Gaither Stewart



     The American press has revealed that the FBI, CIA, Congress, Library of Congress, ex-President Clinton, the Deuxieme Bureau of French Intelligence and even the Philippine Police – apparently everyone except the Bush administration - were aware in advance of the planned suicidal terrorist attacks of last September. Now, both the White House - one suspects because of Bush’s falling popularity in the polls and the upcoming legislative elections next November - and our intelligence agencies, in order to cover past negligence and errors, are warning the world of upcoming terrorist attacks that will make the horror of September 11 seem like Halloween pranks.

     A short time after September 11, a close Italian friend of mine whose United Nations job takes him regularly around the world, flew to Rome from New York with an American airline. Because of emergency security controls, check- in time was three hours prior to departure; however, to my friend’s astonishment there were no special security checks at Kennedy Airport. It was business as usual. As if nothing had happened in American skies a couple weeks earlier. If anything, he told me, considering the atmosphere, there seemed to be less security than usual.

     Yet, my Italian friend was not surprised at the missing security; while Europeans have long complained of lax security in American airports, Americans traveling in Europe are taken aback by the ubiquitous military and police presence. Since terrorism has been endemic in Europe for many decades, police and soldiers brandishing automatic weapons are part of the European landscape.

    When after September 11 the US government decided to declare war on terrorism, its European allies and more reflective doves in the Bush administration warned that military action was not the proper response to terrorism. [European anti-terrorism is based on infiltration and intelligence.] Predictably, the military intervention in Afghanistan has not produced the promised results: Osama Bin Laden is still at liberty, the Al- Queda network is intact, hate for America has spread and intensified, and President Bush’s popularity is tumbling.

     Now we know that America’s overwhelming military hegemony in the world has not translated into the elimination of widespread opposition to America, nor has it heightened internal security. As one observer wisely noted, we now know two truths: the implacable enemies of our society are more implacable; and there are more potential terrorists than there are terrorists.




     Terrorism is defined as a method of political struggle based on the systematic use of violence – attentat, assassination, sabotage, kidnapping, and now suicidal bombers – practiced by political extremists or by secret organizations of a nationalistic nature. The second aspect is less recognized: terrorism – according to my encyclopedia - is the instrument used by a political regime to grasp and to retain power.

     A terrorist is thus a member of an organization that uses terrorism and who executes terrorist acts. Or, he is a member of a regime whose existence is based on terror. By extension, terrorist crimes are those committed in revolt against a state to damage indiscriminately the collective and not specific individuals, or are acts against an oppressive regime. Terrorist crimes are likewise the criminal acts of an oppressive regime against the oppressed.

     Terrorism is thus a story of relationships between power/authority and its subjects, and between oppressors and oppressed. We are used to the words, power and authority. They are often used synonymously, as if they were equivalent. But that is not the case. They are different, and the distinction between the two concepts is significant.

     Power [pouvoir, potere] implies the faculty to act or perform and in our minds is related to force, coercion and violence, in the sense of “authoritarian.” Authority instead implies legitimacy, in the sense of  “legitimate authority,” or the legitimate faculty to act or perform. The distinction is between legitimate authority on one hand, and crude naked power on the other. However, authority like democracy itself is always a shaky business. It stands on the edge of an abyss, perpetually menaced by power, easily transformed into authoritarianism.

     In a like manner, opposition to legitimate authority and opposition to naked power/authoritarianism differs: democratic opposition suffices in a democratic setting. But when the democratic process is inhibited, more violent means are necessary. In his article “Is There A Good Terrorist” in a recent number of the New York Review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash cites Schiller’s pertinent lines from Wilhelm Tell: “When the oppressed man can find justice in no other way, then he calmly reaches up into the sky and pulls down his eternal rights that hang there, inalienable and, like the stars, imperishable. When no other means remains, then he must needs take up the sword.”

     Some years ago, at the end of a daylong interview with me in Paris - where he was a recognized political refugee - a former Italian terrorist leader defined himself as “living testimony to the limits of western democracy that is a precious possession that must be constantly enriched. Democracy,” he said, “is a mobile frontier. At times there is less of it, and one must fight for it.”

     That which for the oppressed is resistance to naked power – today many peoples of the world feel oppressed by the tentacles of the global octopus-like market economy, by poverty and hopelessness – for the oppressor will always smack of conspiracy and terrorism. Nationalistic Hungarians in 1956 considered themselves freedom fighters; for their Soviet oppressors they were terrorists in a conspiracy against the New Order.

     If the “oppression” of today’s political-economic power is global, our leaders should not be too surprised that the resistance to that power is also global.

     The argument that problems of ethnic, religious, economic and political opposition emerge from the very liberalization of political freedoms in many third- and fourth-world countries rings hollow to me in the face of the testimony to the poverty of 4/5ths of that world. Of course wider freedoms and spaces for rebellion unleash wider resistance and violence - but evidently it is the effect of the pervasive poverty and hopelessness. For the hungry the risks of rebellion and terrorism are thousands of times better than sitting in apathy and waiting.

     What did Macedonian Moslems care about world stability? They rebelled – they were labeled terrorists – and achieved in short order what politicians could not achieve at all.


