All acts of terrorism, all the attacks that have struck and that strike the imagination of men and women, have been and are either offensive or defensive actions. Experience has long since shown that, if they are part of a strategic offensive, they are always doomed to failure. On the other hand, experience has also shown that, if they are part of a defensive strategy, such actions can hope for some success, which is nevertheless momentary and precarious.
However, it is not only the strategy that differs depending on whether the act in question is an instance of offensive or defensive terrorism, but also the strategists. The desperate and those suffering from illusions have recourse to offensive terrorism, while it is always and only States that have recourse to defensive terrorism, either because they have been thrust into some serious social crisis, or because they fear such a crisis.
The defensive terrorism of the States is practiced directly or indirectly by them, that is, with their own weapons or with those of others. If the States have recourse to direct terrorism, it is directed against their own populations. If, on the other hand, the States decide they must have recourse to indirect terrorism, such acts must appear to have been directed against them.
The attacks directly realized by detached units or by the unofficial or “parallel” services of the State are not customarily claimed by anyone, but are imputed or attributed to this or that convenient “guilty party.” Experience has proved that this aspect is the weakest point of this type of terrorism and that determines the extreme fragility of the political usage one wants to make of it. The results of this same experience show that the strategists of the State’s unofficial services seek to give their own acts much greater credibility or at least less improbability, either by directly claiming them in the name of the initials of this or that ghostly group, or even by getting them claimed by an existing clandestine group, whose militants are apparently or believe themselves to be strangers to the designs of the State apparatus.
All the secret terrorist groups are organized and directed by a clandestine hierarchy that is composed of the militants of clandestinity themselves, who perfectly reflect the division of labor and the roles proper to the current social organization: those on high decide on what is to be done and those below execute orders. Ideology and military discipline protect the true summit from all the risks and the rank-and-file from all suspicions. Any secret service or intelligence agency can invent for itself a set of “revolutionary” initials and carry out a certain number of attacks for which the press will make good publicity and from which the secret service in question will find it easy to form a small group of naïve militants, whom it can direct with the greatest ease. But in case a small terrorist group spontaneously constitutes itself, there is nothing easier in the world for the detached units of the State to do than infiltrate it and then, thanks to the means at their disposal and the extreme freedom of maneuvering that they enjoy, to substitute themselves for it, either by well-chosen arrests made at opportune moments or by the assassination of the original leaders, which, as a general rule, takes place during an armed conflict with the “forces of order,” informed in advance of such an encounter by the infiltrated agents.
From that moment on, the unofficial services of the State can dispose as they please of a perfectly effective organization, composed of naïve or fanatical militants who only ask to be led. The small original terrorist group, born from the illusions of its militants concerning the possibilities of launching an effective strategic offensive, changes strategists and becomes nothing other than a defensive appendage of the State, which maneuvers it with the greatest agility and assurance, according to its own necessities of the moment or those that it believes are its own necessities.
The only things that change are the contingent objectives that this defensive terrorism has achieved, but the goal of the defensive can never change. And the goal has in fact remained the same: to make the entire population, which had not supported the State or had been struggling against it, believe that it at least has an enemy in common with the State and that the State will defend the population on the condition that no one questions it. The population, which is generally hostile to terrorism, and not without reason, must then agree that, at least in this instance, it needs the State, to which it must delegate the most extensive powers so that the State can vigorously confront the arduous task of the common defense against an enemy that is obscure, mysterious, perfidious, merciless and, in a word, illusory.
Faced with a terrorism that is always presented as the absolute evil, evil in itself and by itself, all the other evils, which are much more real, become secondary and must even be forgotten. Because the struggle against terrorism perfectly coincides with the common interest, it is already the general good, and the State that generously leads that struggle is the good itself and by itself. Without the cruelty of the devil, the infinite kindness of God cannot appear and be properly appreciated.
The State can thus silence them by solemnly tasking itself with staging the spectacle of the collective and sacrosanct defense of all against the monster of terrorism and, in the name of this pious mission, it can take from all of its subjects a supplementary portion of their already limited freedom and thus reinforce the police-related control of the entire population. “We are at war,” and war against an enemy that is so powerful that any other discord or conflict is an act of sabotage or desertion.
Terrorism and “emergency,” a state of emergency and perpetual “vigilance,” become the only problems, at least the only ones with which it is permitted and necessary for people to be occupied. All the rest doesn’t exist or becomes forgotten, and in any case is shut up, banished, repressed into the social unconscious because of the seriousness of the question of “public order.” And confronted with the universal duty of its defense, everyone is invited to become an informer, to be base and to become fearful. Cowardice becomes a sublime quality, fear is always justified, and the only form of “courage” that is not contemptible is the one that approves and supports all the lies, abuses and infamies of the State.
Since the current crisis doesn’t spare any country in the world, there are no geographical boundaries between peace, war, freedom or truth. These borders pass through every country, and each State arms itself and declares war on the truth.
Gianfranco Sanguinetti On Terrorism and the State