[NOTEBOOK]When guidelines become blurred

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[NOTEBOOK]When guidelines become blurred

The American author Henry Miller published "Tropic of Cancer" in 1934. The novel is based on Mr. Miller's experiences with Anais Nin, a female writer who had affections not only for the opposite sex but also for her own gender. The book vividly depicts a woman's sexual adventures and pleasures, and was instantly branded as dirty literature when it first appeared. Society's reaction became clear when Mr. Miller's house caught fire and 50 bookstore owners were arrested on suspicion of arson.

"A normal person would never put such a book in a place where his wife or children might find it," a magazine wrote of a novel by Ireland's James Joyce. That novel, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," was published in 1916. Once a steamy, highly controversial work, "Portrait" now seems to be more like a dull encyclopedia that merely decorates bookshelves.

It is said that obscenity should be determined by how much a work's sexual nature is part of its art. But I would be surprised if anyone could figure out exactly what this guideline is supposed to mean. There are so-called standards and procedures, but they are so vague that one can't draw a clear line between what is obscenity and what is not.

In art, what one sees as the greatest thing of all time can be just as worthless as a pile of dung, depending on who is looking at it and from what perspective. Certainly the zeitgeist plays a role in lifting an ordinary painting into the ranks of something immortal, such as "Mona Lisa," by Leonardo da Vinci.

In the 1930s, the British government did not hesitate to brand Jewish Zionists as terrorists. A monetary reward was placed on Menachem Begin, who later became the prime minister of Israel. But when German Nazis conducted atrocities against Jews, slaughtering them en masse, suddenly Zionists were hailed as freedom fighters.

Times had certainly changed when Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize.

I think it is only fair to say that a definition of terrorism is as difficult to make as a definition of obscenity. Who knows, some day terrorists might be celebrated as heroes. Even the U. S. Department of State admits in its "Terrorism 2000" report that there is no concrete definition of terrorism that can be widely accepted. Of course, there are thin guidelines to single out terrorism.

Violent acts that are supposed to promote political agendas, create fear or aim at noncombatants get the official stamp of terrorism, but then again they fall short of being defined as terrorism.

The definition of terrorism differs from agency to agency. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, both U.S. organizations, have different definitions of terrorism, and theirs are different from the Department of State's. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency does not include violent activities that are thought to promote political causes in its official definition of terrorism. This is just one example of how several perspectives on the same object can differ.

Yonah Alexander, the director of New York's Inter-University Center for Terrorism, has attempted to draw a line between the legitimate uses of force and how that force can be sanctioned by international law.

According to Mr. Alexander, any act of force that is conducted within the boundaries of international law is not terrorism, while terrorists do not accept any kind of law and act outside of the boundaries of the law.

In his State of the Union address last week, George W. Bush said, "We have known freedom's price. We have shown freedom's power. And in this great conflict, my fellow Americans, we will see freedom's victory."

In any case, if the United States sticks to international values such as freedom and human rights, it will prevail in the long battle against terrorism. Otherwise, a campaign that is conducted as it suits the United States will just serve as a catalyst for another meaningless blood feud and not an international crusade for the right cause.

Like obscenity, terrorism possesses an elusive quality. But this much is clear: The war against terrorism cannot be won by provoking endless instances of revenge.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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