Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On consistently labelling terrorism

Terrorism: the threat or use of violence intended to provoke fear and targeting civilians for political, religious or ideological reasons.

This has been the definition of terrorism I've been working with for a few years. It is very similar to official legislative definitions in a number of jurisdictions. Yet it seems to rarely be applied consistently. Typically, it is only used for non-state agents, and mainly used when the perpetrator is not from a dominant social group. But if my definition above is what we actually mean by terrorism then there is far more terrorism that happens around the world than is usually recognised.

When an ISIS-sympathiser carries out a mass casualty attack in a major Western city, that is terrorism (though not if they attack a military target, btw - that is just part of irregular warfare).

When a white nationalist assassinates an elected MP while shouting xenophobic slogans, that is terrorism (amazing how so much of the media has avoided using the term in reporting on the trial of Jo Cox's assassin).

When an authoritarian regime drops barrel bombs in civilian areas or conducts strikes against hospitals, that is terrorism.

When a "liberal democracy" uses double tap drone strikes targeting first responders, or designates all males of fighting age in an area as energy combatants until proven otherwise, that is terrorism.

When white supremacists torch black churches or paint threats on mosques, or graffiti swastikas on synagogues, that is terrorism.

When an apartheid state illegally occupies or blockades a territory and severely limits the residents' access to water, food and basic supplies, that is terrorism.

When law enforcement targets certain kinds of protesters for unnecessarily brutal treatment, or exhibit a pattern of using deadly force against certain kinds of unarmed suspects, that is terrorism.

When government-backed hit squads assassinate activists who are highlighting state injustices, that is terrorism.

When an angry man yanks off a woman's hijab, or promises violence against an LGBTI person, or tweets a rape threat to a female journalist, that is terrorism.

When colonial invaders dispossess indigenous peoples, forcibly remove their children and erase or suppress their culture, that is terrorism.

When a government harvests organs involuntarily from political prisoners of conscience, that is terrorism.

When a political candidate threatens violent reprisals against his opponents, that is terrorism.

If we are going to use the term at all, then let us at least be consistent.