• Rich Barlow

    Senior Writer

    Photo: Headshot of Rich Barlow, an older white man with dark grey hair and wearing a grey shirt and grey-blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey backdrop.

    Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

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There are 3 comments on Book Asks: Are Terrorists Cowards?

  1. Coward is the conventional view of guerrilla warriors or “irregular elements” in combat. They are usually outnumbered and outgunned and unable to “stand up” against regular elements. They use tactics of subterfuge and ambush, otherwise, they would immediately be wiped out. Coward could be argued because they are embarking on soft targets, not military targets. For example, the attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor was called cowardly (a wrong assessment), thoughit was against a purely military target and was almost thwarted. A funny side not: the Japanese had done the same type of sneak attack against Russia in 1905 and the US (Roosevelt) thought it was a “pretty smart idea”.

    I have read that ISIS considers the US cowards because we rely on air power and do not go “toe to toe” with them. The point is, if ISIS had air power, they would use it. When you fight a war, there is no such thing as “fighting fair”. The side with the advantage and uses it, it usually called a coward.

    The only point I would say about “irregular warfare” – is that if a group or individual embarks on it, there should be recognition that the Geneva Accords nor the Hague Convention should not apply to them. The US has used summary execution to “discourage” irregular warfare (see the occupation of Germany post World War 2). Technically, they do not have the right to claim the protections as prisoners of war. If we chose, we could execute them on the spot and adhere to international law. The fact that we give them the benefit of a civilian trial shows a level of civilization on our part. The fact that they attack civilians and not make attacks against police or military may indicate cowardice. Also the fact they make attacks in states and places where it is unlikely a private citizen will be unarmed, like Massachusetts or Fort Hood (Military installations have all arms locked up). I recall a couple of attacks – like Montana – where an armed citizen killed the assailant before he could do much damage (Montana – mall shooter a Bosnian). The point is there are indications that show bravery and others that show cowardice. They are definitely enemies and it would be a very stupid thing to “underestimate” them and assume they are cowards.

  2. For me, the act and the victim of terrorism usually have symbolic significance. Bin Laden referred to the Twin Towers as “icons” of America’s “military and economic power.” The shock value of the act is enormously enhanced by the symbolism of the target. The point is for the psychological impact to be greater than the actual physical act. Hence, we can conclude that terrorism is indeed a weapon of the weak. The most common terrorist act is a bombing, and it is not hard to see why. It is cheap. It is easy to get away from the scene of the attack. Moreover, it is dramatic and often indiscriminate. With anger and arrogance, they use this violent weapon to redeem their unjust world and turn a compassionate person into a cruel terrorist. Even terrorists do not like the label. An al-Qaeda statement put it this way: “When the victim tries to seek justice, he is described as a terrorist.” In Osama bin Laden’s words, “… if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we are terrorists.” These examples show that these people began to get involved in terrorism because of their anger against injustices that they saw in the everyday life of their society. It is clear for them that are easier to justify killing oneself for a cause than killing oneself as a means of killing others, especially when those others are civilians going about their daily lives. Anyone could be a terrorist. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Most terrorists consider themselves freedom fighters. I think it is not the point if we inquire about cowardice nor bravery. Terrorists are sub-state actors who violently target noncombatants to communicate a political message to a third party because their anger to injustice world and arrogance to redeem such world but impotent to do that. They fight for a range of different causes. Some are fighting for the same goals that have motivated wars for century, such as control over national territory. Some are trying to overthrow the state system itself. They come from all religious traditions and from none. Brave or coward, yet one thing they do have in common: they are weaker than those they oppose yet they believe that their aims can be achieved only through violence.

  3. The US military are cowards for torturing prisoners.
    Let’s be real. Terrorist is a coded word used to vilify the “other”.
    NYPD recently got machine guns to “protect against protestors and terrorists”.
    In 2015, civil disobedience is on the same line as terrorism.

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