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Insurgent Violence vs. Terrorism in Iraq

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We call the men who are planting the roadside bombs, doing the kidnappings and shootings in Iraq insurgents. Well, commentator Anisa Mehdi finds the term `insurgent' inappropriate.

ANISA MEHDI:

What if masked hooligans blasted into your child's school, yanked teachers out of their classrooms and shot them dead? Would you call it an insurgency? No. You'd call it terrorism, and so would I. Well, these acts of violence may have political goals, but the victims are civilian. If this were happening in America, there's no doubt we'd call it terrorism. So why don't we call it that when the victims are Iraqi Muslims?

A few weeks back I heard the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, California, raise this important question of language and perception. Ali Ghazvini was born in Karbala, Iraq, just like my father. And he pointed out that the T-word, `terrorism,' is what's really going on in Iraq. We've been calling it the wrong thing all along. Terrorism is more personal, scarier than war, and it's something that we as Americans can relate to.

Terrible acts of terrorism shattered the American people in 2001, and see how we responded as a nation: avenging ourselves on Afghanistan and Iraq. By contrast, the Iraqi people, most of whom are Shiite, are showing tremendous restraint, following the direction of their religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Sistani says, `Be disciplined. Don't be drawn into violent retaliation. That may just be what the terrorists want.' Iraqi Shiites are suffering through this terrifying time with extraordinary courage.

But we're told there's an insurgency going on in Iraq. That means an insurrection against an existing government by groups who are not considered legitimate combatants. An insurgent is someone who rises in forcible opposition to lawful authority. That lawful authority in Iraq these days is a government still in the birth process, an equally young Iraqi police force and the US military. They, too, are victims of this war. And when Iraqi government officials are assassinated, when police recruits are gunned down and when American soldiers are killed, their families mourn, too. But most of the time the victims are Arab Muslim civilians, and it's terrorism. I wonder why we don't call it that.

SIEGEL: Anisa Mehdi is a filmmaker based in Maplewood, New Jersey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anisa Mehdi