Terrorist and terrorism are among terms thrown around these days without any clear identification. A terrorist, loosely defined, is someone, or part of some group, who conducts deadly attacks on innocent civilians in order toterrorize them! The 9/11 2001 tragedy is a prime example. Certainly that horrible episode and others right up to the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, qualify as “terrorism.” Following the 9/11 tragedy, President George W. Bush coined the term, “the war on terror.”
In recent days it has become commonplace to use the designation, “Islamic terrorism” as a summation of the series of more recent violent episodes. I wonder, however, if that appellation exhausts the meaning of the term. A while back a correspondent suggested that in the catalogue of terrorist attacks, every one was perpetrated by Muslims, and therefore Islamic terrorism is an apt designation. A candidate for the Presidency recently opined, “all Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”
But if a non-Muslim invades a facility shooting anyone inside or blowing up the building, is that not terrorism, whatever his ethnic or religious identification? Every few days in the United States there is such an attack, and as far as I know most of the attackers or “terrorists” were not Muslims. The chap who blew up the Oklahoma City building claimed to be a Bible-believing Christian.
In recent years we have witnessed a spate of terrorist attacks in America’s schools and colleges, the most notable being the Newtown ,Connecticut slaughter of a score of little children. The term “Islamic terrorist” could not be applied to most of these criminals. A month ago a middle-aged white American killed three people and wounded a half dozen others in a Colorado Planned Parenthood facility. On June 17, 2015 a non-Muslim killed nine members of a Bible study group in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Far more Americans have recently been gunned down in these terrorist attacks by non-Muslims than have been gunned down by Muslim fanatics. One of these homegrown attacks happens in the United States almost every week.
But think about how the designation ”terrorist” may have an even broader meaning. In the City of God, Saint Augustine tells the story of an encounter between Alexander the Great and a pirate captain caught on the high seas. Alexander says to the pirate, “How dare you molest the seas as a pirate?” But the pirate replies, “How dare you molest the whole world. I have a small boat so I am called a thief and a pirate. You have a great navy so you are called an emperor, and can call other men pirates.” Try substituting “The United States” for “Alexander the Great”, and “terrorist” for “pirate” and you may get a sense as to how much of the world, particularly the Islamic world, sees our invasion and destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, as terrorism.
Explain why Palestinians with stones and a few knives are called terrorists, but the Israeli army with tanks and bombers are called patriots. This does not excuse those who use stones and knives as weapons of terror, it just expands the definition. One person’s freedom fighter may be another person’s terrorist.
Unless we examine our complicity in the destruction currently dominating the Middle East, we may fail to answer or even as the basic question, “Why do they hate us?” There is no question that they do hate us, and hatred produces terrible results. I’ll be looking at that question next week. The “shock and awe” we wrought upon a nation that had not threatened us and did not even have weapons that might have produced a threat, planted the bitter fruit of violence which we must eat, seasoned with the deadly poison of national arrogance. That our only answer is to destroy ISIS, and with them the civilians in the areas it controls, only throws fuel on the fires of hatred.
There must be a better way, but no politician of either party dares even to suggest it. So hatred and vengeance will rule and we will find ourselves even deeper in the swamp of war. 2016 promises to be no better in this regard than any previous year. Nations, as well as individuals, reap what they sow, and this harvest is drenched with the blood of men and women on both sides, and the tears of those who mourn them.