Not sure where I should post this, but I have a complaint about the way the term "terrorism" is applied these days. It seems that every mass killing is called "terrorism", regardless of its target or apparent motive.
For instance, the bombing of the USS Cole is always called terrorism—I can't recall ever seeing an exception—even though its target was obviously military. I'm not saying it was a good thing to do, you understand (I shouldn't have to say that, but maybe it's better to avoid misunderstandings). But it wasn't terrorism.
And these guys who get frustrated with the world and go out to shoot up a mall or a party: I'm not sure I can call that "terrorism", either. Isn't terrorism by definition an act aiming at some political outcome?
Terrorism isn't just any despicable act; we already have plenty of words for that.
The politicians also always call the people that carry out these acts, 'cowards'. That's another misuse of English: the people may be evil, mentally ill, fanatics, and yes, sometimes even terrorists; but unless they are completely mad I think they must summon up all their bravery before they carry out their heinous acts.
I'm not saying that politicians should call these criminals 'brave' - we normally consider bravery a good thing, and we don't want to praise these people in any way, but calling them cowards is just wrong - politicians should simply avoid any references to the bravery/cowardice spectrum when commenting on these matters.
Yes it is. So is everything else. Same song and dance that’s gone on in some capacity since civilization began. At my age you see this over and over and over that you tend to just not pay attention to it anymore because your tired of hearing it again. They just brand it with another label. Nazi(ism), fascism, commie, terrorism, .....
I'm interested in what bob's definition of 'terrorism' is.
I'd like to know what behavior has been labelled such which he thinks should not have been. I get the impression that he thinks that military targets are not subject to 'terrorism', nor are mass shootings in US (and, I presume, other nations) civil public settings. Why not? He seems to allude to some 'political' aims, as well as target selection and motive being somehow readily apparent....I'm unclear as to the parameters of the latter.
How does one discern 'motive' and 'intended target', particularly in a politically charged situation?
What is it that distinguishes 'terrorism' from violence which is not terror?
Is brandishing a weapon and acting irrationally in order to scare minorities from your neighborhood 'political'?
Also, it would seem to me that the USS Cole and attacks made upon personnel at US military installations are inherently 'political'. Yet, bob has seemingly ruled them out.
If a black man brandishing a machete invades a holiday celebration in a synagogue with the intent of scaring Jews everywhere, is that 'political'? You cannot tell me it is not terrifying. I'd certainly say it was 'political', but maybe that is just me.
As versus renting a hotel room to rain bullets down upon a clueless mass gathered for an event below...that seems pretty terrifying to me, but 'political'? Maybe he was reinforcing what he considered to be his Second Amendment rights. IIRC, by the time they got to him, he was too dead to announce his screed to the world.
Mostly we think it's rational, if you have to resort to violence at all, to direct the violence against the source of the problem. If you're in a war, you try to kill the enemy soldiers; we try to avoid killing civilians (though it isn't always possible). If a mugger is attacking you, you try to damage or kill the mugger. If the police are trying to break in and arrest you, you might shoot back at the police. If your boss is treating you unfairly and you're the sort to blow your top, you might try to punch out your boss, or even shoot him if you're out of control. If you're convinced that the Jews are ruining your economy and cheating you of your right to prosperity and happiness, maybe you try to exterminate the Jews.
I hope my examples make it clear that I'm talking about bad guys as well as good, here; my point is not that it's ok to try to shoot at the police, punch out your boss or exterminate Jews, but that all these people are at least trying to address a problem by attacking (what they perceive to be) the source of the problem.
Terrorism breaks with that train of thought. An IRA terrorist sets off a bomb designed to kill not just agents of the oppressors, but pretty much anyone. At first a terrorist tries to avoid killing the victimized group he claims to be fighting for; but I've noticed this doesn't seem to be an inviolable rule, and I expect that the more killing he does the less he cares about who exactly suffers as a result. "The cause" becomes the important thing, while the people the cause was originally supposed to represent fade in his mind.
