Terrorist Profile: Yassir Arafat Essay, Research Paper
The Development and Defining of Arafat: A Terrorist Personality Because a rather large number of individuals fall into the category of terrorist, classifying them as a single personality type is an impossibility. The definition of a terrorist is ambiguous enough to include individuals ranging from the Abu Nidal to the Baader-Meinhoff group. By definition, terrorists do not accept societal standards of what is right and what is wrong. They are not confined to what other individuals, nations, and the international community has deemed acceptable behavior. They do not adhere to the same laws and rules with which the average citizen complies. Terrorists appear to be a different breed than the rest. Although there are many different types of terrorists and limiting them to a single personality would be unfeasible, the vast majority do maintain certain similar basic characteristics. First and foremost, is their ability to sacrifice others for the furthering of their own agenda. Terrorists by definition commit acts of violence in order to achieve a goal. Their goal is rarely the act of violence itself, but instead the impact of the act. As long as the violent act has a devastating affect on the intended audience, the initial target is often arbitrarily chosen. Terrorists intend to frighten the audience, whether it be the public, a particular government, or an organization, into considering its platform (if indeed it has one). This brings about the second characteristic common to terrorists and terrorist groups, commitment to an ideology . Although ideologies vary from genocide to national liberation, terrorists usually have formulated an ideology which they attempt to further through their acts of violence. Amoral behavior and commitment to an ideology are traits which define a terrorist, but what characteristics lead to the development of an individual into a terrorist? Some factors have been presented as commonalties among terrorist individuals. Among these are the role of childhood in the development of the terrorist, the role of intellect and education on personality development, and the development of a terrorist image. In order to fully understand the phenomenon, it is necessary to focus on an individual terrorist and apply the characteristics that both developed the terrorist and define him. This paper intends to focus on Yassir Arafat as a terrorist personality and trace the theme of the development of a terrorist. In defining Arafat as a terrorist personality, it is important to first note his complying to certain characteristics essential to terrorists. The first being his willingness to sacrifice others in order to achieve his goals. Both as leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and before his delegation as chairman in 1969, Arafat has been linked to terrorist activities. Beginning in 1964, Fatah, headed by Arafat, began its attacks on Israeli targets. Under the name of Assifa, these initial terrorist activities were usually unsuccessful but did manage to gain the attention of governments within the region.1 Fatah did not effectively become a prominent terrorist organization until the Munich Olympics. Under the name Black September, Fatah operatives captured nine Israeli athletes and held them ransom for the release of Palestinian prisoners. Although the incident was a failure in that the demands of the group to release their cohorts were never met, and all nine of the hostages were killed, and five of the eight terrorists had been killed, the world media focused on the incident.2 A commentary in Al-Sayyad newspaper stated, “A bomb in the White House, a mine in the Vatican, the death of Mao Tse-tung, an earthquake in Paris; none of these could have produced the far-reaching echo to every man in the world like the operation of Black September in Munich.”3 The incident in Munich brought Fatah to the foreground of Palestinian terrorist organizations. Arafat’s group had achieved its main objectives, outdone other Palestinian terrorist groups in an effort to seize control, and more importantly, brought its political platform to the attention of the world. The endeavor indicates Arafat and Fatah’s ability as terrorists to sacrifice others in order to achieve set objectives. Terrorism conducted by Fatah not only gave immediate coverage to the Palestinian issue, but also “contributed considerably to the widely accepted image of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.”4 The death of their primary targets along with the death of their operatives, was beneficial in capturing the attention of the world audience and furthering their stronghold among the Palestinian people. Arafat, as the leader of a terrorist group sacrificed others in order to achieve his objectives. A terrorist by definition must be willing to sacrifice others in order to further his ideology. Arafat did so not only in Munich but on numerous occasions. Terrorism is not the end but rather the means for Arafat and the PLO. Their acts of violence are intended to further the Palestinian movement. The ultimate objective of Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization is national liberation. The ideology of the PLO is evident, the creation of a homeland for the Palestinian people. Although initially Arafat’s “freedom fighters” called for the annihilation of Israel as the Abu Nidal group still does, the PLO is now committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state coexisting with the Israeli state. The specifics of the ideology have evolved over the past fifty years but it remains rather straightforward. The establishment of a Palestinian state is the main component of the PLO doctrine. At what cost? This is where commitment to an ideology creates an arena for terrorism. With no other effective manner of presenting their case, Palestinian guerrilla groups have found that terror unequivocally draws the attention of the world. This zealous commitment to the establishment of a state has created a field for terrorism and guerrilla warfare. From an early period, Arafat and his followers recognized this and drew upon not only national patriotism but religious fervor. They emphasized the idea of martyrdom for the cause. Islamic doctrine condones the concept of Jihad. Jihad is defined by some as holy war where defending one’s faith and homeland are religiously justified. Thus, the idea of martyrdom not only has a political appeal but also a religious one. Arafat and his group used this ideology to maximize recruitment for terrorist activities. In