I Support “Terrorism” (The Word)

In the wake of a mass killing, there is always a conversation about the selective use of the word terrorism, which is undoubtedly a very worthy conversation to have. Unfortunately, on the left this conversation too often draws one of two incorrect conclusions:  Many people, noting the disparity between how public officials and media uncontroversially label large crimes committed by Islamists, terrorism, while categorizing things like Sandy Hook as something else, credit this disparity to racism alone. The remedy, they feel, is to label both types of mass killings terrorism, presumably on the assumption that in both cases non-combatants and the surrounding community were “terrorized.”

An alternative argument in the same realm that Glenn Greenwald and others advance, is that the instrumentalized use of the word terrorism, where U. S. state power largely defines it and applies it mostly to advance foreign policy objectives, renders the term essentially meaningless. The implied recommendation of this argument is to stop using the word and to regard the state’s use of it with skepticism and hostility.

I entirely agree with the first group that racism certainly features in the disparate use of the word.  I entirely agree with the second group that we should regard the state’s use  with the same skepticism with which any intelligent person regards everything the state does.

However, I am opposed to radically changing the generally understood meaning of the word, which I believe equating Sandy Hook and, say, The Boston Bombing does. I also oppose entirely discarding the word, or wishing for its abandonment, or repeatedly insisting on its utter meaninglessness, the way that Greenwald et al. do.

The meaning of terrorism is not uniquely ambiguous, which is one reason I would argue for its continued use, with its traditional meaning. By most accounts, terrorism is the use of violence against non-combatants to achieve a political end. As far as I know, there is no other word that encapsulates that meaning, which is reason enough for not playing fast and loose with it. That it’s application has legal consequences is another reason to not surrender its definition and use to the state.

As definitions go, I believe it invites very little confusion among people of good faith. It’s not terribly hard to determine whether a terrible crime against non-combatants was politically motivated or not, if you have no stake in muddying the water. There is no evidence that Sandy Hook was intended to have political reverberations. Muslim terrorism — to the extent it even truly exists domestically — has clearly stated political aims. Therefore Islamist crimes committed to further those aims are inarguably terrorist.

I think any objective person who accepts the conventional definition would agree that the following are all also terrorism:

  • The shooting of an abortion doctor by an anti-choice extremist
  • A car-bombing of an Iranian nuclear scientist
  • A killing spree by a member of a white supremacy group, that clearly targets racial and religious minorities
  • The beating or murder of a transgendered person because she or he is transgendered
  • The murder of Black church attendees by a demonstrably racist individual or group
  • The “shock and awe” strategy at the start of the war with Iraq
  • Economic sanctions that result in death from starvation, malnutrition or lack of medicine

These things are not terrorism

  • A killing spree by a lone shooter whose targets are genuinely random based on the evidence
  • A cross-burning
  • Blowing up a bank during non-business hours and injuring no one
  • Rescuing animals from farms and laboratories
  • Tree spiking

What distinguishes the first list from the second is that both conditions — political intent and violence — are only present in all the items on the first list.

The one problem with this definition is that the state defines property destruction as violence. That argues for insisting that property destruction and violence, are distinct, not abandonment of the word terrorism. Property destruction that intentionally, though indirectlyresults in physical damage to a person or death, such as blowing up a pharmaceutical factory to deliberately create medical problems for the target population would obviously be terrorism.

I have no idea whether or not the ACLU and the Nazis in Skokie Fan Club have ever attempted to argue that legally separating terrorism from more random crimes is a violation of the First Amendment. They certainly should, though, if they are going to continue to insist that a cross-burning, or the word “faggots” painted on the window of an LGBQT bar are simply vandalism.

I have perhaps over-simplified things a little bit. People might argue that scale has to also factor in, and that the murder of, say, a single transgendered person is a hate crime but not terrorism. I think they would be wrong, though, since the murder of one transgendered person is intended to terrify and marginalize all transgendered people.  That’s violence for a political objective, no less than the murder of an abortion doctor or the car-boming of an Iranian nuclear scientist.

