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Are Hamas terrorists? One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter

The BBC announced it would not describe as “terrorism” attacks by Hamas on Israel. And that decision sparked a firestorm.

UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the BBC policy was “verging on disgraceful”. A Jewish BBC reporter quit the international broadcaster.

The Beeb stood by its decision, classic case of editorial independence.

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson explained that, “Terrorism is a loaded word, which people use about an outfit they disapprove of morally. It’s simply not the BBC’s job to tell people who to support and who to condemn – who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.”

Simpson, with 50 years of covering the Middle East, said the broadcaster has no problem quoting people who call Hamas a terrorist organisation or describe its resistance to Israeli occupation as terrorism.

The key point is that we don’t say it in our voice. Our business is to present our audiences with the facts and let them make up their own minds.”

In Nairobi, some news honchos didn’t seem to have any such professional qualms.

The attack orchestrated by Hamas on Israel must, no doubt, be condemned and severely castigated. The terrorist attack is reprehensible and has no place in a civilised world,” The Star said in an editorial (October 12, p.16).

Lion place added for good measure: “Bloodthirsty terrorists must be condemned, but it is time Israel accepted that Palestine as a nation is there to stay.”

The Standard avoided the word, writing instead about Hamas “attack” and the Palestinian “resistance”.

The problem, the paper said, is “Israeli occupation which has led to land confiscation, illegal settlements, and deprivation of Palestinian’s basic rights.”

Veteran journalist and Daily Nation columnist Macharia Gaitho provided an insightful perspective on the problematic label, pointing out that “Israel was itself born of terrorism”.

If the country was founded on forcible military occupation of Palestinian lands, mass displacement of entire populations and bigoted policies of religious and ethnic superiority as evil as apartheid, Israel stands guilty.”

One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, Gaitho wrote.

The Kenya Land and Freedom Army, also known as Mau Mau, was demonised as a terrorist group not just by the British colonial government but also by the first two governments of independent Kenya. It was not until 2003 that President Mwai Kibaki lifted the ban on Mau Mau.

The African National Congress in South Africa and many other liberation movements in Africa were labelled and treated as terrorist organisations. Nelson Mandela was removed from the US government terrorist watchlist only in 2008. Yet he had become the first Black President of Azania in 1994. The previous year he and FW De Klerk had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Would you agree that Mau Mau or Mandela and the ANC engaged in terrorism?

America’s foremost Black philosopher Cornel West observes that, “This violent resistance to oppression is the desperate language of an occupied people. And as Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us, only a genuine peace with justice can stop the barbarism of war and domination.”

The Standard reiterated this point with regard to Hamas. “That was the case in Kenya when the British rode roughshod over our grandparents. They fought until we gained independence. In the same vein, violence is likely to be a recurrent theme in the Israel-Palestine relations, as it has been for decades, until a solution is found.”

That is the context. The BBC decision not to call Hamas terrorists makes a lot of journalistic sense.

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