to
understand our own bias.


Greta Nisson writes from Monterey, California:

I suspect that it is virtually impossible for someone
who has not experienced the long-term humiliating and
frightening refugee status of many of the Palestinians
to understand their rage.

The question of historical homelands seems unexamined.
For example, a Jew from New York, whose ancestors had
not lived in Palestine for hundreds of years, comes and
pushes a Palestinian off their land several generations
ago. Does it make any difference that the Jew's family
had fled Russia after having lived there hundreds of
years because of a pogrom?  Does a Jew whose family fled
death at the hands of Nazis have more right to push
out a Palestinian than one whose family was living
peacefully in New York?


Ben Kenagy writes from Albany, Oregon:

For more information on the discussion between Rev. Roger
Talbott and Duane Shank on Jewish and Palestinian home
demolitions in East Jerusalem [SojoMail 04-17-02], see
the report by the Israeli human rights organization
B'Tselem at:


Sue Plater, executive director of Amos Trust, writes
from London, England:

Re: "Israel: Equal opportunity bulldozing" [SojoMail 04-17-02]

Another Web site worth viewing is that of the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions - another Israeli
human rights organization. They have all the facts and
figures at their fingertips - especially the important
information like how much it costs to apply for a permit
(which is unlikely to be granted) in the context of
annual salary, etc. Check out

If you are going to Jerusalem then you can join ICAHD on
a trip around the municipality to look at the facts on
the ground. The policy of building settlements, which
continued through the Oslo "peace" process under all
the different Israeli governments, has resulted in
400,000 Israelis living within territory occupied during
the 1967 war - despite U.N. resolutions and Geneva
conventions about what should happen to land snatched
during war time. What ICAHD does really well is to show
how, up until a few weeks ago, it wasn't the brutality
of the military presence on the ground, but the daily
reality of people being prevented by bureacracy and
planning (permits, closures, demolition orders, trees
being uprooted to create "security zones") from
living normal lives. Palestinians were unable to get
to work, school, hospitals, colleges, or visit relatives,
and in those circumstances there was no hope of them
having a viable state.  Now they are under curfew so that
adds an inability to even access fresh food and water.
But even when (if) Israel finally removes tanks and
armored cars and stops sending F16s and helicopter
gunships on nightly missions to - at best - terrify, or -
at worst - kill, this will not be an end to the occupation.


Kenny Kistler writes from Park Ridge, New Jersey:

Let me tell you how disturbing I find it that "American
Baptist missionary" Daniel Schweissing would refer to
the mass murder and mass destruction of Sept. 11 as 
"a speck of sawdust in our brother's eye" [SojoMail
04-17-02]. I am also troubled that he believes that the
path to peace requires the demonization of the U.S.,
the world leader in religious freedom and foreign aid.
Someone who would go to such lengths to appease
terrorists and absolve them of the guilt that they have
brought upon themselves should leave the mission field.
I am not comfortable knowing that he is claiming to
represent Christ with this careless misapplication of
one of Christ's most penetrating ethical truths. We are
charged with bringing Christ's message of God's mercy
and forgiveness to this world - but not by clouding
the clear dividing line between right and wrong.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of
views. The views expressed are not necessarily
those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice
heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:



W e b s c e n e
This week's best of the Web...

*A humorous guide to religious novelty items on the Web:


*Free encyclopedic knowledge online

It was a sad day when stopped offering full
access to its online encyclopedia at no charge. Those who
have been looking for a free alternative might want to surf
over to this site, which offers the complete 1911 edition of
the Encyclopedia Britannica. Of course, some of the language
and ideas will seem dated to modern eyes (read the "About
the 1911 Edition" section for details). Still, the site's
wealth of factual information makes it worthwhile.


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