Sunday, January 09, 2011

Terrorists, Terrorists Everywhere

If someone, mentally unstable or not, hates the Unites States government and decides to act on that hatred by taking out a gun and killing a member of that government, is that “terrorism?” My answer would be that it is not, and seemingly that is a common thought because I am not seeing that word used to any significant degree in connection with the shootings in Tucson yesterday.

Juan Cole of Informed Comment, a writer whose opinion on the Middle East I respect and value greatly, disagrees with me. In a blog post today titled “White Terrorism” he is actually critical of the media for not calling the incident terrorism. He suggests that the reason the media doesn’t use the term is because the guy is white. I would suggest that they don’t use the term because the act didn’t look like a terrorist act.

He discusses the shooter at some length and says that “political themes of his instability were those of the American far Right.” He then says of the guy’s favorite books,

I don’t think we can take too seriously the list of books he said he liked, as a guide to his political thinking. They could just have been randomly pulled off some list of great books on the Web, since there is no coherence to the choices.

Or, they could just reflect that he has no real political thinking at all, but merely parrots slogans which he has heard. I suspect the real reason he suggests we not “take too seriously” that list of favorite books is that they do not fit the picture that Juan Cole is trying to paint of a person who hates the government and wants to act on that hatred by killing members of that government.

But, let’s assume that Cole is entirely correct in the assumption to which he has leapt. Where is the intention to “create terror” in that? The definition and purpose of terrorism is, after all, to create terror. The shooter here might properly be called an assassin, but not a terrorist. At least not on the rationale that Cole builds up based on his hatred of government.

This nation has fallen in love with the word “terrorist.” We have become obsessed with the topic of terrorism and tend to apply it to every aspect of life and every act of violence we experience. Pavlov could make a dog’s mouth water when a bell rang, but we are reasoning beings with intelligence; we should be able to do better than dogs.

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