Pen & Globe

Too Much “Terrorism”

Place: Bucharest |

Drink: shot of tuică |

Not aterrorism pic 8-7-16ll violence is terrorism.  I don’t want to downplay terrorism, for there is clearly too much of it in the world today and most of it is quite horrible.  Yet also troubling is a recent trend among world leaders, international media, and the general public to label most any act of violence “terrorism.”

Among news outlets, CNN is up there with the worst offenders (I don’t consider Fox to be “news”).  One case among many is telling.  Last week, when an American woman was killed and five other people injured in a London knife attack, CNN immediately ran this tagline: “London: Terrorism is One Possibility.”

Sure, and anger, revenge, psychosis, gang activity, etc., were also possibilities.  At that point, no one knew, and it later turned there was no evidence this incident was terror-related and was probably due to mental illness.  A better tagline might have been: “CNN: Lazy, Sensational Journalism is One Possibility.”

Terrorism has a definition.  Webster’s defines it as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.”  The FBI defines it as activities that “involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that … appear to be 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.”

The key point here is that terrorism has a specific aim that goes beyond the mere act of violence.  I write about terrorism in A Simple Game, noting how many experts believe the first act was conducted by the original Zealots.  A community of Jews living in the 1st century AD, they launched a ruthless assassination campaign against the Roman Empire and its occupation of what is present day Israel.  “These dramatic public displays were designed to cause great psychological trauma that carried well beyond the immediate assaults,” one of my main characters points out, “sending a strong message to a much larger audience, including the Roman legionnaires and those who supported them.”

Whether you believe there might be cases in which terrorism could positively change the world – a question that sits at the center of my novel – I leave to you.  But this knee-jerk reaction to call most any act of violence “terrorism” and then sort out the truth later is dangerous.  It’s self-serving and akin to crying wolf.  It also enables those in power to label anyone they don’t like or agree with as “terrorists” – before taking away their civil rights or indiscriminately killing them, as we are now watching happen to innocent people in Syria and many other places.

This development is both terrible and terrifying, but it is not terrorism.



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  • Kirk on 10/16/2016

    Thanks for the comment, Alan, and for your thoughtful reply. I especially like your imagery of comparing a terrorist to a “pit bull off its leash.” From what little I know of pit bulls, it requires intense training (i.e., brainwashing) from truly warped minds to get these inherently peaceful and loyal animals to turn into vicious killing machines. Sadly, once turned, similar to other young innocents forced into terrorism, it’s no easy road coming back.

  • Alan Estrada on 10/11/2016

    Apt observation and articulation, and fascinating semetic history. “This development is both terrible and terrifying, but it is not terrorism.” Good points. Still, terrorism is terrible and terrifying. There exist zero civil rights when spiritual subjects are turned into material objects. Terrorism by definition cannot change the world positively, for it is testosterone run amok—a pit bull off its leash. However the monument that was put up for the victims of the Twin Towers disaster of 9/11 is as poignant as it is (arguably) sublime. Out of destruction, creation. Out of death, life. A Simple Game is, well, simple. And a game has rules. The point seems how to break them and get away with it.

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