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A terrorist organization?

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Here is a link to an AP News story from Yahoo. How long the link will be good I do not know. The first two paragraphs of the story are:

 

WASHINGTON - Education Secretary Rod Paige called the nation's largest teachers union a "terrorist organization" Monday, taking on the 2.7-million-member National Education Association early in the presidential election year.

 

Paige's comments, made to the nation's governors at a private White House meeting, were denounced by union president Reg Weaver as well as prominent Democrats.

 

______________________________________________

 

I guess I should say that as the story makes clear, there really is no such thing as a "private meeting" with 50 governors or 50 of any other kind of politician. I also should say that Secretary Paige apologized later for his choice of words, and that some of the Democratic frothing at the mouth later in the story is probably unnecessary.

 

I also should say that I don't mean to start a debate about the National Education Association or public schools. As a local school board member, I could give you a few choice comments about teachers' unions (of which the NEA is the largest, and whose local affiliate represents most of the employees in my school district) and some of their bargaining and lobbying practices. None of that is the point. If Secretary Paige had called the NEA a "bad organization" or a "selfish organization" I would not necessarily agree with the generalization, but I wouldn't say a thing about it, because it is just a matter of opinion.

 

But, a "terrorist organization"? About an organization that is, at worst, a political opponent and an opponent of some of the administration's domestic policy? I would have thought that it would be so clear that that was inappropriate, that a member of the President's Cabinet would not find himself having to apologize for it, because he wouldn't have made it in the first place. It seems like more than a "choice of words" issue, more likely those are the terms in which the man thinks. So I don't think he can just "sorry" this away.

 

I had thought that after the events of 9/11/01, I was seeing sort of a "national understanding" develop that words like "terrorist" and "terrorist organization" were going to be reserved for people who among other things, kill or try to kill large numbers of people in order to make a political or religious statement. Before that, words like "terrorist" might have been thrown around a bit loosely. But now we have seen, as a nation, up close and personal, right here in our country, in our own state or a state away or a few states away, or in a state where our relatives lived or that we might have traveled to, the destruction of thousands of people and the crippling of an entire city, by real-live terrorists. I had actually noticed that the casual use of word "terrorist" seemed to have faded away. From now on, a terrorist was a mass murderer, and if we wanted to criticize someone for their views on domestic policy, we might still use strong words, but not that strong.

 

So unless Secretary Paige equates opposition to some of the administration's education initiatives to the killing of thousands of people, I have to wonder what possessed him to say that. He may have apologized for it, but it doesn't change what was in his mind. I also have to wonder whether there are others in the administration who, way deep down, may feel the same way.

 

 

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NJ

I must to agree with you. I will add that the general tone of politics lately has gotten very coarse. All sides have made some very nasty remarks. The advance of political correctness has been described by some people as Fascist. The other side shouts back raciest. In both cases they bring disrepute upon the causes they represent. I think both sides need to get away from this Take no prisoners attitude. We have real terrorists to fight.

 

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"I had thought that after the events of 9/11/01, I was seeing sort of a "national understanding" develop that words like "terrorist" and "terrorist organization" were going to be reserved for people who among other things, kill or try to kill large numbers of people in order to make a political or religious statement."

 

Politicians always have, and likely always will use any words they desire to serve their purpose, which is almost always painting someone else as bad. I agree, terrorist seems a poor choice of words, but I doubt you will ever know the psychological reasoning of Mr. Paige's choice of words at the moment he made that statement.

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I have to admit, it's difficult to picture elementary school teachers conspiring to sabotage a sewage lift station, or or set off a pipe bomb at some mass gathering. That makes the Secretary's comment, taken in the context in which you present it, sound a little unusual.

 

Yet, if you look up the definition of terrorize in the dictionary, one of them is "...to dominate or coerce by intimidation..." (Random House College Dictionary, 1982 edition). Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that the NEA's stock in trade, especially on social issues that may affect their members' status quo or liberal bent, such as school vouchers, standardized testing, their concept of diversity (unless it's diversity of ideas, then diversity's no good), etc.?

 

What did the Secretary intend? Only he knows. I work in the biz, and we can't all agree on a single definition of terrorist, terrorism, or whether some particular group is a terrorist organization. That said, I've never seen the NEA on the list, personal observation notwithstanding. One hopes it was just a benign misunderstanding and not a genuine attempt to add a US labor union to the list of recognized terrorist organizations.

 

This almost reminds me of the situation a few years ago involving the Washington D.C. city public servant (sorry, can't recall many of the specifics) who referred to political rivals as "niggardly", meaning stingy and unwilling to spend money, as defined in the dictionary. The targets of his comment, unwilling to look it up, cried out that it was a racial slur, and created a tempest in a teapot. Almost laughable, if a dedicated public servant's reputation and livelihood hadn't been at stake.

 

I guess it's going to be a long, bumpy ride 'till November...

 

KS

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I heard a news radio report about this late this evening. In his later apology, Paige, did call the NEA obstructionist, which is being very charitable. Of all the unions, the NEA is probably the most blatant in unlawfully diverting its members dues (often mandatory under labor agreements) to political purposes. It is too bad the Bush administration has been too chicken to pursue a criminal case against the NEA on this.

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NJ says:

 

 

" It seems like more than a "choice of words" issue, more likely those are the terms in which the man thinks. "

 

I agree, in fact, even though it was a joke, I think it is a reflection of the black-or-white, all-or-nothing terms in which Bush and his administration think. Bush has said (I'm paraphrasing) that "If you are not with us in the war on terrorism (as he defines it) you are against us." He and his administration have pretty consistently tried to imply that any political opposition in "wartime" is unpatriotic. It's not too hard to see how an attitude like this could lead to a lame joke about a specific political opponent as "terrorists."