One could also make arguments that determination of whether or not an act of violence is terrorism be contingent less on demonstrating intention than the effect it produces.  For instance, there is no question that Clinton’s bombing of the Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Plant, which was allegedly done to hit particular targets, produced the exact same effect for the population it would have had his goal been to produce that effect. This is still mostly adherent to the traditional meaning of terrorism but, for the state — the only kind of terrorism where intent is ambiguous or concealed  —  it negates the hairsplitting and mendacity attending the distinction between intentionally killing and knowingly doing so.

It’s unlikely that objective people will agree on everything if they embrace a traditional meaning of terrorism, but I think they will agree on most things. That’s better than giving up on the word entirely, because the state certainly won’t.

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61 Responses to I Support “Terrorism” (The Word)

  1. lastwheel says:

    Another example:

    A conscious and unconcious, personalised and systemitised vehicular terrorism inflicted by grunts on the ground and backed by state capital, which gets towards the original meaning of the word: violence and terror directed by a (French) state at its own citizens. That’s the most pernicious change regarding the word, a complete inversion beyond misapplication with other language like “resisting arrest”, “reasonable force”, “national security”, etc.

    Microlevel you have the “loan wolf” cyclophobe that will use his car to menance people cycling (https://twitter.com/lstwhl/status/611664543232585728 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia_sJTqgQ-s&feature=youtu.be). At the macro level is a genocidal system killing 1.4 million a year globally, some thirty thousand Americans. The ideology at play ranges from petty motoring supremacy to a system of imposed violence that cleanses all but drivers from the streets in a hundred year turf war started by very rich and very white oligarchs. This may sound extreme but roads really weren’t built for cars, but literally occurred as a militarisation of the commons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pershing_Map). People got access, or rather the right to drive to work, out of a necessity to tap public and private funding for road building to literally enable speedy military convoys (and later heavy goods vehicles). In much the same way, internet access ultimately serves anglo-american capital, widening scope and shortening information command-and-control chains rather than goods trafficking.

    Other ideologies (or rather strategies) that I feel were in play concern roughly anti-communistic sentiment. A basic dismantling of public transport systems which were collectively owned and where democracy happened—all men are equal, all races and classes could mix, etc—and criminalising pedestrianism through jaywalking and other laws has seen great application shutting down “unlawful assemblies”. The police in all nations readily use highway laws to attack protest and I don’t think this was lost on the law-makers at the time.

    (Short and worth the watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIA48yNpuxY)

    Oddly this also represents the a way for all people of colour to be equally innocent in the eyes of the law and that’s as a motorist killing a non-motorist.

    • jason says:

      The modern state as we understand it is the organized disciplining of the civic body for the accumulation of wealth whose principle purpose is the waging of war. In this cyclical process, people gonna be killed at the input & output levels. 115 yrs ago, we would be talking about factories, not cars.

      is this “terrorism”? i don’t know. there are terroristic elements to lots of state activities. in the onion’s “our dumb century” book, one of the “articles” from “1950” is “national highway system to help stamp out communism” b/c the troops can get to any hot spot in the country quickly.

      “fight communism…in a Ford!”

  2. evdebs says:

    Though I was immediately outraged when Clinton hit the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, I think calling that “terrorism” is a bit of a stretch. He got intel that the factory was being used to produce weapons of terror for bin Laden, however ill informed, and hit it with a missile when no one was present but a single night watchman. It was immediately after the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

    Compare that to Bush/Cheney who demanded misinformation, who had Powell doing the propagandizing that they all knew was untrue, so provide a necessary (though fictional) causus belli to bomb and invade Iraq. That was inescapably terrorism.

    Was Reagan’s terrorism in El Salvador not terrorism because he used Salvadorean military surrogate death squads in an attempt to achieve his dubious and homicidal agendas?

    • Tarzie says:

      I never said the attack on the Al-Shifa plant was terrorism. What is it with people commenting without really reading? Go back, reread, and don’t make me parse it for you. I used Al-Shifa to illustrate what defining terrorism by its effects rather than intent might produce. I think it’s a good idea. Clinton’s intent no doubt matters a whole lot to you, but it doesn’t mean shit to the people who did without medicine.

      Also, shove your partisan imperialism up your ass along with the history lesson. Clinton terrorized Iraq with sanctions that killed half a million children. It was worth it, said Secretary Albright. Bean counting over which party’s worse is truly depraved, even if one of them arguably is.