Arafat the Man and the Myth, Thomas Keirnan writes, In orthodox Islamic dogma, death is often thought of as a reward, particularly when it has heroic dimensions. The liberation of the homeland was indeed a heroic objective; thus any death in the service of that objective was viewed as ipso facto heroic, elevating the deceased and his family survivors to positions of fame and honour. Arafat and his co-leaders used this concept to encourage volunteers for guerrilla missions and to instill in them the necessity of avoiding capture.5 The most extreme display of commitment to a particular ideology is that of self-sacrifice. It also conforms to the requirements of a terrorist operative. Arafat himself on occasion has expressed the idea of martyrdom for the attainment of the ideology. He once professed that he desired martyrdom in establishing Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.6 This statement not only emphasizes Arafat’s commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state but also illuminates his commitment to Islam and the importance of Jerusalem as a Muslim city. Though this was merely a symbolic gesture, it is an indication of the necessity for relentless commitment to the ideology both by a leader and by his followers. Arafat has moderately implemented religious struggle into that of the Palestinian cause. His commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state coincides with religious desires of a great many Palestinians and other Arabs as well to control the “Holy Land.” Arafat’s commitment to his ideology is unwavering even when in order to achieve it terrorist methods seem to be the only plausible approach. Arafat has implemented terrorism as a means of presenting the Palestinian situation to Israel, the Arab world, and the rest of the globe. Arafat’s commitment to the Palestinian cause and willingness to institute terror stem from his youth, his education, and the image he has created for himself. Arafat’s childhood is obscure largely due to his unwillingness to reveal crucial information. This ambiguity creates an aura of mystery, which is a common practice of terrorists whose anonymity is essential in assuring their survival. Regarding Arafat’s youth, there are a few key incidences which can be linked to his development as a terrorist. The first being the relocation of himself and his brother back to Jerusalem to live with his uncle after the death of his mother. This is important in that it places him in the heart of Jerusalem at a volatile period in the city’s history. The Arab revolt against the British in 1936-9, deeply impacted the youth. He not only witnessed increased tensions between Arabs and Jews, but also “observed the detention of relatives by the British authorities . . . and he was present during anguished family debates about the future of Palestine.”7 This event initiated his connection to the Palestinian cause and exposed him to violent behavior associated with the cause. Upon returning to Cairo, where his father and new stepmother were residing, Arafat was not removed from a violent atmosphere. According to accounts, the stepmother “was cruel to the Arafat children and the house was more or less a battlefield.”8 Growing up in an atmosphere where violent behavior is the norm desensitizes an individual, perhaps to the point where violent behavior becomes acceptable. This ideology can be correlated to the amorality of a terrorist. A second factor that can be linked to the development of Arafat as a terrorist is his involvement in Egypt with the extremist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. Arafat belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood with whom he received military training and “mastered their conspiratorial methods.”9 He would smuggle guns back and forth from Palestine to Egypt and would disappear as a “secret volunteer” of the Muslim Brotherhood to fight the British near the Suez Canal.10 Although his ideology remains distinct from the fundamentalist ideology of the Muslim Brothers, he became acquainted with the impact of religious fervor on political activity. Arafat’s exposure to violence both in Jerusalem and in Cairo along with the training he received from the Muslim Brothers developed Arafat as a terrorist personality. Another factor that greatly contributed to his extreme political activism was his intelligence and education. A common thread among terrorist in a leadership role is the combination of a high level education coupled with a relatively high intelligence. In order to be a somewhat successful terrorist, one must be able to effectively coordinate activities and avoid capture. To do so, one must be educated and intelligent. Arafat began his education early on. While attending secular schooling in Cairo, as a youth he was religiously educated by his great uncle. In both, he showed promise. Keirnan states, “He was a natural student, as everyone recalls, with a special proclivity for mathematical subjects.”11 Later Arafat would take his disposition for mathematics to study engineering in a university in Cairo. His focus however was political activity within the university realm. In the late forties and early fifties, the University of Fuad the First, where Arafat matriculated, beamed with political activism. In the political activism prevalent on his university campus, Arafat and his fellow Palestinians interacted with communist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other groups with the aim of enhancing their own organization of Palestinian students.12 Arafat served as President of the Union of Palestinian Students, where he maintained “an autocratic style of leadership”13 similar to that of his leadership of the PLO. In his role as leader he exhibited a flare for publicity, and a volatile temper, characteristics easily attributed to a terrorist personality. Arafat’s educational experience is important because it laid the foundation for his development into a terrorist. In his discussion of the impact of the university on terrorists, Michel Wieviorka states, “The university is an arena for the formation of political and social elites, elites that will go on to join or form organized groups.”14 The university is the perfect locale for the growth of intellect and political organizations mainly, because it encourages free thinking and creates an autonomous opportunity for the organization of these free thinkers. An exposure to new thought processes and different ideologies from one extreme to the other is often the atmosphere that a university offers that can rarely be found elsewhere.
