(GPA) Most Americans are familiar with the term “terrorist list” as it pertains to domestic activity. At home, the so-called terrorist list is a useful tool for monitoring the activity of innocent civilians, keeping anti-establishment groups in check, and subtly encouraging individuals to censor themselves. But a lot of Americans might not be familiar with the geopolitical power held by the United States through their official Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
What is a foreign terrorist?
According to the U.S. Department of State, “FTO designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.” Most people already grasp the concept that the term “terrorist” can be applied to pretty much anyone as a tool to work around the law and deny individuals basic legal rights; prison facilities like Guantanamo Bay are a key example of this where inmates are prosecuted by the United States but without the same rights granted to U.S. citizens. However when the term “terrorist” is applied to an entire group or entity, this changes the dynamic and anyone caught doing business with said group can be subject to repercussions such as sanctions. Basically, the term “terrorist” is used to define anyone who has the potential to disrupt the United States’ global economic and military dominance. Geo-politically, this applies to any entity supporting an ideology that challenges the status-quo of a U.S. ally.
Who is on the foreign terrorist list?
A lot of entities one would expect: al-Nusra, al-Qaeda and their affiliates, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, ISIS and their affiliates, etc. This is not surprising, after all, these groups plunder, rape, and cut off people’s heads. But if violence, draconian laws, and disregard for human life was all it took to get placed on the FTO list then Saudi Arabia would be enemy #1. In this respect, it wouldn’t be so far fetched to say that these groups are listed as terrorists because they challenge Saudi Arabia as the dominant Sunni-power in the region. If some of these groups didn’t challenge U.S. dominance and control in the Middle East, they might very well be considered allies in the fight to overthrow Assad in Syria.
Without stable allies, Washington loses its grip on the global market. This is how organizations thousands of miles away supposedly threaten U.S. interests or become national security concerns. This is why so many Palestinian, Arab Nationalist, and anti-NATO groups make the list. From Washington’s perspective, any kind of Arab-unity threatens the security of Israel; and pro-Palestine movements encourage Arab unity. Without enemies, Washington can’t have allies. Which brings us to Iran and why we see Shia movements like Hezbollah on the FTO list. Once again, this isn’t to say that these groups have never committed violent acts, but rather that violence is not the defining factor for being labeled a “terrorist” in Washington’s eyes.
Most groups on the FOT list are based out of the Middle East, North Africa, or Central Asia; indeed these are the “terrorist” groups Americans are most familiar. But rest assured, the U.S. does not discriminate. Plenty of leftists groups or anti-establishment groups still make the cut if they are strong enough to threaten U.S. interests or the stability of an otherwise stable U.S. ally. Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army (Turkey), Revolutionary Struggle (Greece), Communist Party of the Philippines are all on the list along with the Irish Republican Army and their affiliates.
It is important to note that al-Nusra is on the FTO list. However, since breaking from al-Qaeda and changing their name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham they have not been added to the list.
Who will be the next terrorists?
(The United States will vote for a new president next week. So this article is going to assume that foreign policy will continue as it has been for the past few decades.) The most obvious addition to the FTO list will be Ansar Allah (the Houthis) in Yemen. Despite a small spat in congress, the U.S. clearly has no intention of ending support for Saudi Arabia in the near future. So instead, any rebel forces in Yemen will likely be labeled as terrorists. Western media is already going out of their way to tie Houthi forces to terrorist acts and label them as a proxy-army for Iran (which the Houthis deny). As austerity grips Latin America and Europe more opposition forces form which means more leftist groups in these region are likely to be added to the FTO list. But once again: only if they threaten U.S. interests.
Founder and editor of Geopolitics Alert, Randi Nord is a US-based geopolitical analyst and content strategist. She covers US imperialism with a special focus on Yemen, Iran, and Lebanon. Born in Detroit, Michigan, she started learning about the media’s pivotal role in selling “humanitarian” interventions as a teenager during the aftermath of 9/11 and Iraq war. Randi Nord has lived in the Empire’s neoliberal tropical paradise (Kingdom of Hawai’i) and Lebanon. She frequently participates in the UN Human Rights Council as a guest of NGOs speaking about Yemen.