The word “terrorism” is thrown around in so many different contexts that it has become one of the most misused and misunderstood terms of all times. We tend to throw it around as a pejorative label on any violent event and those who commit those unpopular acts are classified as terrorists instead of looking at the actual meaning of the word. The real dictionary definition of terrorism is a systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve some advantage, usually to achieve a political goal. It is not ever a term synonymous with violence, so they should not be used interchangeably. It is also does not mean murder. The purpose of terrorism is not to kill people, but to terrorize them. It is important to know the difference between terrorism and other forms of violence. The popular outcry “Don’t let the terrorists win!” is meaningless because they already have. It is not about killing everybody, but to make everybody very afraid.
The events of September 11, 2001 were legitimately called terrorism, meaning that the perpetrators were actual terrorists with a goal to change our way of life through fear and intimidation. In an all out war on terrorism, we finished the job for them by terrorizing people that fly on airplanes or travel in major metropolitan areas. The events in Boston on April 15, 2013 shut down a major US metropolitan area before the terrorists were apprehended. In a somewhat ironic act of “protection” government officials restricted the liberty of hundreds of thousands of people because of two terrorists. The end of this story won’t be felt until the reactions to future events like the Boston Marathon are impacted, but it all began with a very strange and perhaps stupid question, “Is this an act of terrorism?” Apparently, even the President of the United States was overly cautious about using the word.
If you want a mind boggling array of ideas about terrorism, try to follow the Wikipedia ramblings on the subject. A collection of ideas such as this is not “the” answer to anything but a source that can stimulate thinking by following the thoughts and ideas to their origins. After chasing concepts such as animal terrorism, eco-terrorism, and religious terrorism to their roots, it may finally sink in that this is not one topic but many confusing and conflicting thoughts. This is especially true when the term gets twisted through political rhetoric in an attempt to prove an otherwise shallow concept. The domestic terrorist that killed innocent teachers and children in Newtown, CT fanned the flame of banning assault weapons even though no weapons of this type were used to kill anyone in that attack. Punctuating any discussion with the word terrorism is about as effective as profanity in really proving anything.
Here is a suggestion about how we can redefine the term to mean something useful and get back to the basic definition.
- The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, not kill. Intimidation and threats of violence are as useful as taking a life to serve the purposes of the terrorist.
- Terrorism unconditionally changes our lives and the subsequent reactionary responses are irreversible. We will never again be able to board an airliner without being screened.
- The definition of living a normal life post-terrorism means accepting that we live in a dangerous world. We are passing on to our children a civilization that must be desensitized to violence in order to be able to call it civilization.
- Sensationalism in media representation and governmental overreaction doesn’t help. A small seed of terrorism grows a thousand times when money or power is constantly fertilizing it and making the fear almost overwhelming.
I have suggested that parents guard the information that their children hear about current events, but in light of the root definition of terrorism I wonder if any of us should really chase after news events. FDR advised Americans that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That is just as true today as it was when he spoke those words 80 years ago. One of the most serious questions we must ask ourselves is how much we give in to fear. Terrorism only wins when we allow it to destroy our souls.
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