Resistance to colonial occupation is an inherent right of the occupied, including armed struggle, recognized in international law. Occupiers try to delegitimize resistance struggle by branding the resistors as “terrorists.” Often the oppressors are more successful because they have the propaganda tools denied to the occupied at their disposal.
The struggle of the African National Congress (ANC) against apartheid in South Africa illustrates this point clearly. A tiny minority of white Europeans oppressed the overwhelming majority of blacks. When the ANC launched its campaign to overthrow the racist apartheid system, it was branded a “terrorist” organization. Its leaders were arrested and suffered decades of imprisonment.
Nelson Mandela, later regarded as an icon of resistance and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was also declared a terrorist! Even when apartheid officially ended, he was on the list of persons banned from entry into the United States. The US State Department had to issue a waiver to allow him entry. This ludicrous ban was finally lifted in 2008.
There are other legitimate resistance movements that have been proscribed because they oppose the West or its favorite client regimes. Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine are all branded as “terrorist” organizations although they are liberation movements struggling to overthrow their Zionist occupiers. The Taliban in Afghanistan have been similarly branded although in recent years, the US has been forced to sit with them and negotiate (notwithstanding Trump’s Twitter tantrums that are seen by some observers as a hiccup). Resistance of the Kashmiris against Indian occupation has also been tarnished with the terrorist brush.
In all instances, the occupiers are aided and abetted in their vile propaganda by allies and major media outlets. It is interesting to note that when the Afghans were struggling against the Soviets, they were declared freedom fighters and welcomed to the White House. When they rose up to fight American occupiers, they became terrorists! So, from the West’s point of view, armed struggle per se is not the problem; the real issue is who is being resisted.
International humanitarian law drafted by Western regimes considers wars of liberation as legitimate forms of struggle. It was the victors of the Second World War that drafted laws through such instruments as Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Liberation struggles were declared a protected and essential right of occupied people everywhere.
The time period is important. The war had left the colonial powers exhausted. They could no longer hold on to their colonial possessions in Asia and Africa. Thus it was convenient to declare national liberation movements as legitimate.
Once the West and its client regimes felt comfortable with the post-Second World War order, they began to flex their muscles against liberation movements. This was particularly pronounced in the case of resistance to the Zionist entity, a colonial beachhead in the heartland of Islam.
Since the UN Security Council is dominated by veto-wielding predatory powers, primarily the US, Britain, and France, nothing meaningful comes out of its deliberations. Hence, it is the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that acts as the collective conscience of the world. It has affirmed that human rights and dignity must be protected through self-determination and independence.
In 1974, when the Palestinian liberation struggle was at its peak, resolution 3314 of the UNGA prohibited states from “any military occupation, however temporary.” It was aimed at the Zionist occupation of Palestinian lands.
The resolution not only went on to affirm the right “to self-determination, freedom and independence […] of peoples forcibly deprived of that right, […] particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes or other forms of alien domination” but noted the right of the occupied people to “struggle… and to seek and receive support” in that effort.
While “armed struggle” was implied without spelling it out explicitly, colonial powers exploited this ambiguity and used it against the oppressed. They resorted to vile propaganda to delegitimize the right of indigenous peoples to overthrow their occupiers.
The occupied and their allies quickly realized the West’s hypocrisy and were determined to confront it. Unlike the Security Council, the General Assembly is an open forum where each country’s equal right is recognized. On December 3, 1982, the General Assembly passed resolution 37/43 removing any doubt about the lawful entitlement of occupied people to resist occupying forces by any and all lawful means. The resolution reaffirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.”
This resolution entitles the Palestinians and Kashmiris to resist their occupiers by all means necessary. Despite the occupiers’ attempts to delegitimize their struggle, they have every right to wage armed struggle against their occupiers.
Considering the horrific tactics used by the Zionists in Palestine and Hindu fascists in Kashmir, it is all the more important that they are provided every kind of support to free themselves from the clutches of oppressors.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).