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Star Trek Redux: Terrorism on DS9

Star Trek Redux: Terrorism on DS9


By Ashley Stevens

Past Prologue is the first episode, thus far, that made me feel a type of way. The story centers on Major Kira’s past and her association with known Bajoran terrorists. Kira finds herself in a moral quandary. Her friend, Tahna Los, seeks political asylum from Starfleet. He is part of the Kohn-Ma, a Bajoran terrorist group.  In the episode, she must decide where she stands either with her friend or with the Bajoran Provisional Government and, by extension, Starfleet.

I have mixed feelings about Past Prologue given today’s circumstances. On one hand, I can see how this episode would be problematic if aired today. On the other hand, I can see how it could air.

First, here is why it wouldn’t. This episode is a bitter pill to swallow considering how terrorism dominates American culture now. Let’s set this episode in context. In January 1993, terrorism on American soil was highly uncommon. It would be a month later in February 1993, that America would be struck by a terrorist group. I’m referring to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that would leave six dead and over a thousand injured.  It would be another two years, in 1995, when the US would experience the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh. (Say what you will, I regard that as an act of terrorism).

DS9 frames terrorism differently especially since we have a character that is a regular member of the crew. Kira is in a moral grey area in this episode. It makes that a difficult place to be in as she is with the provisional government and works with Starfleet. Not only that, she tries to justify her (unspoken) actions and that of the Kohn-Ma against the nefarious Cardassians. From her point of view, they were fighting oppression and subjugation. They are freedom fighters. Through Sisko as proxy, it’s as if we as the viewer are asking Kira if she is as bad as the Kohn-Ma. That she would do the things they have done. She rebuffs it but she understands it. Now we are shifting into dangerous territory.

It isn’t until Kira confides in Odo about her life during the Cardassian Occupation that things become clear. She doesn’t elaborate but she mentions she still has nightmares about it. We deduce from this that she did some horrific things. I’m curious about whether these actions were carried out against military forces or civilians or both. But does that make it any better? Kira is remorseful but still a terrorist. I can see how folks today would go from Team Kira to “she deserves what ever happens.”

Conversely, Tahna is not remorseful. He wants to keep up the fight and strike back at the Cardassians to free Bajor. His plan included even getting rid of the Federation. I see the Federation as another colonizing force. Sure, its seemingly more benevolent but the rules are still the same. Tahna launches a plan that involves an explosive device being thrown into the wormhole. I mean you can’t get more terrorist-y than that. At the last minute, his plan is thwarted but there is no mistaking it. Tahna is a terrorist and will be until his dying day. And, this person is, for most of the episode, someone Kira considers a friend.

Secondly, I can see how this episode would work today. Again, let’s use Kira and her counterparts as an example. When it came to Kira, she was framed as a freedom fighter whereas Tahna was a terrorist.  In that way, the show tries to make a distinction but it’s a blurry distinction.  If you are part of a group that is being oppressed, then the people on your side are freedom fighters. If you are the group that is on the receiving end of these actions, then these “freedom fighters” are terrorists. It is all a matter of perspective. The episode sides with Kira but it doesn’t fully examine that position. As the viewer, we are supposed to side with Kira and be rightfully justified by backing her because she ultimately does the right thing and brings down Tahna.  Does that excuse the things that she has done? The things she struggles to speak of? Could we be okay with that if we learned she killed people?

We must remember though that at the end of the day, despite being Bajoran, Kira is a white woman. Tahna Los and the other members of the Kohn-Ma are white.  It is now ingrained in the American psyche that brown people, particularly Muslims, are terrorists. Brown people are most often the villain in shows and movies today. At the same time, we see brutal acts of violence perpetrated by white men and yet these are not labeled or widely accepted as terrorist acts. (Timothy McVeigh isn’t viewed as a terrorist by most). The way DS9 frames it serves to only mitigate Kira’s past actions rather than call attention to them and hold her accountable.  This is a similar occurrence today when dealing with white perpetrators of crimes. Suddenly, there are extenuating circumstances. Suddenly, there is more to the story and there has to be a reason to justify the actions.

We cannot escape the fact that Kira was good friends with a terrorist fully and completely aware of what he was doing. Is she not morally culpable as him?

Correction: Past Prologue is Episode 3 in Season One. I incorrectly provided a review of Episode 4 which is “A Man Alone.”

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View Comments (8)
  • I’m such a kohn-ma sympathizer. Fuck the Cardassians, seriously. Terrorism is what you resort to when you don’t have huge bombs to drop on people. It’s a tactic, a means to an end not the end itself. It’s like drones sent remotely to rain death and destruction down on civilian centers. The thing I loved about DS9 was that Kira was a terrorist and it was seen as a necessary if dreadful way to be if one wanted to push back a superior military force. The Cardies were still harming Bajorans even after the Occupation and just because they decided to stop doesn’t make them all innocent lambs nor does it forgive their ongoing crimes.

  • The idea of the Federation as a colonizing force is interesting. On the one wrist: the Federation does explicitly want Bajor to join the Federation as a member. On the other: when Bajor asks the Federation to leave, the Federation _does_.

    This happens twice, AFAIK. First, in the opening 3 episodes of season 2. It happens again in the closing episodes of season 5.

    But back to the “yes, they’re colonists” point: at every instance where Bajoran culture is contrasted with Federation culture, Bajoran culture is shown to be inferior. This starts with TNG’s episode “Ensign Ro”, and continues throughout DS9. So. I dunno. Your point is certainly well taken. I certainly wouldn’t ever expect an IRL foreign government to just leave a strategic point when asked by the local peoples.

  • That’s a great point! I hadn’t thought about that. It’s always interesting to set the show in historical context to get a sense at what the show was going for.

  • In the article, I took the approach of recognizing the “terrorist” label really depends on what side a person falls on. Looking at it today, it may be a controversial statement BUT Islamic terrorist, within their own terrorist groups, may see themselves as freedom fighters. I tried to strike the balance of stating that whether freedom fighter or terrorist label these are people who, more than likely, do morally questionable things.

  • There are definitely episodes in TOS and TNG that made me question the Federation. I think all too often we readily accept the claim that the Federation is an advanced, altruistic organization. However, TNG makes abundantly clear that they have standards for who can and cannot join. If you don’t meet that criteria then you are deemed as inferior and need time to evolve.

    There was a TNG episode where Picard was regarded as a God by a civilization. He ultimately convinced them that he was not a God but in the process he undermined their belief system as backward and inferior. Unintentionally indicating that because they still held on to these beliefs they still had some “growing up” to do. That rubbed me the wrong way. My thought was what if they were technologically advanced + religious. Does that mean they could not join the Federation??

  • Yes, exactly that! The reason DS9/Kira couldn’t work post 9/11 is becuase American media made priority one creating a boogie man out of those who commit terroristic acts and painting them as a specific type (race, ethnicity, religion-wise) horrible, irrational one dimensional type of person so a nuanced view of terrorism like what DS9 displayed has no place in modern television.

  • Great post! Major Kira sometimes has dilemmas that show the limitations of the Federation’s philosophies. The Federation is benevolent but it can afford to be, when it’s that massive and powerful. Especially during its earlier years, I wouldn’t be surprised that others viewed it as just another colonizing force.

    Seven of Nine (Voyager) is another character that provides an interesting lens to critique the Federation. When she takes protocols to their most logical conclusion, she shines a light on the weaknesses. “Natural Law” is a great episode where she starts out with one perspective but makes some interesting changes.

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