      I regret that terrorism is not things that Republicans did that you don’t like, so concocting a pretext for a war is bad, but it’s not terrorism. One could, however, make an argument that all modern warfare is. I think even if you don’t believe all war is terrorism, there was a lot of terrorism in that war. There is no question that “Shock and Awe” was explicitly terrorist, in the purest sense.

      Of course everything that Reagan did in Nicaragua was terrorism.

      • evdebs says:

        You never wrote this? WTF?: For instance, there is no question that Clinton’s bombing of the Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Plant, which was allegedly done to hit particular targets, produced the exact same effect for the population it would have had his goal been to produce that effect. This is still mostly adherent to the traditional meaning of terrorism

      • Tarzie says:

        I told you not make me parse this but in the hopes that you’ll go back to Daily Kos or Digby I will.

        “One could also make arguments that determination of whether or not an act of violence is terrorism be contingent less on demonstrating intention than the effect it produces.”

        This is a hypothetical. A subtle recommendation. That the test for terrorism be effect, not intention. I’m not saying that’s the way it is now which is why I said this inversion is *mostly* adherent, in the sense that it looks for terroristic effects. The effect of Clinton’s bombing was the same regardless of intention.

        Get some sleep.

      • evdebs says:

        You need to polish up your writing skills, wanker. We don’t know what you “mean.” We only know what you wrote.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, I’m terrible with words.

        You’re charming. A dumb fucking liberal splitting hairs over Republican vs Democratic mass murders, condescendingly giving history lessons and dressing me down for shit I did. not. say.

        Read carefully. Note qualifying language: “One could” “mostly”

        You’re just some moronic Clintonista jumping at the opportunity to lick the Big Dog’s nuts in public.

      • Tarzie says:

        Here’s you on your last visit here:

        “As usual, in your efforts to disparage liberals, progressives and free speech advocates, you get your facts wrong”

        Of course, you were full of shit that time too.

        Why do you come here, liberal?

      • evdebs says:

        I hope your dad didn’t give you a .45 for your 21st birthday.

      • Tarzie says:

        whatever the fuck that means.

        why the fuck. are. you. here?

        go play with other liberals. I’m a Likudist, remember?

    • dmantis says:

      I’m really glad your outraged, ev. I’m also sure that makes all those people who relied on that plant feel a whole lot better about it. I’m sure they were all saying to themselves as they were dying “I mean, we’re dying and shit cause Clinton destroyed our medicine, but come on guys…he had intel!”

      It’s easy to parse meaning when your not suffering from excruciating death throws from being without life-sustaining medicine, asshole.

      • evdebs says:

        Everything on this thread seems to have been about parsing meaning.

        Meanwhile, you write: “It’s easy to parse meaning when your (sic) not suffering from excruciating death throws (sic) being without life-sustaining medicine, asshole.”

        I always take semi-literate rants seriously.

        ev

    • Mallam says:

      Perhaps you’d like to embarrass yourself some more as Sam Harris did just last month over this very fact? It was all over the internet, considering Sam Harris’ dumb followers plastered it all over as if he’d “won” some stupid internet debate with Noam Chomsky to prove his superiority in philosophical wanking.

      No? Then I’m sure then rest of us would appreciate it if you’d leave. Kthx.

  3. davidly says:

    This brings to mind the divergence of the verbs “imply” and “infer”, whereupon hearing an attribution of the former, it behooves one to examine if instead someone else has either made a mistaken assumption, or worse, is trying to obscure language to their own benefit.

  4. davidly says:

    False flags, I would think, would always be terrorism, whereas that which is falsely characterized as such would not necessarily be.

    • Tarzie says:

      I agree that False Flags are terrorism, but I think most things that would be “falsely characterized as such” are too, unless I’m missing something obvious.

      • davidly says:

        Most things things, sure. That’s why I said they wouldn’t necessarily be. To take one example of something that, depending upon who you ask, was a false flag, the Gulf of Tonkin comes to mind. That’d be resistance, or, at worst, war.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, right. I agree. Wasn’t thinking.

      • davidly says:

        Nevertheless, my formulation was the result of laziness. What I wanted to say was that the incident a false flag depicts would not necessarily be terrorism.