      The origins of modern terrorism have been problematic since the French Revolution. Robespierre was the first to continually raise the ante of revolutionary goals precisely in order to increase the obstacles to their achievement and to create the necessary tensions in order to justify crushing the enemies of his power. Robespierre’s terror was naked power at work against peoples’ natural tendency toward reaction. His trick of tension strategy has been used over and over by authoritarian power throughout history in order to crush opposition.

     The reality is that in most circumstances terrorism is too weak to overcome the power of the powerful modern state/regime. Terrorists of Italy’s Red Brigades naively believed that the state had a heart that could be attacked. They lost. As a rule, terrorists lose. The terrorist organizations that emerged and mushroomed after the world-wide student protests of 1968 were largely defeated, though some few – most frequently those based on nationalistic aspirations – hang on and still raise their heads from time to time.

     European secret services infiltrated and crushed the Red Brigades in Italy, the Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany, and Action Directe in France. In the process and in application of tension strategy they exploited the same terrorist organizations, keeping them alive in name for a long period in order to blame them, in the name of freedom, for the limitations placed on personal liberties. Tension strategy is the tactic of oppressors and refers to permitting, stimulating or committing terrorist acts in order to crush all opposition to the regime.




     Italy’s Red Brigades [Brigate Rosse – BR] formed Europe’s biggest, best organized and most powerful, armed terrorist organization. An elitist organization emerging from the 1968 student protest movement, its rank and file came from the universities and factories. It comprised the most idealistic part of the nation’s youth and at one time claimed the admiration and moral support of millions Italians. People admired the Red Brigades too as “one of the few things in Italy that really worked.”

     Its organizational structure is of interest because Al-Queda must have learned from it. At its base was a brigade of up to five persons, who provided arms and logistics; the brigades formed poles, which in turn formed a city column. The columns made up fronts that directed national political operations, controlled by an eight-man strategic directorate. The supreme level was a 4-5 man executive committee that conducted international relations and made major decisions like the abduction and murder of ex-Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

     The Red Brigades aimed at splitting the Italian Communist Party vertically, recruiting its left wing, and then overturning the authoritarian state. From its position on the far left, its great enemy and competitor was the Italian Communist Party.

    The BR was one of many terrorist organizations of left and right politics. When police finally decided to crack down, 5000 terrorists flowed into Italy’s jails, while 500 escaped abroad, the majority to France. The Red Brigades still exist in name and recently claimed responsibility for the assassination of a labor economist close to Italy’s right-wing government.

     I offer this brief look at the Red Brigades in order to explain tension strategy. Years later, one of the Red Brigade founders, Alberto Franceschini, told me that police could have crushed them quickly. However, their existence was convenient to the right-wing, corrupt, nearly one- party system of anti-Communist, anti-Soviet Christian Democracy, and to its ally, the United States. Red terrorists were the excuse for the reactionary anti-Communism during the Cold War, and, in the name of defense of democracy, for a mass of anti-democratic emergency laws, high security prisons, and questionable justice. Italy, in close collaboration with the CIA, became a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and kept a firm hand on the Italian Communist Party, Europe’s biggest CP. “Red” terrorism was a useful weapon in the hands of power to hold at bay the big Communist Party, by then to all purposes except name a social democratic force.   In that period, one CIA chief in Rome could boast, “we run this country.”

     The real Red Brigades died in the late 1970s, maybe earlier. After their Executive Committee and/or Strategic Directorate were infiltrated by Italian and American secret services, the Red Brigades became a riddle. After reporting for many years on European terrorism and many meetings with terrorist leaders, my guess is that today it is an empty name in the service of governments and secret services with perhaps some wild fringes that believe they are still the Red Brigades.

     There is no apparent official relationship between the existing Red Brigades and antiglobals, although there would be natural sync between them and the original BR in their struggle against naked power.

     I learned that terrorists were of many shades, ranging from psychopathic killers to clandestine Leninists, from Red Brigade theoreticians to exponents of “violence against objects not people”, to hard-line Fascists-Nazis, to social rebels. They are not the same thing.

    Today, G-8 leaders label anti-globals “terrorists” and “enemies of democracy” and as usual call for emergency measures against them. Anti-globals consider themselves non-violent freedom fighters for a better world in this globalizing era. I believe, as I outlined in an essay on last year’s G-8 meeting in Genoa, that police and/or police-guided, infiltrated or stimulated “terrorists” were then the aggressors against anti-globals. They still are today.

     No sane person can believe that in this unfair world terrorism can be eradicated with military might. Every bomb that falls in the poor world spawns another terrorist, many of whom are eager to strap explosives around their bodies and blow themselves to pieces on a crowded square, place, piazza, or Platz of the rich world against the naked power that impoverishes them. If one accepts with Schiller that the oppressed will reach to the heavens to grasp their rights and resist their oppressors, then the dire warnings coming out of Washington of a new terrorist holocaust ring grim. While America-Empire searches, we hope, for just and efficacious measures to combat terrorism, American leaders might be advised also to examine aspects of European experience as a guide to both what not to do, and to what can be effective. However, I personally do not believe any security measures can eradicate terrorism as I have defined it here until America unites with the rest of the world. For the barbarians are at the palace gates.


© 2002 Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart is an American journalist who lives in Rome and now mostly dedicates his writing life to fiction. His articles and fiction have appeared in many international publications. Two of his e-books are available from Southern Cross Review. See E-book Library Email: [email protected]