When Is It Terrorism?

In the aftermath of Orlando there is once again the debate about whether to refer to what happened as an act of terror, an act motivated by political or religious judgment, or whether it was an act of hate, a more emotional, deeply individualized incident that arises from mental illness or other sources.  Why is it that here in America we are loathe to describe an act like this – when the perpetrator states that it is an act of terror in allegiance to a terrorist organization which in turn takes credit for the act – as terrorism?

In France, a man stabbed a French police officer (off-duty) to death along with his wife/partner, also employed by the French police.  He claimed it as an act of terror in allegiance to ISIS.  The French have had no trouble declaring this an act of terror and responding accordingly.  Yet here we sit, wondering how to refer to Orlando.

I think this article is very helpful in explaining perhaps some portion of our political and cultural difficulties with acknowledging a terrorist action against us.  Much easier to relegate such incidents to the realm of the personal, the individual, the emotional – hate.  Much easier than acknowledging that we are not universally loved as a culture, and that there are plenty of competing ideologies only too happy to strive for our undoing.

Likewise, it explains the mass myopia so many people seem to suffer from, their utter inability to accept that their personal ideas about the world may not, indeed, reflect reality or truth in any reliable fashion, but that anyone who disagrees with them is evil, mentally ill, or whatever other epithet is expedient at the moment.  We must remember that there are alternate viewpoints.  They may not be accurate.  They may not be truthful.  But they are oftentimes well-thought out.  Someone who disagrees with my point of view is not evil for disagreeing.  They may be misguided.  Or perhaps I am.  If there is a mutual humility and a shared desire to know truth to the best of our ability, we can use our disagreement as a means to more deeply think about a situation or issue and reach truth.  If I’m only concerned that my point of view wins, this will never happen.  Dialogue is actually counter-productive to my goal.

Likewise, terrorists are not interested in engaging in dialog towards a pursuit of truth.  They are convinced that they have the truth, and are willing to act on that conviction.  We need to be willing and able to call terror what it is, distinct from and sometimes totally disconnected from hate.




One Response to “When Is It Terrorism?”

  1. Lois Says:

    There is actually a legal definition of terrorism which includes violent acts which “appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping”

    So what it comes down to is everyone trying to understand this man’s motivation. We’re not going to all agree on whether he was trying to influence government policy or public thought, or just wanted to kill a bunch of people for his own reasons.

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