  5. robertmstahl says:

    There is such a “thing” as Convergence Math, or Chaos, such that when something goes into a chaotic state there is a bifurcation principle that takes place, a dark basin of attraction (or destruction, a separatrix) whereby the “environment” is entirely altered. Look up Ralph Abraham to verify that systemic “controls” are applied to arrive at this point, obviously predatory, those that deny the blue attractor leaving just point and periodic to start over with. There is the feature in our day of the Old Guard deceived about the properties of nature but incorporate of them, capable of turning the detritus into their own usurped totality. Generally, when asymmetric behavior, which is complimentary behavior in the same sense the forefingers are, there is the intent to homogenize the “meaning” of symmetric counterparts, the thumb for example, bringing it into the lair that has gone nothing but too far along the “complimentary” path.

  6. robertmstahl says:

    So, in Chaos Mathematics, there are only three formal attractors. They are point, periodic, and blue. The direction is the thing, then. Moving in the “other” direction, however, unless the unleashing of the change or tendency toward the more encompassing “blue” is dramatic enough to change the direction reached (as part of those boundary conditions, or over time, let’s say), permanently, concerning the boundaries of the niche in question, of that “occupation,” it does not qualify as chaos, or terror. A pet peeve of mine: What was the “effect” of 12/26/04 for the tsunami in India? Obviously, it was a nuclear detonation…, and Aceh province was taken over to control the submarine lanes to Indonesia. Therein, lies a strategy, something non-random, but the journalist who reported on it during the time of the drama, Joe Vialls, was poisoned, another act of terror, or the same one?

  7. Sammee says:

    “Blowing up a bank during non-business hours and injuring no one”

    I’m assuming this is if its being done by bank robbers and not, say, an insurrectionist type group of Baader-Meinhof wannabes? 😛 Though, yes, your post in general was very good, but I can sorta understand why certain types would get fidgety over the double-standards with regards to the reporting of various similar crimes – when Anders Breivik or David Copeland shoot and bomb people, ach its just a marginalised group of nutters, but when the Kouachi brothers gun down several French cartoonists, well time to bring out the usual media circus about the sanctity of free speech, though personally I found certain segments of “the left”‘s hand-wringing apologetic responses to be just as, if not more, backwards and braindead – at least the media has an actual cynical excuse for its fawning claptrap…

    • Tarzie says:

      !’m assuming this is if its being done by bank robbers and not, say, an insurrectionist type group of Baader-Meinhof wannabes?

      You assume wrong. My point is that property destruction doesn’t meet the violence condition.

      • evdebs says:

        Okay. So about 40 years ago the NWLF blew up power stations.

        As a result, no doubt, dialysis patients were without needed treatment.

        No one was directly hurt as a result of the explosions.

        Was that “terrorism?”

  8. mickstep says:

    I thought the attempt by the British Government and media to depict the killing of Lee Rigby as terrorism as a particularly egregious misuse of the word.

    Along with their attempts to portray IRA attacks on British soldiers as terrorism, especially since government complicity in loyalist attacks on British civilians has been proven and even acknowledged by our current government.

  9. thombrogan says:

    A small quibble: tree-spiking in portions of a tree likely to be sawed down will increase the risk of harm to loggers, so please keep it in the list of terrorism.

  10. diane says:

    I support using the word, “terrorist[s].”

    Most especially for those acts (e.g. a thousand paper cuts – which, I suspect – always precede the out and out slaughter, such as Nisour Square, and Detroit) which induce terror in those not attempting to do anything other than stay alive and care for their loved ones, while also not wanting to do harm to others trying to do the same.

  11. This is a very good intervention. I’ve been weirded out, increasingly, by tendencies on Twitter to either junk the term or apply it to anything/everything. Greenwald’s tweet last night claiming that it’s now meaningless was especially concerning.

    I agree with your definition and with your two lists, except I do wonder about cross-burning. That’s conveying a particular political message via violence. The violence is more symbolic than other examples, but, unlike flag-burning, often acted as prologue to future physical violence. (Whereas the flag being burned is symbolic violence that does not promise escalation.) I don’t know, I’m still working this out.

    But thank you for this piece, much more than i can say.

