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Tuesday, January 19, 2010
THIS is not THAT, Part Two: Terrorism is not War
So first things last: WAR, or an ACT OF WAR, is basically any kind of violence or attack on the population or infrastructure of one country, carried out according to the foreign policy of another. And that last bit is what seperates WAR form TERRORISM. Both LOOK the same, but an act of WAR is officially and legally the act of another soverign power. So if Iran blew up something in the United States, it would clearly be an act of WAR. And in that case there's no need to bring terrorism into it! After all, an act of WAR justifies a response in kind. IOW: We'd nuke the shit out of them. If a word like WAR is sufficient to allow us to do that, why do we feel the need to bring in another one?
So... to be TERRORISM, first and foremost, it must be the work of an individual or group that IS NOT acting on the orders of a soverign country. Terrorsim need not cause death, or even injury. Blowing up an empty building can effectively sew fear. Terrorism is not random: It's motivated by a political agenda of some kind. That agenda CAN be religious, but it doesn't have to be. An act of terrorism needs to carry with it the implied threat that it can heppen again; that "we" can "get to you." There shouldn't be an effort to HIDE who's responsible for an act of TERROR. To be effective, a group must claim responsibility so that people will know that the act was commited to bring about their political agenda. That won't work if no one knows who did it. And there's one more thing, and this is a minor point, and a personal one, but I have a hard time calling anything "terrorism" that doesn't involve a BOMB of some kind. To me, GUNS just don't cut it. So yes, to that end, John Muhammad and Nidal Hasan are not "terrorists." Their crimes just don't fit the definiton and their religion is irrelevant.
Niether man really had any broad political agenda. Muhammad fits the defrintion of a Serial Killer or possibly Spree killer rather quite well, and if he wasn't Muslim, no one would even be TALKING about terrorism. Hasan had no real political agenda either. He just didn't want to go to be deployed. He may have been consorting with muslim radicals, but without his imminent deployment, he likely would not have done what he did, when he did it. His actions were not being done to STOP the war, just to avid his own involvement. What's more, his actions are TEXTBOOK spree-killer. If he was white, not muslim, and shot a bunch of people in a school yard or from the top of a McDonald's, again: we wouldn't even consider it terrorism.
And why should their RELIGION matter? Is it terrorism if a muslim robs a bank? Knocks over a liquor store? Steals a car? Kills his wife? Kills the man he found with his wife? Sells alchohol to a minor? No. It would be absurd to think any of that that. But if a Muslim kills a bunch of people? AUTOMATICALLY we assume it's terrorism.
It's nonsense in these two cases and here's why: As soon as either man was caught, there was no additional threat. The threat had passed. They were not part of a larger network. They were not the first of many attacks to come. We knew the minute either man was taken down, that the nightmare was OVER. That's a feeling that is far better related to serial killers than terrorists. If we captured Bin Laden, do you really think we should breath a sigh of relief? Not really. More likely we should brace ourselves for the retaliation of his followers. After 9/11 we feared another attack so much we made radical changes to our society to prevent it. Not so with Muhammad or Hassan.
Also, why are THEY terrorists and not Seung Hui Cho? After all, HE killed a ot of people. HE scared people. (Disclosure: I'm a Hokie myself!) He even had a political minfesto, albeit a rambling, poorly written one. Are we letting him off the terrorism hook because he's not MUSLIM? Perhaps in some people's minds, but it's far more reasonable to do so becuase, like I said, once he was caught the nightmare was over. There was no implicit threat of additional attacks.
Tim McVeigh fits the definition pretty well without any Religious influence at all. Blew something up. Killed a bunch of people. Had a political agenda - one eerily similar to that of Glenn Beck and the Tea-Baggers, I might add. One can argue that he didn't "claim responsibility" for the act, but he eventually DID. (And he was caught after just the first one, so we really can't say how things might have played out if he'd gotten away with it.) As for the threat of more attacks? Well, we were concerned enough about them to bump up sercurity, change some traffic patterns in Washington DC and install anti-truck barriers in front of all federal builidngs. So yeah - I'd say that we were pretty worried about them.
The guy that I often use as an example of a non-Muslim terrorist is Ted Kaczinsky. He fits the bill: Bombs, killings, fear of more attacks, Political manifesto. But did he claim responsibility? Well... yeah, like McVeigh after he was caught, but it went on for a while with Kaczinsky. He DID however leave calling cards - bomb parts were initialled with "FC" for "Freedom Club," for example. But unlike McVeigh, his acts were not sufficiently public enough that the really caught the public's attention. Most of American didn't know anything was going on until the caught him. So... it could be argued that he's more of just a serial killer that a terrorist, due to the lack of publicity. However, there's no also doubt that SOMEONE was getting the message and KNEW that these attacks were all from the same guy, so I'd say that counts.
So that's the test:
1) Violent Act
2) Political Agenda
3) Claim of Responsibility (of some kind)
4) Implicit threat of another attck
5) NOT tied to the foreign policy of a soverign country
6) I still say BOMBS or MISSILES rather than GUNS.
And Religion doesn't enter into it, beyond it's possibly being part of the political agenda they want to bring about. (OK, if Muhammad or Hassan were really trying to impliment Sharia Law in America, they'd be a step closer to being terrorsist. But neither was really all that into that. One guy was just a nutbag and the other just a coward and a traitor.) But in any case being Muslim is neither requred nor sufficient to make one's commission of a violent crime into an an act of terrorism.
BTW... I should hope it's obvious that the "War of Drugs" or the "War on Poverty" of even the "War on Terror" are not literally WARS. It's an un fortunate reality that the only metiphor we really have in our public discourse for solving problems is declaring war on them. How exactly owuld even prosecture the "War on Cancer" for example? Bomb hospitals? "War on Terror" is the closest thing to an actual "War," but what COUNTRY are we fighting? None really. We're fighting IN many countries. But were not fighting against any of them. So it's not a war. It's just a clumsy metaphor for using the military to fight a problem.