Monday, April 22, 2013

I Am Just As Guilty

Trey Smith

Two very disparate commentators, Ali Abunimah and Alan Dershowitz, both raised serious questions over the weekend about a claim that has been made over and over about the bombing of the Boston Marathon: namely, that this was an act of terrorism. Dershowitz was on BBC Radio on Saturday and, citing the lack of knowledge about motive, said (at the 3:15 mark): "It's not even clear under the federal terrorist statutes that it qualifies as an act of terrorism." Abunimah wrote a superb analysis of whether the bombing fits the US government's definition of "terrorism", noting that "absolutely no evidence has emerged that the Boston bombing suspects acted 'in furtherance of political or social objectives'" or that their alleged act was 'intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.'" Even a former CIA Deputy Director, Phillip Mudd, said on Fox News on Sunday that at this point the bombing seems more like a common crime than an act of terrorism.

Over the last two years, the US has witnessed at least three other episodes of mass, indiscriminate violence that killed more people than the Boston bombings did: the Tucson shooting by Jared Loughner in which 19 people (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) were shot, six of whom died; the Aurora movie theater shooting by James Holmes in which 70 people were shot, 12 of whom died; and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting by Adam Lanza in which 26 people (20 of whom were children) were shot and killed. The word "terrorism" was almost never used to describe that indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, and none of the perpetrators of those attacks was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A decade earlier, two high school seniors in Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, used guns and bombs to murder 12 students and a teacher, and almost nobody called that "terrorism" either.

In the Boston case, however, exactly the opposite dynamic prevails. Particularly since the identity of the suspects was revealed, the word "terrorism" is being used by virtually everyone to describe what happened. After initially (and commendably) refraining from using the word, President Obama has since said that "we will investigate any associations that these terrorists may have had" and then said that "on Monday an act of terror wounded dozens and killed three people at the Boston Marathon". But as Abunimah notes, there is zero evidence that either of the two suspects had any connection to or involvement with any designated terrorist organization.
One of the points that Greenwald has discussed in his writings over and over again is that the word, terrorism, has lost any type of definitive and objective meaning. Most often, we use it to mean any act of violence committed against US interests by others. When it is the US that engages in similar acts of violence, it is termed anything but terrorism.

If we look at the root word, terror, we find that it can mean violence committed or threatened by one or more individuals to intimidate or coerce a person, group or population. Via this definition, the crime of rape is a terrorist act. The perpetrator seeks to terrorize the victim by lording power over and dehumanizing her. Mass shootings also involve a very real component of terror. As the assailant -- often randomly -- strikes down innocent lives, those in his crosshairs are terrified by the realization that they easily could be next. Even the schoolyard bully makes use of terror to convince his victims to acquiesce meekly to his unreasonable demands.

While many people utilize terror as part of their typical modus operandi, in the US and for many of our allies, terrorism has become a code word for violence committed BY Muslims. If a Muslim and a non-Muslim commit similar heinous acts, the former almost always will be referred to as terrorism, while the latter will not. This mindset has so permeated our collective consciousness that even somebody like yours truly -- an individual who regularly castigates the US for its "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality -- falls prey to this fractured terminology, at times.

As Greenwald and others have pointed out, the ONLY indication to date that the Boston bombings were an act of "terrorism" centers on the fact that the two young men accused of this crime are Muslim. That's it. It does not matter that their alleged crimes pale in comparison to those [allegedly] committed by Holmes, Lanza, Loughner or Harris and Klebold. Those crimes were committed by white American boys which, by our popular definition, cannot be termed terrorism.

Mental illness, yes. Terrorism, oh no!

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