    • Mallam says:

      Was thinking the same thing wrt cross burning. I had that exact discussion today at work, actually. I think I’d lean towards cross-burning being a terrorist act, though it would depend on the context (where it was done; why it was done; who did it, etc).

    • Tarzie says:

      I put cross-burning in there as a deliberate provocation. But I think terrorism should be reserved for violence against people, not just intimidation. I’m content with distinguishing hate crimes from terrorism based on the severity of their effects. I think equating a cross burning with a lynching definitionally is minimizing. It’s not even property destruction. How do you distinguish a cross-burning from a rock through a window of a Black family’s house? Or faggot scrawled on the door of a gay bar. But you’re the state people, so you like really expansive definitions. I don’t.

      This is not to say that that cross-burning shouldn’t be taken seriously, but I don’t think it rises to the level of terrorism if no one’s hurt. Just definitionally. I don’t really think it’s in the left’s interests to have a too expansive definition. Right now the conflation of violence with property destruction has made rescuing animals from a laboratory terrorism.

      At the moment, I believe thanks to the hard work of the ACLU, cross-burning laws are illegal. So it’s not even a uniquely bad crime from the state of the law. At least I think that’s the way it is right now. Not sure.

      • Mallam says:

        Virginia v. Black, though it has nuances of degree. For example, “cross burning done with an intent to intimidate can be limited because such expression has a long and pernicious history as a signal of impending violence.”

        How that works in practice, I do not know.

      • Tarzie says:

        That’s simply recognition that cross burning can qualify, like other things, as an unlawful act of intimidation. The cross-burning statutes themselves are unconstitutional. In practice, I imagine it works the way everything else does. Some juries buy it. Some juries don’t.

      • diane says:

        but I don’t think it [cross burnings] rises to the level of terrorism if no one’s hurt.

        that depends on one’s definition of “hurt”. From all I’ve witnessed and read, those who have had crosses burnt in front of the homes they resided in were not only hurt, they were forever left in daily fear for the safety of all they cared for.

      • Tarzie says:

        I define hurt as physically damaged. The conventional and I think quite appropriate definition of terrorism restricts it to violent acts. I also think it’s appropriate to limit the definition of violence to causing *physical* injury to a person.

        What is the point of these expansive definitions? It’s not like if you don’t call something terrorism, it’s no longer bad. It simply means we’re going to have words that mean specific things, and terrorism is one we’ll use for violent forms of politicized intimidation.

        I guess the meaning isn’t all that clear cut, because people are incapable of taking their own emotional reactions and politics out of it.

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t believe everyone *is* severely traumatized by a cross burning — I think you’re completely winging that — but that’s beside the point. Terrorism isn’t simply inducing trauma in a small number of people.

        This is why we can’t have nice things. This kind of entirely subjective meaning finagling. It depresses me, honestly. When I wrote this piece I was pretty convinced that most people could come to agreement on what terrorism is, but i see I was wrong. I see now it’s bad things done by bad people to people who are not bad and super fragile.

      • Tarzie says:

        Can’t believe you’ve taken such an interest in this post. I thought you’d love the latest.

      • diane says:

        Actually, I hadn’t hadn’t even noticed your new post (I’m on shoestring budget dialup with no auto refresh), just scanned it though, and glad you included that smug 6′ 4″ asshole texan, off to read in more detail.

  12. When every crime comes to be regarded as a crime against the State, then every crime can (and will) be considered terrorism.

    I don’t really think *any* of the more traditional categories like ‘hate crime’, etc., are still regarded as crimes in the corridors of power because of the damage done to this or that group or individual. I think all crimes are becoming equatable with terrorism because the only crimes the State cares about any longer are crimes against the State.

    If the U.S. federal government takes an interest in cross-burning today, I rather think it is only because on some level the transgressive aspects of this speech suggest the distant possibility that the State itself might be threatened. Cross-burning rather implies a certain passionate political stance. Passionate political stances of any kind are now met with great scrutiny by the State and – I suspect – are regarded as a priori dangerous.

    One has to wonder, for example, at the interest of the U.S. federal government in the Waco compound in the nineties – an interest that culminated in the slaughter of hundreds including children. On the one hand, they were armed. (One might ask though, in a certain sense, in the U.S.: who isn’t?) On the other hand, they seemed fully and unmistakably isolationist. They wanted ‘their thing’ and nothing else.

