Define “Terrorist”

After the recent attack in Oslo, Norway I entered into a debate with a colleague of mine about what exactly qualifies as being a terrorist.

My definition was a person who causes harm to civilians to attempt to further a political or religious cause. One that tries to rule through fear. From the eyes of a terrorist, they are themselves a revolutionary. Perhaps the real distinction between those two lies in their targets? Or it’s just a matter of perspective – Libya’s Gaddafi calls the rebels of his country terrorists.

“Lone individuals don’t count as terrorists because they don’t have a group behind them promising more attacks motivated by the same reasons.” my opponent countered. I see this position – having the promise of future attacks is sure to instill more fear – but I was not swayed away from my personal definition. Organizations like Al Queda, to me, constitute a group of terrorists – but one need not have a group of like-minded companions to commit acts of terror.

The media has given “terrorist” an Islamic connotation, though this undoubtedly is far from the truth. My fundamental issue with the “War on Terror” is that is it just like the “War on Drugs” – it cannot ever be won because it tries to fight against human nature.

People love to blame Islam for motivating violence, but the people who do this aren’t thinking about the living conditions in countries where those terrorists are often from – countries like Somalia, Afghanistan or Yemen, where the illiteracy rate is sky high and average people are lucky if they get more than a 3rd grade education. Where they daily deal with famine and warlords who will shoot or torture them for expressing the kind of free speech we take for granted in America. They live in filth and squalor, and the ones responsible for this wretched existence endlessly lie to the uneducated masses: This is all America’s fault, the evils of the West have corrupted us. Given that kind of environment I’m surprised those people don’t try to attack us more often!

But this is a distracting tangent. If we are to define a terrorist as one who rules through fear and causes harm to civilian to further an ideological agenda – then I submit some of our American politicians are terrorists by that definition. Perhaps this is a bit unfair, for in my broad definition I have compared mass murderers to budget cutters. This nuance doesn’t strike me as being so ridiculous though.

Everyone reviles Hitler for directly murdering 6 million Jews, but Stalin starved 20 million of his countrymen to death (through budget cuts, essentially) – who is the greater evil?

Unemployment is used by many as a tool of fear. Social programs are deliberately cut to make sure unemployment is as painful and degrading as possible. Such is the NeoLiberal agenda even our “conservatives” in Congress further – Deregulate, privatize, cut social spending. Increase profits for the elite at the expense of almost every citizen.

The politicians and corporate figures one disagrees with… call them terrorists, traitors, heroes – any name can be rationalized by the appropriate mind. Shakespeare was right to ask “What’s in a name?”

The world needs a new Socrates. One who doesn’t think he knows everything, who can get others to doubt they know everything simply by asking questions.

American consumers may cause harm to people the world over in our ignorance, purchasing products from corporations who viscously oppress the people of 3rd world nations in order to profit. Doesn’t that make us all unwitting terrorists? I don’t know.

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