With the Obama Administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism and the Saudi-led campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, there is unchecked enthusiasm and criticism regarding the reset of US relations with both Iran and Cuba. Where human nature drives the quest of optimists, who mainly see the opportunities these policy shifts create, the issue of terrorism supports valid criticism. Because ‘why is there terrorism’ and ‘why are we against terrorism’ are two questions that the International Community has failed to answer as a group, it is difficult to judge the Obama Administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
For many, being put on the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism is more a punitive political measure than a meaningful policy. After all, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have benefited from support provided by the US and Saudi Arabia while the US often finds itself supporting revolutionary forces. In 2008, North Korea was taken off the List by the George W. Bush Administration as a gesture of good will, even though North Korea is a major perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism against its own People and human rights violations. Where Cuba continues to harbor people the US has designated terrorists, it is questionable as to whether Cuba is guilty or simply did not want to turn refugees over to its enemy. It is, of course, important to recognize even European countries will not always extradite individuals America deemed criminals and terrorists.
Looking at the Saudi-led Coalition’s intervention in Yemen, the Iranian government, via Iraq, appears to be lobbying the US and the broader International Community to end the bombing of Houthi rebel targets. Ironically, Iraq, which begged the outside world to help fight the Islamic State less than a year ago, and Iran, which supports Hezbollah as well as Hamas, are claiming the Saudi’s have no interest in fighting the Houthi as it is a civil war. Because events in Yemen threaten the security of Saudi Arabia, as well as the neighborhood, they clearly do. The reality that the democratically elected leader was driven out of Yemen by violence, not by the political will of the majority, also means Saudi Arabia has some justification for targeting the militant activities of the Houthi rebels.
What is questionable is the tactics Saudi Arabia is using and the amount of damage those tactics are causing. Given Israel was criticized for its heavy-handed approach to the Gaza Strip last summer, it is only reasonable to criticize the Saudi-led Coalition for any failure to limit civilian causalities. It is also important for the Saudis to help the Yemenis address valid grievances the Houthi People have with the Yemeni government. Failing to do so lends credibility to Iran’s accusations while it does create unnecessary instability in the region. Quite frankly, the Houthi minority has no right to seize power in Yemen nor do they have the right to threaten neighboring countries, but Iran has absolutely no right to sponsor and encourage the violence of the Houthi rebels.
Political leaders do not like defining terms like “terrorist,” because they fear it limits their ability to engage possible threats against their nations, i.e. they reserve the right to support insurgent groups that serve their interests. Unfortunately, this practice makes it more difficult to chastise other nations for supporting terrorism. Often causing panic and a strong public response, terrorism can be a very effective tool for getting attention and forcing a reaction. As such, it is important to recognize terrorism is violence intentionally directed at a civilian population that has been designed by individuals, groups of individuals, or governments to force a particular ideology or policy onto that People.
With that in mind, the world needs to be against terrorism, because terrorists do not simply target government or social hierarchies that they perceive disenfranchise their group. Terrorist groups target society as a whole and enact change through the indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians and they use that fear to drive change. In the case of an established ruling body, state-sponsors of terrorism use fear to hold onto the illegitimate rule of a people.
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