    So there is a certain animalism/emotionalism in the State’s defense of itself. But it would be wrong to overlook another dimension to it. When you look at the interest by the FBI and CIA in dissident groups, and especially consider the CIA’s decades-long development of a sort of political science of revolution (how to identify and manipulate a country’s internal forces and tendencies, for example, through insurrection or overthrow), you come away with the suspicion that in addition to the animalistic self-defense, there are highly developed disciplines of social analysis and political science in the unseen world of the government the further compels and shapes their interest.

    Terrorism ends up being a cipher, a stand-in for *anything* that threatens the State. It’s as if the so-called end of history smugly announced in the nineties – by which was meant the end of geopolitical rivalries in the triumph of international capitalism – has left the State with these sort of bald tendencies: self-protection, separation from the People, etc. In other words, what it was always doing is now laid bare.

  13. Nell says:

    I’ve read lots of intelligent things on this blog, but this is among the most intelligent and useful. Thanks.

  14. gbelljnr says:

    Haven’t yet had time to read the comments, but thought I’d chime in, cos in a rush. Forgive if redundant.

    One interesting angle on the definition of terrorism is the semantic division of labor. Terrorism as a term is most frequently deployed by states for political ends. The term figures in their legislative programs and policies, is heavily involved in military doctrine, etc. This means that states are well placed to lay claim to the term, and set down orthodoxies for its usage and deployment. Whereas other words might receive their meaning from the ways in which various communities naturally deploy the term in standard discourse, the meaning, definition or extension of “terrorism” is heavily determined by state entities as opposed to others.

    I remember thinking Chomsky was onto a good line when he said things like “if we want to reduce terrorism in the world, we should stop participating in it,” by which he meant – in hindsight – the liberal “we” of identification with and apology for state enterprises of terrific violence and carnage. Chomsky was defining for e.g., the invasion and destruction of Iraq as terrorism.

    As a rhetorical device, that is very powerful, and helped me recognize the crimes of imperial state violence as what they are. But it is also a somewhat deviant use of the term. Since states have such a stake in the term, there is considerable effort to exclude state violence from the definition of terrorism. State violence, by the wave of some magic Westphalian wand, is “legitimate.” The exercise even of terrific and unnecessary violence by states towards political is considered in some sense “legitimated” by the fiction of sovereignty thought to be enjoyed by states. “Terrorism” is the word used by states to denote political violence that does not enjoy Westphalian “legitimacy.”

    Part of me still prefers the rhetorical power of the deviant usage, placing the approved instances of the calculated use of awesome violence by states in the same category as the uses of violence states catastrophize about endlessly as apocalyptic threats to the moral order and civilization itself. Part of me though is happy to let them have their little fucking word, but to strike at the entire theory that all that is required to turn an act of “terrorism” into an “intervention” is some fatuous 17th century legal distinction, when for all other intents and purposes the things states get up to are immeasurably more monstrous and apolocalyptic than the atrocities accomplished by sub-state political actors on relative microbudgets, underground, and with meagre operational capacity. There is just no comparison.

    As a final thought, it is no wonder so much work has gone into making sure the word “terrorism” so precisely denotes violent non-state actors alone. You couldn’t have the term greedily denoting the violent enterprises of state actors. Where would that leave the “criminal law”, in whose every legal textbook the first page reads, in unadorned English, “the state reserves a monopoly on the use of coercive violence within its own territory”? How could you salvage the theory of “general deterrence” if state-run campaigns of terror and threats and uses of physical violence against subject populations could be legitimately regarded as “terrorism”? It would all be cutting a little bit too close to the bone.

    • Tarzie says:

      That’s all very interesting George. I suppose if we do preserve the term resolving to insist that it appeals to state terror as well, there is potential to minimize state crime. I noticed this when I said that “Shock and Awe” was certainly terrorism, because their announced intention at the time was to terrorize. But the whole war was violence for a political end and many noncombatants are effected. Also when soldiers are defending a country from a war of aggression, the line between combatant and non is almost, if not entirely, meaningless, especially when you factor in the asymmetry

      I still think taking control of the word is good if one is very thorough-going in its application. I don’t see a practical argument for surrendering it to the state.

