What has been argued as modes of resistance for those traditionally valorized by Neo-Marxists, anarchists, and other members of the Left (whose philosophies I very much sympathize with) – the disenfranchised, the poor, the dominated – work in a similar capacity for those marginalized voices that are treated as anathema – the fundamentalists, the bigots, the terrorists. Any discourse examining the means of subverting dominance must acknowledge that such subversion may have disastrous consequences.
Some skepticism in associating the concept of “resistance” with the goals of many terrorist groups is understandable. The leaders of such groups all too frequently come from backgrounds of power and affluence, Osama bin Laden being only one of the more obvious examples. The goals of such leaders seem to work around manipulating systems of power to encourage the ascendancy of one power-elite faction over the other. To take another violent faction in the Middle East as an example, it may seem particularly disingenuous to label the actions of ultra-orthodox Israeli nationalists, whose philosophies have been largely supported and advanced by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the ruling Likud Party, as “resistance.”
Nevertheless, I argue that deploying strategies of resistance does not rely on any measurable “reality” of powerlessness, but rather the perception by the actors of their own lack of access to dominant power structures. It is this perception of powerlessness that motivates the same radically nationalist Israelis who helped Ariel Sharon ascend to power to now decry him as a traitor who is depriving Jewish citizens of their safety and Heavenly mandated control of all of the Biblical lands of Eretz Israel. Perhaps more significantly, Sharon’s recent moves to reopen a peace dialogue with the Palestinians could be seen as an act surrender to Westernization and globalization that ultra-orthodox Jews find completely unacceptable, a position that does indeed place them outside of mainstream Israeli thought.
It is this “signing up for Western values and attitudes” that is, ironically, one of the core ideas that is opposed by both Al-Qaeda and ultra-orthodox Jews, and is the grounds on which I argue that both groups see themselves as participating in resistance. The actual beliefs held by figures such as Sharon and bin Laden as to their perceived powerlessness is certainly debatable, but the claims of their followers often very transparently deploy the rhetoric of resistance.
This makes sense: nobody thinks of themselves and their actions as generally "evil," and nobody ever likes to think of themselves as "aggressors" either. Every war that's ever been fought has been justified as "defensive" action at some point or another. Similarly, every action we label as "terrorist" somebody else will label as necessary resistance. This isn't to say we can't pass judgement on those who use abhorant means to achieve their goals: as a pacifist, I reject any approach that involves harming human life. But if you want to understand why people do things, you need to understand their perspective in more than a dismissive fashion.