Freedom fighter

Freedom fighter is a relativistic local term for those engaged in rebellion against an established government that is held to be oppressive and illegitimate. The terms "freedom" and "rebellion" are often controversial, as often both sides in armed conflict claim to represent the popular cause of "freedom". While external intervening parties, even oppressors, almost always claim to be "liberators", 'freedom fighters' also often become oppressors in the eyes of civilians.

Though the literal meaning of the words could include anyone who fights for the cause of freedom, common use is restricted to those who are actively involved in an armed rebellion, rather than those who "fight" for freedom by peaceful means (though they may use the title metaphorically).


Historically, we find that people who are self-described "freedom fighters" tend to be called assassins, rebels, or terrorists by their foes. During the Cold War, the term 'freedom fighter' was widely used by the United States and other Western Bloc countries to describe rebels in countries controlled by Communist governments or otherwise under the influence of the Soviet Union, including rebels in Hungary, the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua, UNITA in Angola and the multi-factional mujahideen in Afghanistan.

The term freedom fighter, while indicating favor of some political group, often does not reflect any actual political position of those fighting--central to this is a dispute over the meaning of freedom itself and whether a group in question can be said to actually fight for the purpose of establishing freedom. This was particularly true in Nicaragua, where the US government was inclined to a favorable view of the Sandinista movement until some time after it accumulated power, when it backed the Contra rebels. If the Sandinistas were fighting for freedom then why would an oppressive government be established? And were the subsequent Contra organizations then fighting against freedom? Of all political labels, freedom fighter is perhaps the most blunt term for "friend" -- some think that it signals an unwillingness to abandon moral support regardless of methods, an unbreakable alliance between players.

The ambiguity of the term freedom makes the use of the label freedom fighter particularly useful for propaganda purposes. It is relatively simple to show that the "enemy" has done something which violates one of the many possible meanings of the word freedom, which allows the propagandist to appear to take the moral high ground by fighting for the cause of freedom. In addition to this, propagandists commonly use virtue words like "freedom", "social justice", "liberation", and "helping the poor", which tend to evoke positive images in the target audience in order to attach those images and feelings to his cause.

Certain media agencies, notably the BBC, and Reuters aside from attributed quotes, refuse to use the phrase "terrorist" or "freedom fighter", or even more descriptive and neutral terms such as "militant", "guerrilla" or "assassin", to avoid the political repercussions of the use of such words. The BBC did, however refer to the mainly-Catholic Provisional Irish Republican Army as terrorists, while members of mainly Protestant armed groups in Northern Ireland were usually referred to as "paramilitaries" rather than terrorists. Al Qaeda militants are usually referred to as terrorists, especially since September 11, 2001. The actions of Timothy McVeigh were also described as terrorism.

Typically, Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, seen by many as terrorist, are referred to in BBC and Reuters publications as militant, to the dismay of some who see this as evidence of an intrinsic anti-Israel (or even anti-Semitic bias by the BBC editorial staff). This apparent neutralist stand is in contrast with its treatment of states, for example, with the BBC's use of the word "dictatorship" to describe governments of various authoritarian or totalitarian tendencies, which has the effect of qualifying the merit of a government.

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