The importance of Arafat’s education is twofold. One, the study of engineering is a beneficial attribute for the execution of terrorist activities. Two, his political activism at the university level planted the foundation necessary for the development of a leader. Arafat’s intelligence lies in his creation of the Palestinian movement. He provided the major thrust to the Palestinian cause, mostly through terrorist activities. He has also managed to somewhat maintain the delicate balance necessary to unit the Palestinian people who are scattered across the globe. In their novel Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder, John and Janet Wallach write: For twenty-five years Arafat has connived, maneuvered and manipulated to stay at the top of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He has learned to speak with several tongues at once, to say whatever it takes to please the audience he is targeting. He is a consummate politician, clever with words and willing to be all things to all people . . .in the turbulent Middle East, he has continually been able to adapt himself to the constantly changing political environment. Arafat is a survivor, and it is this elusive nature that has allowed him to endure.15 Arafat’s intelligence is his ability to outmaneuver his opponents and remain on top. Whether it be political negotiations, financing the PLO, or terrorist activity, Arafat has managed to somehow pull it together. His capacity as a leader of a terrorist organization stems from his turbulent youth, his educational experiences, his intelligence, and most of all the image he has created for himself. In an effort to delete his personage as an individual and replace it with a mythical image, Arafat’s history has been obscured. Like a great number of other terrorists who have attempted to engulf themselves in mystery so as to enhance the romanticism of their cause and more obviously to avoid capture, Arafat’s image is an enigma. Arafat was born to a father from a wealthy Ghazan family and a mother from a distinguished Jerusalem family. The rest of Arafat’s history, ranging from his name to his birthplace is debatable. Many historians believe that he was born in Cairo in 1929. Others place his birth in Gaza. Most importantly, he himself asserts that he was born in Jerusalem near the Jewish Wailing Wall. Keirnan writes, “All press and publicity dispatches emanating from ‘authoritative’ Palestinian sources since 1968 have emphasized Arafat’s birthplace as Jerusalem.”16 To further his claim Arafat states that his house was bulldozed by the Jews in 1967. It is however more feasible that he was born in Cairo. This is supported by university records and statements by family members. Why the enigma? He is undoubtedly of Palestinian descent. The emphasis of placing his birth in Jerusalem demonstrates the necessity of connecting himself with the plight of Palestinians of the West Bank. He stated, “I am a refugee, for I have nothing, for I was banished and dispossessed of my homeland.”17 If he indeed was born in Cairo, he could not maintain that he is a victim of the establishment of the Israeli state. An essential component of his image as the leader of the Palestinian resistance movement lies in his displacement as a Palestinian. If born in Cairo, he is not a refugee and thereby not the most idealistic person to head up a revolt. For this reason, Arafat maintains Jerusalem as his birthplace and not Gaza or Cairo. Arafat’s name is also problematic. Yasser is not his given name. It is either a childhood nickname or a name given to him in his early years of activity with the Muslim Brotherhood. In Arabic, Yasser means “simple, uncomplicated, or homely.” He was born Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini. Some sources omit “Mohammed” as a first name on the basis that it is a reverence to the Prophet Mohammed which is a customary addition in Egypt. Arafat has, throughout the years, been given several nicknames other than Yasser, most notably that of “Abu Ammar.” This name refers to a friend of the Prophet Mohammed who was known to have suffered agony for his faith.18 This name furthers Arafat’s effort to comply to the religious and nationalistic image which would exemplify him as a leader. Other nicknames that demonstrate this idea are “al-khatiar” which means old man and “al-walid” which means father. They both “attribute to Arafat the characteristic of father of the nation, which certainly flatters him.”19 They not only flatter, but also reiterate the image of the leader. Like the mystery of his birthplace, the elusiveness of Arafat’s name creates a void which he attempts to fill with the image of Palestinian nationalism. The removal of a definitive name and birthplace create an arena for political symbolism. One of Arafat’s companions once said: The secret of Arafat is that he lives all our emotions. Arafat is not just a political symbol. We sense and we know that he is living all of our fears, all of our dreams, and all of our suffering. When one of our Palestinians is suffering, Arafat feels our pain. When one of our fighters is killed, a small part of Arafat is killed . . . In this one person is all of us, all our emotions, all of our strength, all of our weaknesses, all of our contradictions.20 This is the exact response that Arafat desires. The elimination of his name and birthplace, which are very important in Arab culture, allows for the universal application of his personage to the Palestinian dilemma in its entirety. In order to aptly lead an organization like the PLO whether in legitimate undertakings or terrorist activities, Arafat must