Today in terrorism: September 29, 1977

In all the terrorist movements in all the nations over all the years there is usually a debate over just what is terrorism after all. Depending on which side of the fence you happen to be on, terrorists are either ‘freedom fighters’ and heroes or cold-blooded monsters who only understand violence and hence must be killed. Somewhere in the middle we see terms like ‘militants’ and ‘insurgents’. I suppose there may be some common acceptance on what these words mean somewhere although I find it hard to believe that in 2019 I still see headlines in news stories that read ‘Boko Haram militants’ when it is 100 percent clear that those fighting in northern Nigeria and neighbouring states are terrorists.

The same goes for the conflicts themselves. Egregious inequality and historical injustice are alas all too common in our collective histories and there are justifications for putting an end to these. Those who try to do so are either the downtrodden who have no choice and are thus engaged in noble causes or thugs who see any opportunity to beat and maim as an excuse. Again, it hinges on where you stand.

Sometimes, however, an act of violence is so heinous that it can only be seen as indefensible and thus an act of terrorism. While soldiers on patrol may not qualify as victims of terrorists in the eyes of some – in fact many definitions will specify that terrorism has to target non-combatants – it is generally agreed upon that civilians are a no-go area.

So what if the victim is a six-month old baby?

On this day in 1977 black “nationalist guerrillas” bayoneted a 6‐month‐old white child to death in Rhodesia after taking her away from her nursemaid. The infant, Natasha Glenny, was thrown across the verandah of the house before being bayoneted three times in the back.

Now I don’t care what you think about the situation in what was then called Rhodesia (now Zaire) and the clear unfairness for the native black population with respect to the white colonialists. Even if this was a ‘good war’ that led to independence, the stabbing of a six-month old baby is beyond the pale. Those who saw this as an acceptable act could be seen as monsters by some. There is also reporting that incidents such as this were common and that many of the victims of violence at the hands of the ‘guerrillas’ were fellow black Rhodesians.

Terrorism is defined, by me at least, as serious violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or a political cause. What happened in Rhodesia in the 1970s satisfies that definition for me. Furthermore, Natasha Glenny was not a legitimate target in a war for freedom. She was a casualty in an act of terrorism and her death was a disgusting example of unjustified wanton brutality. Undoubtedly there were equally egregious acts on the other side of the war but as we often say ‘two wrongs do not make a right’.

There is no way to embellish this incident or claim that it was a small part of a larger noble cause. There simply isn’t.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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