I imagine several motives behind this behavior:
1) Nowadays the terrorist's idea usually is that his problem is caused by some system. Let's say you're concerned about poverty of the Palestinian people, and about oppression against them, and you come to the belief that both are caused by the policies of various non-Muslim governments. The terrorist starts to think that if the citizens of those countries suffer, and can be made to believe that they're suffering because of their governments' policies, they will become terrified (thus the term "terrorism"), protest those policies and eventually get them changed.
2) At some point after killing enough of those people, the terrorist tells himself that in any case there are no "innocents"; their mere acquiescence in the behavior of their governments condemns them; they deserve to suffer and die for what is happening in the world.
3) In the end—I believe—it comes down very simply to hate. In fact I think it starts there too; whatever a terrorist tells himself and others, he did not start setting off bombs in public places (or whatever he's doing) without having a great deal of anger and generalized hatred. At first he probably directed that hatred against someone he believed, more or less honestly, to be the cause of his problems. But hatred grows as one give it free rein, and rational thought deteriorates, and in the end it's just hate.
I say the bombing of the USS Cole was not terrorism because its target was the US military. I say Hitler's attempt to exterminate Jews (also gypsies, Christians and a bunch of others) was not terrorism because he wasn't attempting to get people to change their behavior through fear; he was actually trying to exterminate them. Charles Whitman—he's that guy who crawled up into the bell tower in Austin and started shooting people in 1966, killing 17 before the Austin police killed him—doesn't count as a terrorist because he wasn't trying to accomplish any particular end, unless it be perhaps suicide by cop.
Whollygoats poses some pertinent issues and I can't pretend to satisfy all of them. I agree that motives are always mixed and almost always impossible to be very certain of; nevertheless I believe motive is one indispensable part of the definition. (That doesn't mean my definition of terrorism is invalid; it just means one can't always be sure whether an act was terrorism.) And it's true that I specified "political aims" in my earlier post, but I'd like to withdraw that part; offhand I agree with Moose that terrorist acts nowadays seem all to be aimed at political goals, but I'm not convinced it always has to be. Besides, I'm not sure what goals aren't political, ultimately.
Last Edit: Jan 4, 2020 23:50:03 GMT by bobbridges: Proofreading.
I don't think the term 'terrorism' is overused at all. Indeed, I think that there are many other situations where using the term would be appropriate....
According to the initial statement, bob seems to think that we should stop using the term unless it fits a specific set of circumstances. But, English, as an evolving language, does not work that way. Instead, speakers tend to take terminology from one area and reapply it to situations in other conceptual areas, often to surprisingly good effect. I think that is what has happened to the use of 'terrorism'. I think this is normal and acceptable.
I suspect that the original usage was to demonize those who would engage in indiscriminate violence against usually 'symbolic' targets as a means of advancing the political message of a massively mismatched and overpowered splinter group against a behemoth of application of political violence to maintain 'order'. Terrorism arose in situations where the power differential was huge and at a disadvantage to the oppressed, giving rise to surprise attacks of bloody violence against symbolic and representative actors of their oppressors. I think the 'terror' was more related to the means of expression...explosives and gunplay in unexpected places against symbolic stalwarts of the oppressor power structure. When faced with oppression by a massively overarmed, well-trained, and malevolent military force, one selects targets which one can actually impose costs and make the oppressor reconsider.
The thing is....I think that those who cobbled up the term and started applying it were just as culpable and complicit as those to whom they applied the term. The US military is probably the largest and most well-prepared dispenser of terror on the planet.....yet, they are the ones who wield the term to demonize others who attack them and theirs as a means, often the only means, to strike back against foreign interlopers who have smashed their country, destroyed their infrastructure, killed millions of natives, including probably family and friends of every one of them. It is no joke that they call themselves 'freedom fighters'. The term 'terrorism' is what we dredged up to demonize those who would, in their frustration, seek to free their people from the yoke of submission....y'know, kinda like the American revolutionaries.
