After September 11, 2001 George W. Bush declared a global War on Terror. His terminology generated controversy. It’s not narrow enough of a definition. Critics often put “War on Terror” in quotes, implying illegitimacy. The weak, vague terminology is a product of political correctness and Bush’s desire not to alienate Muslims by calling it the “War on Islamic Terror.” It’s not a War on Islam, just Islamofascism and people who blow up “infidels,” but that name would surely offend.
Some say it’s impossible to wage war against an undefined enemy. How do we fight a war on terror? When is it over? What exactly is terrorism? A dictionary-esque definition would go something like this (from the Wikipedia page):
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.
Would this include the Mafia and organized crime who extort businesses? What about my uncle, a union enforcer who uses violence (or the threat of) to intimidate those who go against the union or union members who go against the leadership? Is my uncle a terrorist? I hope not. The Wikipedia article goes on:
Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for a religious, political or ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).
Inspiring fear for “religious, political, or ideological goal[s]” leaves out for-profit terrorism. So the Mafia’s in the clear, but my uncle’s in the grey. Either way, discounting for-profit terrorism leaves out a form of world terrorism second only to Islamic: narcoterrorism.
In ~4 years in Latin America, you read a lot of drug cartel news. I’ve learned a lot about the business. One core competency in being a large scale narco is “the systematic use of terror.” They systematically use terror to intimidate the government, police, journalists, and anyone who opposes their business.
From an earlier post on Colombian drug cartels:
Enrique Low Murtra wanted nothing more than to leave his job as Colombia’s justice minister to open a law office and return to his previous career as a university teacher. ‘I would like to imagine that vengeance is not eternal …’ he said … Two months earlier, on the instruction of Colombia’s president, Virgilio Barco, Low Murtra had signed warrants for the arrest and extradition to the United States on drugs charges of the five leading members of the Medellín Cartel … Faced with constant death threats, the minister sent his daughter out of the country. ‘Even going for a haircut has become a problem,’ he said. So intense did the threats become that, in July 1988, Barco sent him to Switzerland as ambassador … In 1991, he was back in Colombia, working as he had hoped as a law professor at the University of La Salle. No longer in government service, he had no bodyguards. He was gunned down at the entrance to the university.
Over three years had passed since the judge signed arrest warrants. The drug cartels never forget. They can’t let people get away. They need a high fear factor. Revenge and intimidation are key parts of the business.
In the story above a judge is assassinated. Maybe killing law enforcement officials isn’t the same as blowing up the World Trade Center. More from Wikipedia’s article on terrorism:
An abiding characteristic is the indiscriminate use of violence against noncombatants for the purpose of gaining publicity for a group, cause, or individual.
This is how I define terrorism:
Terrorism is the systematic and indiscriminate use of violence against noncombatants for religious, political, ideological, or economic goals.
I include for-profit motives. I also require indiscriminate violence against noncombatants to qualify as terrorism, clearing my uncle and most organized crime, both of which are discriminate.
Narcoterrorism is indiscriminate. Narcos don’t only target law enforcement. My Pablo Escobar article illustrates his tactics. He downed a commercial airliner. He bombed public buildings in Bogota, killing mostly civilians to intimidate the public into supporting a government peace deal. He kidnapped and killed Bogota’s elite families who had nothing to do with law enforcement, but were friends and family of policy makers.
A disturbing example of narcoterrorism came from Rolling Stone’s American narco in Mexico story earlier this year. After infamous trafficker Arturo Beltran was killed by Mexican Marines, the Beltran Leyva cartel responded:
The night of the funeral for a commando who had been killed in the raid, assassins went to the home of the soldier’s family and machine-gunned his mother, sister, aunt and brother in their sleep, leaving behind nearly three dozen spent bullet casings.
A soldier’s entire family is killed after his funeral. That turned my stomach. Mexico is currently the heart of narcoterrorism; their cartels have begun to mimic Colombian tactics.
I’ve heard stories of murdered Colombians who had nothing to do with law enforcement. A lawyer helped some campesinos escape their FARC-dominated region. The FARC cell in Bogota killed the lawyer and his whole family. Civilians working noncombatant roles for the government in FARC red zones, if identified, are harassed and stalked even after returning to the city.
Islamic terror garners more global attention. It’s more of a threat because Islamofascists fault the US, Europe, and “the West” for their problems. Also, extreme interpretations of the Koran mandate believers to “slay the infidel.” Islamic terror overshadows narcoterrorism, illustrated in the difference between their respective Wikipedia articles. The Islamic Terror article is almost 10,000 words with over 180 sources. The narcoterrorism article is under 500 words, has bad punctuation, and cites only four sources. Mexico’s drug war has claimed 40,000 – 50,000 lives. That’s almost 20 times the casualties on 9/11, just in Mexico!
Will narcoterrorism ever garner the attention it deserves? The US government doesn’t ignore it given Plan Colombia and current efforts in Mexico. But in the hearts and minds of citizens of the developed world, narcoterrorism almost doesn’t exist. It only affects a few countries and doesn’t directly threaten America or Europe. It goes largely unnoticed. When Islamic terror has been subdued, will developed countries turn their attention to for-profit narcoterrorism?