Friday, June 19, 2015

Political ambivalence as passive terrorism

Terrorism: the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.


Can the above definition be expanded to include acts that achieve political goals through frightening people but don't feature any sort of physical violence? For example, if someone calls in a phony bomb threat in the name of some political cause, and thus sets in motion an emergency response from the authorities and a moment of tension and fear in the public, would that qualify as terrorism?

If so, it would beg a clarified definition, such as "the use of violence, or the fear of violence, to achieve a political goal". (I personally think this should be the case.)

At the risk of disappearing into a hall of mirrors, could the misuse of the 'terrorism' designation be considered...well, 'terrorism'? Consider that whether or not the term is officially applied to an incident is often (if not always) politically-motivated. (It can be applied to mere crimes for political reasons, or for political reasons an act of legitimate terror can be dismissed as a mere crime.)

Green light: a termed used by gang memebers when some gang has a hit out on em. "Dude, six fools got blasted last week from that neighborhood...they got the green light."
by ROB $ December 11, 2004

Particularly in an overheated cultural environment, labeling an incident as an act of 'terror', legitimately or otherwise, can heighten the overall safety and security concerns of a given demographic if the 'terror' is linked to members of that community, thus constituting an official form of "green lighting". A recent report in The Guardian, for example, shows that hate crimes against Muslims in the U.K. have nearly quadrupled in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

Conversely, what are we to make of legitimate acts of terror that are inappropriately dismissed as mere crimes, or even non-political 'massacres'? Could the refusal to apply 'terrorism' here be politically-motivated, and perhaps cause fear (or at least uneasiness) among the demographic being targeted? Furthermore, could this political ambivalence itself be considered passive terrorism? (If there can be such a thing as 'passive aggression', then it stands to reason there can also be 'passive terrorism'.)

The current example is Dylann Roof, who has said he was trying to start a race war when he (allegedly) shot and killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This would seem to me like a clear-cut example of terrorism.

Unfortunately, the targets and goals of this attack have no bearing on Western economic or political interests, and so Roof is being charged with nine counts of murder, rather than with one count of terrorism. I'm sure that if the targets were white, the shooter was Muslim, and the incident was in the name of jihad, it would be considered a national emergency and would trigger a military response.

But this was not the case.

It brings to mind the Rwandan genocide of the early 1990's (which admittedly was on an entirely different scale), and the role that Western under-reaction played in the widespread massacre in that country. By deploying a small "peace-keeping" unit in a place where peace was nowhere to be found, were we abetting the murderers (by which I mean 'the terrorists'), and thus joining their ranks through association-by-inaction? 

We need to denounce all legitimate acts of terror, but on the flip side we also need to exercise more discretion in the use (or non-use) of this explosive term and not engage in passive terrorism.