I think that much of what the US and its allies imposes upon non-Americans around the world is nothing but 'terrorism'. Think about it....We, as a matter of course, target all sorts of gatherings for attacks by armed unmanned drones, and then actually carry out all too many of them. We threaten the rest of the world, on an ongoing basis, with the terror of nuclear annihilation...If that is not terrorism, I don't know what is. The US and its allies are basically hypocrites.
Also, I tend to think that abusive intimates deal with terrorism against their mates on a regular and ongoing basis. Threats of violence and pain are daily occurrences, and actual violence is perpetrated against the powerless on an all too regular basis. I also think of this as 'terrorism'. This is because its purpose is to instill terror in the victim and keep them in the control of the one applying the threats and violence. You can dismiss it if you like, but I think typifying such behavior is not only appropriate, it needs to be called out more often, more loudly, and the consequences need to be real.
So...I suggest that a term originally designed to describe a particular behavior, which occurred in particular patterns and with specific goals, has slipped its moorings and come to be applied to a lot of other situations, in a metaphorical manner, because those situations have some very strong similarities to the original use of the term. I approve. Particularly if it causes folks like bob to engender discussions where the hypocrisy can be openly pointed out.
I think the call of 'terrorism' should be made any time anybody attempts to apply the threat, or actuality, of violence to obtain compliance.
So...It seems that the foreign minister of Iran, Javad Zarif, has termed the US president "a terrorist in a suit".
So...Given that he authorized the assassination of a foreign official in the international airport of a third nation, using the tools of aerial interdiction by US Air Force staff and weaponry. (Without consulting with those who have the ultimate power to declare war for the US, the House of Representatives...) The Iranian foreign minister seems to think that such actions rise to the level of 'terrorism'. I'm not sure where he is wrong. It is not like the target was in his own country, defending his own soil....He was out of country, in Bagdad, in Iraq. Even though the US military was used, it was NOT a military action because the two countries are not at war. And, to carry out such perfidy on the premises of yet a third country only highlights the arrogance of the US forces in carrying out a craven act of dubious distinction.
Also...The US president evidently tweeted out some puffery about how the US would obliterate 52 sites of cultural importance in Iran, to which the Iranian foreign minister pointed out that doing so would be a war crime of the worst type. Touche'.
So...I'm curious. Do others here think that the act which killed Qassam Soleimani was an act of terrorism? Why, or why not?
I found it a very helpful discussion and the key points, for me, were as follows:
There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. It remains the subject of continuing debate in international bodies.
The US has a very broad definition whilst other countries have much narrower ones.
If the definition is too broad, there is a danger of including people who are obviously not terrorists. For example, the eco-protester, Swampy, would be a terrorist according to some definitions. In 1996, he eluded police for a whole week by living in a system of tunnels to stop the extension of the A30. (And subsequently appeared as a celebrity on Have I Got News For You (TV comedy programme).)
One academic definition that has found wide respect is based on a linguistic survey of over 100 definitions produced around the world. It provides:
"Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets."
UK law limits terrorism to "the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause."
With respect only to whollygoats' response of... Hm, I was going to give the timestamp of your response so you would know which post I'm addressing, but apparently this board doesn't display the date and time of a post, only half-useful information like "20 hours ago". Ok, I'm responding to the one where you started out "Okay....I disagree with the OP".
I see only two counterarguments here. The first is that "terrorism" isn't overused, or misused, because language evolves. The second—forgive me—seems to be "it's not overused because we do bad things too". Or maybe you intended to start out with a second counterargument and got distracted; if so, I'll just let it alone because it was no part of my intention to say "terrorists are bad and we aren't".
So, evolving language. I can't deny that usages change. Sometimes—very often, in fact—the change is useful. I'm all in favor of that.
