The word ‘terrorism’ must be redefined

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ter·ror·ism – noun \ˈter-ər-ˌi-zəm\ the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.

Last week was one full of tragedies. Obsessively I followed the news. Though heartbroken over deaths and amputations, I was also curious as to what the motivation behind the tragic Boston bombings was. It was a morbid sort of curiosity of course, but one that consumes the whole world when attacks like this happen.

A week later, and we still don’t know why two refugee brothers from Chechnya, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, decided to blow some people up. We don’t know why they killed four people. We don’t know why they ruined a perfectly sunny, happy day for hundreds – if not thousands – of people. We don’t know what they were thinking, or if they had any political motivations. We don’t even know who they are, really. We only know their names, and that one of them is dead and the other is in a critical state in a hospital in Boston.

But there is some information that seems to be somehow explanatory to the media. The fact that they are Muslims seems to matter more than the fact that Chechnya is still a deeply perturbed country, from which they actually escaped. I’ve heard people dismiss their names as ‘unpronounceable’, as if their culture and origin can be minimalized and generalized. It doesn’t matter how these names are pronounced, all Chechnyans are the same – unpronounceable, government leeches and terrorists. They’re not like us, with pronounceable names, peaceful, superior, from a modern society, with values and self-control.

When CNN released the erroneous information that a suspect had been caught, they also divulged that he was ‘dark skinned’. The fake scoop came from a fluke of a source, who clearly thought informing the news channel about skin colour was important. So did CNN, unfortunately.

Let’s be honest; when a bomb goes off in America, the American people immediately think of Muslims. This is left over racism and paranoia from 9/11, a time where terrorism was very nearly a synonym of Islam. As a result, Muslims were discriminated against for the past 12 years – of course, some would think that it’s not necessary to clarify that a whole religion and its followers cannot be defined by the actions of a few.

However, this clarification is more necessary than ever now. Of all things the CNN source or even the network itself could have divulged about the supposed suspect that had been arrested, they told us the colour of their skin. Really stop and think about this – does the colour of some one’s skin really matter? Does it define the attack as terrorism? And why?

This kind of irrelevant information – why is this in the public interest at all? – encourages the 9/11 racism and discrimination. It is to assume that the people care about the colour of the suspect’s skin or – even worse – that the suspect’s skin colour somehow validates discrimination against Muslims and Arabs.

In the US, terrorism is an attack inflicted on the country by foreigners. Some definitions include political motivation as well. But the word ‘terrorism’ itself, without previous context, comes from terror, and doesn’t remind us of politics or foreigners. It is the act of causing terror, provoking desperation and fear. Without context, without racism, discrimination, and the 9/11 factor, terrorism has nothing to do with politics or Muslims.

And so, it is paramount to think about all the shootings that occurred in the US. Columbine, Fort Worth, Wakefield, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook – were these people not terrorized? Were these people not afraid, in despair? Were these people not massacred? What about those children, in Sandy Hook, who were just going to school and ended up dead? And their friends, they lost their innocence forever, way before it was time. And they might be terrorized for the rest of their lives because of it.

So what does it matter what the nationality, or the colour of the skin of these attackers is? Most mass shooters are actually American, and if you really think about it they are the biggest terrorists of all.

President Obama called the Boston bombings a ‘terrorist attack’ in his second speech about the tragedy. In a way, he did so because of public demand. After his first speech, the media kept whispering “he didn’t use the word ‘terrorism’ yet”. Twitter was already saying it. It was like a dare – say it, Mr President. It hasn’t been used since George W. Bush fooled us all into going to war, use the word.

He did. And the prejudice, the discrimination, it all came back. Through internet forums like Reddit and 4Chan, internet detectives pinned the bombings on suspects that had nothing to do with anything. The New York Post blamed Salah Eddin Barhoum, 17, from Morocco,  who is definitely not guilty and who is now afraid to leave his house.

When the real suspects were finally revealed, the fact that they are foreign and Muslims seemed to matter more than anything else. The media is so close to saying they planted those bombs because of their faith. They are so close. But the truth is that we don’t know anything yet, and all of these theories and insistent mentions of their religion are once again generalizing a whole group of people who are mostly good and have no hand in terrorism whatsoever.

When Adam Lanza shot those kids in Sandy Hook Elementary School, was he asked about his religion? Do any of my readers even know what his religion was? No. Because somehow, it didn’t matter.

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2 thoughts on “The word ‘terrorism’ must be redefined”

  1. You are so right! Not to mention Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not given his Miranda Rights because of his possible association with radical Muslim terrorist groups. BUT, for the white man who killed many more in Colorado, he has a defense attorney and he is just “insane” not a terrorist. Thank you for your thoughts, I am happy there are intelligent people like you that recognize the inequalities in the media.

  2. Do you honestly think that a criminal determined to gain access to a gun is going to bother with a background check? Only law abiding citizens care about obeying the law – hence only law abiding citizens would be affected by background checks when purchasing a gun. Making the argument made by Judd Legum a dishonest argument.

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