Dying to Win: Newt Gingrich’s “Terrorism”

On September 30, within the time frame of a few hours, an accused man reportedly confessed to terrorism charges in Germany, the terrorism threat level was raised in Sweden, and former US Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, lengthily discussed ‘suicidal jihadists’ in a speech he made in Denver.

Although it was tacitly understood that US president Barack Obama has distanced himself from his predecessor’s indefinite war objectives – embodied in the ill-defined ‘war on terror’ – the chances are the dreadful term ‘terrorism’ is not going not leave us alone any time soon.

Regardless of its alleged French roots – dating back to the French revolution of the late 18th century – ‘terrorism’ is very much a political term and very much a recent one. US officials, especially those vying for political office, are very generous in their use of this word. But others – from the most authoritarian, dictatorial regimes to Scandinavian democracies – have also developed a special affinity to it. Evoking a threat of terrorism is a very clever way to achieve political galvanization, as it creates a sharp and unmistakable delineation between us – the human, civilized and ‘democratic’ – and the inhuman and barbaric others. When the term ‘terrorism’ is unleashed, there are no half positions, no middle grounds, no grey areas.

Thus, Gingrich could not have formulated a better entrance to the foreign policy debate than to position himself as America’s savior – not only from the terrorists, whoever they are, and wherever they are – but also from America’s incompetent leadership since the attacks of September 11, 2001. According to Gingrich, George W. Bush should have replaced all of his government’s security apparatus following the dreadful attacks, and Barack Obama should have done the same following the bomb scare over Detroit in late 2009.

The right wing politician also conveniently linked Iran to terrorism, coined new terminologies, fondly recalled the ‘peaceful’ defeat of communism, derided everyone who doesn’t agree with him, and continued to refuse to disclose whether he is planning to run for office in 2012.

Americans have been long familiar with Gingrich’s emblematic rants. But they are also afraid of terrorism. They have been told that terrorism is anything but a political coinage and endeavor; in fact, it is ultimately about a bomb and two wires, one green and one red. Every aspiring politician poses as the one who knows exactly which wire to cut. Gingrich moulds the threat in any way he finds politically useful. Then he exaggerates the concocted threat and promises to cut the right wire in order to increase his chances at elections.

All of this is fear-mongering at its best. It’s unlikely that Gingrich is actually interested in bringing the terrorist threat to an end. What truly inspires his politicking is the fact that he can sustain his intolerant, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, pro-war and exclusivist American agenda using one simple, yet loaded phrase: ‘terrorism’.

The Denver Post reported on Gingrich’s speech on October 1:

Gingrich… call(ed) Iran ‘a regime of suicide bombers’ and demand(ed) tough sanctions against China if it won’t help contain Tehran…As suicidal jihadists, Gingrich said, Iranian leaders believe their dead martyrs go to heaven and Israelis ‘go to hell,’ so they win… ‘It’s impossible to deter them. What are you going to threaten?’ Gingrich said the need for tougher terrorism measures includes the U.S. border with Mexico. ‘Think of all the money and effort spent to screen for terrorists at airports,’ Gingrich said, ‘on the assumption our opponents can’t rent a truck in Mexico.’

It’s incredible how such a demagogue managed to squeeze his entire political program in few words: containing Iran, punishing China, curtailing immigration, isolating Mexico, taking stricter measures at home to combat whatever threat, real or imagined, that pops into his head. All of this is declared under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Since September 11, the anti-terror infrastructure in America has grown beyond belief. The media reports on numerous, unbridled offices, organizations and outlets, manned by thousands of men and women all dedicated to ‘fighting terror’. It’s a thriving business, and comprises a huge chunk of the country’s budget. There are many thousands of counter-terrorism experts, analysts and others who claim to be hell-bent on eradicating terrorism, although it is the very existence of terrorism that guarantees their livelihood, bonuses and health care coverage. Because of this, the definition of what is terrorist and what is not is also expanding, becoming in the process much murkier and less decipherable. Still, Gingrich would like more to be done. He joked and ranted about the Homeland Security officials and their failure to protect the country from the terrorist menace. Are they now supposed to eagerly await Gingrich’s arrival to right this historical wrong?

Not all of Gingrich’s Denver audience was amused. Five protesters were hauled outside the Opera house as they yelled: “Newt is the New World Order” and “The war on terror is a lie!” These were the supposed ‘wackos’. Some would even go as far as accuse them of being terrorist-sympathizers, another way of enlarging the circle and cracking down anyone who dares question the wisdom of this random and largely politicized approach to countering terrorism.

In Dying to Win: Why Suicide Terrorists Do It, an exhaustive study on the issue of suicide terrorism, American author, who also heads the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism (CPOST) at the University of Chicago, Robert A. Pape, writes: “The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions. In fact, the leading instigators of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion.”

One of his seemingly novel conclusions was:

Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.

No, Mr. Gingrich, terrorism is not a term you simply lob at your enemies for cheap political gains. It’s a real problem, with real roots and real casualties. And like any problem, it needs to be properly understood, realistically assessed and wisely confronted.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press). Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs, Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). Read other articles by Ramzy, or visit Ramzy's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rehmat said on October 8th, 2010 at 8:57am #

    The pro-Israel Zionist fronts such as ‘Stop Islamization of American’ including ‘Israel-First’ politicians like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney are leading the Jewish crusade against Islam and Muslim in their efforts to keep the Americans ignorant of the real terrorists.


  2. Ismail Zayid said on October 8th, 2010 at 10:18am #

    Abhorent as the individual acts of terrorism, by Gingrich’s Jihadists, they are nothing to compare to the horror, murder and terror that is engengered by the state terrorism created by the US and Israel, amongst others. However, Mr. Gingrich does not have the appetite or will to mention such horrible acts of state terrorism killing innocent men, women and children.

  3. hayate said on October 8th, 2010 at 11:04am #

    “Thus, Gingrich could not have formulated a better entrance to the foreign policy debate than to position himself as America’s savior – not only from the terrorists, whoever they are, and wherever they are”

    The same people running gingrich run “the terrorists”. These people generally operate out of tel aviv, new york and the wash. d.c. area.

  4. kalidas said on October 8th, 2010 at 2:22pm #

    The Yehuda triangle.
    New York, London, Tel Aviv.

  5. mary said on October 8th, 2010 at 11:39pm #

    Or the Axis of Evil as we call it. I was hearing last night about the massive increase in child addicts, even babies and toddlers, of heroin and opium in Afghanistan since the invasion. Enough to break your heart.


  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on October 13th, 2010 at 10:58am #

    mary, Chomsky used the expression ‘The Real Evil Empire’ back in the 1980s to describe the US, turning the rhetoric of the evil, Alzheimic, racist Reagan back on him. Still,I hold Reagan in some affection, because his regime of tax cuts for the rich, impoverishment for the serfs and unlimited military expenditure and wars of neo-imperial aggression, set the scene for the present, long overdue and richly merited collapse of the greatest force for evil that the world has ever seen.