“You keep saying that word, I do not think it means what you think it means” – Princess Bride. Growing up terrorism meant something. It meant that someone out there could get to you in a very violent way designed to inspire fear in the general population. These events were rare, but horrifying. The first World Trade Center Bombing, Oklahoma City Bombing, The Unibomber, The Olympics bombing, the nerve gas in Tokyo Subway, etc… However, since 9/11 the word Terrorism has begun to change meaning. 9/11 of course was a terrorist attack and spawned may other attacks that were intended to cause damage and inspire fear in the populace. They worked, the US has spent billions of dollars in security measures that are ineffective at best, we’ve spent trillions of dollars on two wars, and who knows how many shadowy engagements using our special forces and drones.
It’s had many other consequences, the no fly lists, the removal of passengers for speaking Arabic or most recently Russian, hateful actions against both Muslims and the religiously unrelated Sikhs – they have turbans therefore must be a terrorist! – and of course more attacks. The disturbing trend however is the lack of even handedness in classifying an act as an act of terrorism. We’re seeing kids getting arrested and facing 20 years for making terrorist threats by posting rap lyrics on facebook. We have the Boston Bomber charged with terrorism (as he should be), but the guys with the guns in the movie theaters aren’t being charged with terrorism.
Most recently in the UK, there was an attack with a machete on a solider that’s being called Terrorism. Just yesterday there was an attack in France which happened in a similar fashion that’s also being called terrorism. Does terrorism mean any attack on non-Muslim by a Muslim? Why are these not politically motivated murders or even assassinations? That is what they are, is that terrorism? I don’t really think so. David Cameron is going to use these murders as an excuse to stamp out what he considers “hate speech” in the UK. Will this simply turn out to be an attack on Muslims in general?
Many of you out there are not fans of the blow back theory, where our actions in those regions are creating hostile agents that attempt to get revenge in any way possible. Initially, I was very skeptical of this stand point. However, as I’ve paid attention to the new more and expanded my sources of information, I completely accept this theory. I believe that there are clear parallels with the US response to hacking activities. The final piece of evidence I’ll provide in support of the theory is this great short read by Juan Cole: “Who’s the Threat?” It’s a simple chart showing what countries have invaded each other since 1798 and the numbers killed by the “terrorist regions” or the west. Put in this larger context, hearing about drone strikes would be terrifying – especially since you have absolutely no recourse if your brother is “collateral damage” to a strike.
With that in mind, I think it’s paramount that we work to keep terrorism to mean an act of violence that’s more similar to the Boston Bombing than a brutal machete murder which was more of an attack directed against the state than the people of that state.