Monday, September 8, 2008

why the UN can't win

When it comes to terrorism, the UN cannot win. It tries to be an impartial actor, but it's still targeted by terrorist groups and militias in Iraq, Algeria, Sudan and elsewhere. It tries to help out with either peacekeeping or political missions in the worst-hit countries but is blamed when terrorist attacks or assassination attempts happen anyway (East Timor and Somalia come to mind). It tries to come up with a definition of terrorism but the member states can't agree, mostly because the Arab states want a definition that includes Israeli attacks on Palestinians but excludes Palestinian attacks on Israelis, and the West wants exactly the opposite.

And now the UN is trying to hold a symposium on the victims of terrorism. It's invited 18 victims (or their family members, if the victims were killed) for the event, just in time for Sept. 11.

Can you guess what the problem with this might be?

Lebanese reporter: "Why don't you have any Lebanese victims of state terror by Israel?"
UN: "There's no definition on state terrorism, so we just stuck with victims of attacks by terrorist groups."
Palestinian reporter: "Why don't you have any Palestinian victims of state terror by Israel when you have an Israeli victim of a Palestinian attack?"
UN: "Look, we--"
Random reporter: "How come there are no victims of American state terror against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan?"
UN: * stunned silence *
Pakistani reporter: "Why no victims from Pakistan?"
UN: "Look, we asked a lot of people and not everyone is comfortable with speaking publicly in a symposium. These are very personal emotional issues for them and--"
Algerian reporter: "Why are there no victims of terrorism from Algeria?"
UN: "Actually, two of the 18 invitees are from Algeria."
Algerian reporter: * pouts * "Uh... why aren't there more?!"

Suffice to say, no matter how much the UN tries to balance this list geopolitically, no one will be satisfied. Which explains, in a nutshell, why, nearly seven years to the day after Sept. 11, we still don't have an international definition of terrorism that everyone can agree on. Here is the only one that I think that all 192 members can accept:

Terrorism: what they do to us.

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