be able to appeal to the masses. The creation of his image not only supports this, but also emphasizes his role as leader. Similar to the mystery behind the identity of Abu Nidal, Arafat has likewise implemented a vagueness regarding his identity. To further personify the image of a resistance leader, Arafat has instituted the terrorist look The stereotypical look of a guerrilla or terrorist is that of green fatigues, unshaven, rugged, callused, and unclean. Arafat donnes fatigues in order to present himself as a “freedom fighter.” His uniform also eliminates a sense of individualism and reaffirms the image of the man for the collective. Similar to the romantic impression associated with Che Guevarre’s uniform, Arafat’s attire serves to symbolize the notion of the “freedom fighter.” To further develop this image, Arafat maintains an unshaven face. His bearded look serves several functions. Firstly, it completes the image of the fighter who does not have the time nor the facilities to shave21. Secondly, it functions as a pseudo religious expression, as most Muslim sheiks donne beards. Lastly, in combination with a pair of sunglasses which he frequently wears, it furthers the mystery factor. Most importantly, Arafat wears the traditional Palestinian headdress, the checkered kaffiyah. The kaffiyah is colored “black for the country, and white for the town.”22 Arafat’s manner of wearing of the kaffiyah emphasizes the ideology of the establishment of the Palestinian state. He ties the headdress in such a way that the end of it forms a resemblance to the shape of Palestine.23 Arafat began wearing the keffiyah at a very early point in his political carrier. Besides making a statement, he initially wore it to emphasize the historical point that “those engaged in resistance against British troops and the Zionists in Palestine in the 1936-9 revolt had worn the keffiyeh as part of their battle-dress.”24 The keffiyah has also become a symbol of the Palestinian insurgence. In order to mask their identity, stone-throwing youths of the Intifadah wound the keffiyah around their faces. The headdress not only represents dedication to the Palestinian cause but also the connotation of the violent defending of it. Arafat’s keffiyah creates an essential part of his attire. It is design to remind the Palestinian people that he is one of them, and willing to fight for them. Arafat’s attire strongly resembles that of the stereotypical terrorist or freedom fighter. And it is intentionally done. It emphasizes his connection to the cause, strengthens his stronghold as leader among the Palestinian constituency, and it reminds the rest of the world of the lengths he will go to achieve his objective, a Palestinian state. The image Arafat has created for himself clearly demonstrates his role as leader of the Palestinian cause. It also complies to the stereotypical definition of a terrorist. The ambiguity and elusiveness of his name and origin along with his physical attire create the image of a man dedicated to an ideology, and willing to sacrifice himself and others in order to achieve his goals. Arafat has been recognized as the representative of the Palestinian people. His role over the past fifty some years has ranged from that of a terrorist to that of the negotiator. As a prominent force in the development of Middle Eastern History, it is important to analyze Arafat and his role both as peacemaker and as terrorist. As a terrorist Arafat has changed the course of history. He realized from the beginning that acts of terror grab the attention of the world and has utilized this to further his cause. Arafat’s role in the political arena is best defined in Ghassan al-Immam’s poem: This old man is a sportsman without a playground, But he plays with all the balls and on all the grounds, The problem is that in soccer he handles the ball In basketball he uses his feet And in handball his head. When the referee catches him he insists that someone else take the rap. He is never thrown out because he has no replacement No replacement could foul like he does, And when he losses the game, he wins the applause of the masses.25 Arafat has played dirty in order to maintain the attention of the world and the media. As a terrorist personality Arafat has achieved his immediate goal of presenting his ideology to the world, even if it means not playing by the rules. He has evolved the image of the terrorist to suit his needs and his cause. Physically, he dresses the part. The ambiguity of his name, birthplace, and personal history add to the mystique of his terrorist personality. His educational background and perhaps his traumatic childhood prepared the way for the development of one of the masterminds behind some of the most horrific terrorist incidences in human history. Arafat the terrorist has upheld his dedication to his ideology, and has sacrificed others in the aspiration of it. Whether it be the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood or his political activity in his university’s student organizations, Arafat has managed to maintain the leadership of the PLO and the focus of the world. Arafat realized from the beginning that acts of terror grab the attention of the world and he has utilized this to further his cause. Arafat’s acts of terror obviously do not comply with the standards that humanity has set forth as reasonable behavior. Like Abu Nidal and the Baader-Meinhoff organization, Arafat maintains certain shared characteristics typical to terrorists. Although they can not be defined as a single personality, they do have commonalties.
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