Terrorism is often whitewashed as an inevitable reaction to injustice and oppression. But this idea is a deceitful one because it is self-justifying – that is, it is always true: Terrorism, by its very existence, serves as proof that horrible mistreatment first existed to provoke it. This is wrong. Terrorism is a tactic of violence that targets civilians in order to achieve political gain. Terrorists choose carnage. So, for instance, an international organization like Greenpeace advances its interests by lobbying governments, while an international organization like al-Qaeda does so by bombing them.

The argument used to justify leading Palestinian terrorist group Hamas’ suicide terrorism explains that occupation leads to hopelessness, which leads to desperation which, somehow, ends in systematic terrorist slaughter. But how does this make sense, given than there are many oppressed peoples in the world, not all of whom have embarked on campaigns of suicide bombing? Chechens have conducted similar campaigns against Russia and the Tamil Tigers against Sri Lanka, but only Palestinians have so diligently constructed an extravagant cult of martyrdom, where children collect terrorist trading cards and hang pinups of suicide murderers on their walls. Between 1980 and 2001, there were 188 acts of suicide terrorism worldwide. But Hamas and others have carried out 112 successful bombings against Israel since September 2000 alone – and Israeli army officials estimate that they stop nine out of 10 bombing attempts – which is why Israel is building a wall. Recently arrested members of the Tanzim militia, part of Arafat’s army, revealed a grotesque plan to attach containers of HIV-infected blood to bombers. Human Rights Watch, the world’s most prominent human rights group, has designated the Palestinian suicide terrorism campaign as constituting crimes against humanity.

If hopelessness and misery really led to terrorism, the armies of the homeless in San Francisco would be, by now, waging war. If brutality always saw its counterpart in revenge, the survivors of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide would be the most fearsome people on earth. If war, poverty and underdevelopment produced terrorism, the people threatening us most would be from Africa. It has nothing to do with Arab culture, which for centuries led the world in science, medicine and philosophy. Nor does terrorism have anything to do with Islam, an elegant and beautiful religion. Nothing “causes” terrorism except terrorists. It can never be understood as a symptom of something else, but only as a crime. Terrorism is wrong because it ignores the separation between politics and murder, or rather, sees them as one and the same. It denies that a state and its citizens are in any way dissociated. And worst of all, it insists that crime is actually a punishment.

Terrorism only happens because terrorist groups like Hamas and al-Qaeda make it happen. Palestinian suicide attackers do not indoctrinate themselves, pay for their own explosives, assemble their own bombs, then drive themselves to Jerusalem to kill. Every single bombing is the result of a complex process that begins with recruitment and fundraising, is nurtured by ideological programming, and necessitates planning, surveillance, operational support, bomb manufacture and post-operation publicity. It is not an act of fanaticism or desperation. It is an act of strategic calculation and cold-blooded depravity. When you recall that the tens of billions of dollars in losses and thousands of victims inflicted by 9/11 were financed by a sum less than the cost of a single tank, then you understand terrorism’s malefic cost effectiveness.

Do Palestinians have a choice beyond Hamas? Yes – negotiations. Palestinians want calm just like anyone else, and more and more have come to believe in Palestinian independence without believing in Hamas. But some, even here, will always see justice in the terror of Hamas. My only wish would be that they at least be consistent about it. If you sympathize with Hamas, you sympathize with al-Qaeda, and you sympathize with the bombers in Russia, Morocco, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Thailand, the Philippines, Kenya, Spain and Uzbekistan. You really can’t be picky about which terrorists you choose to admire.

Joey Tartakovsky is a Daily Nexus columnist.