Other times words change through error and misunderstanding. Thus people very often say "particularly" when they mean "especially", for example, write "staunch" instead of "stanch", and think "comprise" is a synonym of "compose". I try to avoid that kind of change in my own writing. Partly that's because I like to be different, and partly because it helps me go on fancying that I'm smarter than the average bear. But those are just motives, not reasons. The reason is that words ought to go on being useful. Yes, the threat of violence is usually (not always) morally wrong. But we already have words to describe acts that are morally wrong; we don't really need more. We do, however, have a use for a word that describes an activity that is growing more common. To widen and continually widen the definition of that word to cover more and more actions isn't useful, and it detracts from the impact of the word itself.
Rereading, I see I got too hifalutin'. I can be more explicit: I gather you want the word "terrorist" to apply to assassins, insurgents fighting against soldiers and abusive spouses. You end up suggesting "attempts to apply the threat, or actuality, of violence to obtain compliance", so I suppose you would include schoolyard bullies and loan sharks. (Your definition would also include parents, homeowners addressing a cat burglar and little brothers threatening to tattle, but I don't suppose you meant to cast your net that wide.) But with a definition like that, who's going to pay any attention to the word any longer? It no longer means anything much. I'm against that; I prefer useful words to go on being useful.
Obviously I disagree with some of the we-do-bad-stuff-too assertions in your post, but that's alright.
To widen and continually widen the definition of that word to cover more and more actions isn't useful, and it detracts from the impact of the word itself... I gather you want the word "terrorist" to apply to... But with a definition like that, who's going to pay any attention to the word any longer? It no longer means anything much. I'm against that; I prefer useful words to go on being useful.
Yes, I agree. I would also add that the word 'terrorist' isn't a measure of badness. It's a description of the mode of conflict a person or group is engaged in. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand has never been classified as an act of terrorism but it was exceedingly more harmful than the man who stabbed two people to death last month on London Bridge.
I would also add that the word 'terrorist' isn't a measure of badness. It's a description of the mode of conflict a person or group is engaged in.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand has never been classified as an act of terrorism but it was exceedingly more harmful than the man who stabbed two people to death last month on London Bridge.
I disagree. I think that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was indeed an act of terrorism.
Whollygoats: So...I'm curious. Do others here think that the act which killed Qassam Soleimani was an act of terrorism? Why, or why not?
Tangent: I would say not because the direct target of violence was actually the main target....
Whollygoats: So...You're in favor of targeted drone attacks, as long as they actually kill the main targets (never mind how many others might also be killed)?
Me: Tangent didn't say he was in favor, whollygoats. He just said it doesn't come under the definition of "terrorism", which was your question.
My best friend from high school does that sort of thing all the time.
I'm assuming that that tangent views non-terrorist actions above and beyond those of terrorist actions...he views them more favorably. In that they are not 'terrorist' in his book.
So...I'm still curious as to who it is that bob is trying to excuse from the labeling.
And, yes....The foreign minister of Iran has referred to the US president as 'a terrorist in a suit'. I'm rather inclined to agree with that typification. But that's just because I think raining death and dismemberment down on innocents from armed drones is terrorism, particularly when it is in a third country and against a power with which we are not at war. I think it fits your specifications fairly well.
No, you're not thinking this through, whollygoats. Or at least I don't think you are. If you think terrorism is The Worst Possible Thing, then indeed to label some action as "not terrorism" is to say it must be something less bad. But both tangent and I (if I may speak for him) are saying other things aren't better, they're just other.
Look, suppose a man broke into my house and trashed my house. Later on someone refers to that act as, I don't know, fraud. Or gluttony, say. Or homicide. Or practicing medicine without a license. Take your pick. So someone calls that man an arsonist, and tangent and I respond "no, you don't understand; he didn't set my house on fire, he vandalized my home. He's not an arsonist, he's a vandal."
At this point do you say tangent is speaking favorably of him (because tangent denied that the act was arson), or ask me why I'm trying to excuse him? If you do, you're apparently missing the point: We're talking simply about the accuracy of the labels.
And you needn't be curious about whom I'm trying to excuse from the "terrorist" label, for I said whom: