By now everyone knows that the US had to pass a bill to get Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress members off the ‘terror’ watch list1. In the linked article, even the Secretary of State calls it “a rather embarrassing matter.”
It’s not just embarrassing, it’s telling. Why were these people on the list? “The African National Congress (ANC) was designated as a terrorist organisation by South Africa’s old apartheid regime.” In other words, ‘terrorist’ is used by governments to stigmatize those they dislike, and to decrease their credibility in the international community. ‘Terrorist’ is an elastic term, meaning exactly what those in power say, no more or less. How else does one explain the broad swath of cybercrimes the Patriot act classifies as terrorism? If making civilians live in fear is ‘terrorism’, why aren’t authoritarian states around the world labelled as such? ‘Terror’ is not the deciding factor; governmental fiat is.
One could hope that this example, of a group formed to foment revolution against unjust rule being tarred for decades with the ‘terrorist’ brush, might give someone in our government pause, make them wonder how meaningful the term is as it is being used; but I doubt it.
1 It is sad that I automatically wrote this as ‘watchlist’, subconsciously believing it had seen enough use to become a compound word.