      • gbelljnr says:

        Yeah, I think I agree with you. It’s better not to concede it. I think it is significant though that the word that carries perhaps the most emotional currency is one in which states retain such interest. Perhaps this is not surprising.

      • jason says:

        yes, davidly. Almighty ISIS: the embodiment of all that is evil & turbaned…which Uncle Sam & co (Turkey, GCC states, Israel) are funding, training and arming. omg! ISIS chopped someone’s head off! meh. who’d you rather be executed by: ISIS or the state of Oklahoma? all this fake hand-wringing over refugees. waiting for someone at NPR or the NYT to point out the obvious: the latest bumper crop of displaced are all a bloom in zones of conflict created by the western powers. oh no. refugees demand more interventions, not less.

    • jason says:

      perhaps “targeting non-combatants” or “obliterating distinctions b/n non- & combatants” should be part of the definition of terrorism?

      part of the purpose & a selling point of “the war on terror” is “you are either with us or against us” and that it’s a global war. as the actions of states like the US abundantly prove, they don’t actually believe that non-combatants exist and the ideology of a “war on terror” provides a rationale for eliminating even the notion of non-combatant. non-combatants become “human shields” and detainees (POW’s) in our torture gulags who try to kill themselves to escape are engaged in “asymmetrical warfare,” as are children who throw rocks at tanks. Sanctions regimes (which, i think in item 41, even the Magna Carta recognizes as an act of war; cf. Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Palestine, etc.), drone warfare, bombing campaigns, etc., do not recognize the status of non-combatants.

      Mass surveillance recognizes no distinctions between guilty & innocent and, of course, spying itself is an act of war as the populace itself is viewed as “the enemy”. (Uncle Sam views us as the Enemy. it’s about time we returned the favor.) And, as the police become more militarized, besides having these hitherto unheard of categories like “suicide by cop,” obviously the notion of a non-combatant is further eroded: civilian policing=military action. So much so that certain media bobble heads referred to the protesters in Ferguson, Baltimore, et al as terrorists. As I believe occurred during Occupy Wall St on occasion. If protesters=terrorists, police=military and need the appropriate gear.

      And truth-telling journalists become legitimate targets, too. and saying things like, “all options are on the table,” threatening widespread, indiscriminate destruction. and so on. if the theater of conflict is the globe & there are no non-combatants, then people who work for things like HUD & the Dept of Ed as well as things like the former WTC and the cubicle drones at Google & Verizon become legitimate military targets for resistance movements. Note Israel: everyone goes thru the military so are there non-combatants? yes, of course there are but the totalizing nature of the militarized state is intended to obscure that fact: when every citizen is a soldier, who is a non-combatant?

      Being mentally retarded is no guarantee against being executed by the state. how many tens of thousands of people are being tortured this minute in the US through being in prolonged solitary confinement? etc., etc. one could go on a long while in this vein.

      Maybe Mr. Vinyl Siding or whatever his name is would not have become a “terrorist” if he had become……..wait for it…..a cop.

      i’m not sure what the point of all this is except both how fucked up the totalizing language of the state is and that perhaps the onus should be on the party who violates non-combatant status to prove that they are NOT engaged in terrorism.

      another fine post tarzie and good comments as always, incl. esp gbelljnr here.

      • davidly says:

        Excellent points. Playing devil’s advocate as a way back to them: The wagers of the war on terror have drawn the distinction that the terrorist murders non-combatants as goal number one, whereas the wager of the war on the terrorist suffers the burden of knowing their own goal number one will result accidentally in the demise of non-combatants.

        I maintain that if you know what you are doing results in the death of non-combatants and you continue to do it anyway, you are engaging in terrorism. Naturally this leads to accusations of blurring the crucial distinction.

        But we know it is much worse than that; using as they do the corpses of collateral damage preemptively and nomologically as their own human shield, even the expression of regret has diminished as the corpses pile higher. It’s as if it doesn’t really matter anymore, which, of course, it doesn’t.

        Moreover, the state’s war on terror not only terrorizes populations all on the table, but also create, recruit, and manage those they wage war against and use the full power of the language in the media to terrorize their own citizenry into maintaining the status quo. That makes them terrorist number one, if I may be so bold as to establish such a category myself.

