The 'right' to resistance

In an attempt to reach out to those Sunnis who support the insurgency in Iraq - a minority of a minority, let's not forget - other Iraqi leaders have stated that resistance is a 'legitimate right'.

As a tactic to create an even greater consensus in favour of the constitution, and to further marginalise the terrorists, making this statement is a small price to pay. But it raises an interesting point.

Exactly who does have a right to resist a government of which they disapprove? Thomas Jefferson made an eloquent case for this right over two centuries ago. If it applied then, and to the French Resistance, and to Iraqi Kurds, why not also to Iraq's Sunnis?

There are surely several factors that underlie the issue. Iraqi Kurds and Shia's resisted a government that they could not vote out of power because there were no elections. Today's insurgency is by people who will not accept the result of an election they lost.

Palestinians are denied the right to self determination by Israeli occupation. Yet most Americans and many Europeans would classify Hamas and often Fatah as terrorist organisations. One factor has to be targeting of violence. The French Resistance targeted military objectives not civilians. Though they might have targeted German civilians if they had had the capacity. The USAF and RAF certainly did.

But the USAF and RAF were the arms of states with defined borders. The RAF bombed Berlin, but then the Lufwaffe could, and did, bomb London. The terrorist who target civilians does so from hiding.

There are no simple answers. Most people feel they know terrorism when they see it. And there is a pretty broad consensus about some organisations at the extreme ends of the spectrum. There will always be some more doubtful cases. Al Qaeda is not one of these grey areas, at least not in Iraq. These people are at the far end of terrorism, targeting civilians in order to overturn an election that went against them.

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