 

gsmom

 

 

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If you're not with us, who are you with? Are you Pro-terrorist? Pro-Saddam? Pro-Ba'athist? Pro-Hamas? French? A frothing-at-the-mouth member of International ANSWER? A black and white, all or nothing partisan on the extreme left? If you're not with us, who are you with?

 

 

 

 

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Trail Pounder says:

 

"If you're not with us, who are you with? Are you Pro-terrorist? Pro-Saddam? Pro-Ba'athist? Pro-Hamas? French? A frothing-at-the-mouth member of International ANSWER? A black and white, all or nothing partisan on the extreme left? If you're not with us, who are you with? "

 

This is exactly what I'm talking about. I am not "with" George Bush on the way he has chosen to handle the war on terror. (In my view, many of his actions and policies have made Americans LESS safe, but that is a topic for another thread.) However, that does not make me, or any other patriotic American who may happen to disagree with his policies, any of the above.

 

 

 

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KoreaScouter, employing the broadest application of your definition, it seems that the term could be applied to ANY lobbying group, whether a union or a political movement. Quite recently I have heard it applied, perhaps in that sense, to the civil rights movement, the ACLU, as well as a couple of anti-defamation leagues. I suppose it will be just a matter of time before BSA and the League of Women Voters get tagged.

 

NJ, I wish I could assume the best of intentions and motives for this administration. As it is, I am re-reading my copy of 'Leadership and Self-Deception' to understand their actions.

 

Achilleez, I think there have been a few honest politicians. We, the public, voted them out in short order. I think that it may have been Lincoln who said, "You can't dip clear water from a muddy stream." Those politicians whom we hate so much actually MAY BE our representatives in more than one sense.

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What's missing from all political discourse in this country is respect. None of the current politicos seem to believe you can disagree with someone and still respect them.

 

Remember the 1980s? President Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill would battle all day over whatever the issue was. But at the end of the day, you always got the impression that they could have sat down and had a beer or two, and tell jokes and such. They probably never did it, but you envision them doing it. They respected each other, even if politically they wouldn't have agreed that the sun rises in the east. Nowadays, both sides would be too busy trying to slip hemlock into the other sides drink.(This message has been edited by molscouter)

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Eisely, what I read this morning is that one of the phrases used by Paige was "obstructionist scare tacticts." I don't have any problem with that. Regardless of whether I agree with it or disagree with it (or partially agree with it) in the case of the NEA, it is "fair game" politically. "Terrorist organization" is not. That was my whole point in starting the thread. "Hardball" is part of American politics. "Flamethrower" is not, although I guess it is increasingly becoming that way. What I wonder is, how "warlike" does politics have to become before both sides stop accepting the results of elections and settle things with guns in the street? Look around the world, it happens.

 

This goes back to my "post-9/11" theory. We have heard a lot about terrorism and the "War on Terror" from the government and from political commentators since then. What do you do with terrorists? You kill 'em. If that was sort of a vague idea before 9/11, I think it is now generally accepted in its literal sense. Terrorist=war=death. So I have to ask again, is "terrorist organization" really a proper phrase to apply to domestic political issues?

 

Korea, I sense a certain amount of tongue-in-cheekedness in your post, but since you don't "joke around" very much in this forum, it is difficult to tell for sure. As packsaddle suggests, your suggested definition of "terrorist" goes far beyond the NEA. Any large organization that seeks to influence legislation or policy, on the threat of withdrawal of votes or contributions or support, would qualify as "terrorist." That would basically make virtually the entire political system one big terrorist network, and that means both parties and their supporters. I realize there are some people in this forum who can see only good on "their side" and only bad on the "other side," but for those whose vision is not so limited, if the NEA is a "terrorist organization" then so are a lot of groups that support the same things that you do -- and perhaps that you are a member of.

 

So can't we reserve "terrorist" for groups that actually want to kill people?

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Well, perhaps use of terms like "terrorist" and "terrorist organization" will finally rid our political rhetoric of accusations that a group is using Gestapo tactics or that some one is a Nazi when all they are guilty of is having an opinion different from the accuser

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I'll admit, my link of the NEA to the dictionary definition was done with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as is my assertion that the League of Women Voters can be pretty darn intimidating -- make your own call there.

 

All kidding aside, I honestly don't think that a litmus test for a terrorist group is their willingness to kill people. Most contemporary definitions include words like "...using violence, the threat of violence, or intimidation to advance a political cause or influence political/government policies...". There are variations, depending on whose definition you're reading. But, one thing that's universal is that murder isn't a prerequisite to being tagged as a terrorist group. Groups such as Earth First!, the ELF, and others who are torching housing developments and SUV dealers are domestic examples of this -- there are others.

 

If you don't agree, you're in good company. One of the biggest challenges, especially when working with more than one country and/or more than one agency, is reaching a working definition of what terrorism and a terrorist is. Different challenges, different agendas.

 

KS

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KS, I do not disagree, and your examples have given me a new appreciation of the difficulty in precisely defining "terrorism." However, that does not mean that there is no line that can be drawn anywhere. All of your examples, whether they involve killing or not, still involve violence and the physical destruction of either persons or property. Yes, blowing something up to make a political point, even if you know nobody's inside -- whether that thing is a home, vehicle, office building -- or a clinic -- does sound like terrorism to me.

 

But that isn't what this thread is about. By any definition, classifying the NEA as a "terrorist organization" means extending "terrorism" to mean any "threat," stated or implied, legal or illegal, violent or nonviolent, that might affect someone's financial health or political career. By that definition, I think almost all poltical and even much economic activity would fall into the definition of terrorism, or supporting terrorism. I don't buy that, and KS, I don't think you buy it either.

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