  15. wendyedavis says:

    By and large, I agree with your definitions of ‘terrorism’, and that there are no other terms available to take its place; barbarism’ was the closest synonym in an online Thesaurus). I’d *like* to agree that the murder of a trans person ‘because she or he is transgendered’ is terrorism. Of course the murder of abortion doctors and clinic aids is pure terrorism since in many states, (and it’s worked beyond the terrorists’ imaginations by now) there are zero docs to perform the procedure, even if terminations haven’t been ‘outlawed’, and become arrest able crimes.

    But what can the murder of a transgendered person accomplish politically, or even *socially*? It’s not as though one can stop the factual *beingness* of being trans; as far as I know, it’s just a biological trait in the end.

    If “Economic sanctions that result in death from starvation, malnutrition or lack of medicine” are terrorism, then by my lights, so is the corporate control, alteration, and ownership of the entire world food supply, as per Monsanto, Cargill, ConAgra,
    Sygenta, et.al., fits the same metrics of ‘terrorism’. The repercussions are just beginning to be known, at least in this country.

    I was going to try to parse the difference between state terrorism and domestic terrorism, having Venezuela and the global south frequently on my mind lately, but this is growing longish. And not knowing in what context GG, et.al. are advising jettisoning the term, we can continue to use air quotes for the War on ‘Terror’™, for instance.

    But good job, Tarzie; thanks.

    • Tarzie says:

      But what can the murder of a transgendered person accomplish politically, or even *socially*?

      Instill fear. Chase them into the shadows. Even if you want to keep the definition of political restricted to state activity, intimidation of minorities makes it harder for them to represent themselves pursuant to inclusion in anti-discrimination laws. All hate crimes are reactionary political acts, aren’t they?

      • wendyedavis says:

        Yes, I see that, and remember the complaints by trans folks that ‘They always leave out the T” in changing public policy grudging inch by inch.

        I’d meant to leave one og GG’s tweets about the term, but you’ve seen them all, of course. Someone did challenge him to name a war that *wasn’t terrorism*. Bah to his response.

        Also, Kevin Gosztola writes at Firedoglake, or at least what’s left of it, not at Emptywheel, as far as I could tell when I looked. But yes, a pretty low bar for congrats to Snowden.

      • Tarzie says:

        Thanks for the KG correction. Fixed.

  16. wendyedavis says:

    Oh, I was on the Twit Machine; now I see the need for your post even more clearly, and the ‘et.al’ are saying.

  17. NotAnAsshole says:

    Under your reasoning what would exclude anonymous (which in many ways is already being treated as such) or the weather underground from being “terrorists”? If a guard is killed during an animal liberation operation, are they terrorists? I think the term is so political that its usage hurts more than it helps but I agree that its the only word that encapsulates the “meaning” —but maybe we’ve just been successfully propagandized to accept it this way?

    • Tarzie says:

      I don’t think any of your examples prove your point about the intractable ambiguity of the concept. Two conditions have to be met: political aim and violence against non-combatants.

      Anonymous isn’t violent.

      I believe the weather underground were only interested in property damage. I think there was a fuck up during a robbery in which a guard got killed. Two members blew themselves up making a bomb. That is unambiguously not terrorism.

      A guard killed in the midst of an animal liberation operation does not make the animal liberationists terrorists unless he was deliberately targeted in the way an abortion doctor is.

      • NotAnAsshole says:

        I know that WU didn’t target the guard but in today’s climate they would’ve been officially labeled a terrorist organization just for the bombings alone (the target of course being WU political beliefs).

        Anonymous isn’t violent and that’s what I’m trying to get at: the state defines with constitutes “violence”. It’s a matter of time before anonymous is officially considered a terrorist organization and this has been clear from the start. It it’s not in our best interest to pretend that the term has a fixed meaning because the stablishment benefits from its malleability way more than we do.

  18. evdebs says:

    Three former members of the WU killed two police officers and a security guard during a Brinks armored car robbery, years after the WU had essentially disbanded. Three members accidentally blew themselves up in a Greenwich Village brownstone while making bombs. It was not an organization that advocated intentionally producing injuries or deaths.

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