Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Posts & Preliminary Queries

I’ve begun work on a two separate posts that I hope to publish sooner rather than later (but who knows…). Both posts focus on how we define two common words. Unfortunately, those definitions are often murky and both over-and under-inclusive. I want to try to examine those definitions and “tease out” what should and shouldn’t be included. And I want to get your input.

One of these posts is an attempt to find a working definition of “terrorism”. There are quite a few definitions available, but none really seem to cover everything that we think of as terrorism and, perhaps, include some things that maybe shouldn’t fall within that definition. Relying on the pornography formulation (“I know it when I see it”) doesn’t seem to me to be an acceptable way to determine what is and is not terrorism.

So, I’m curious: How would you define terrorism. Leave me a comment with your definition. But be sure to think through the permutations of your definition and any omissions or overbroad inclusions. The suicide bomber on the airplane is easy. I’m more interested in the harder questions. For example: Does the murder of an abortion doctor count as terrorism? Does a cyberattack on a business or governmental entity count as terrorism? Do drone strikes that kill civilians count as terrorism? Think about those scenarios.

I’m also working on a new post (well, maybe a series of posts) about modern anti-Semitism. I see this as a growing (rapidly, I’m afraid) problem. However, all too often, the charge of anti-Semitism is deflected by arguments about what is and is not anti-Semitism rather than by an examination of the conduct giving rise to the charge. Thus, my interest in how anti-Semitism is defined. (For example, a common, though idiotic, defense to a charge of Arab anti-Semitism is that Arabs are Semites and therefore cannot be anti-Semitic.)

The European Forum on Antisemitism came up with its own “working definition” several years ago:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Unfortunately, very few people are aware of this working definition and I’m not sure that the working definition really gets to the core of the controversy over what is and isn’t anti-Semitism (though some of the additional commentary for the working definition helps).

Anyway, as part of my discussion of the rise in anti-Semitism, I want to look at the definition itself. So, once again, I’m asking you how you would define anti-Semitism. Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

One final point with regard to anti-Semitism that I want to make perfectly clear: Criticism of Israel is not automatically anti-Semitic. I criticize Israel all the time. However, when criticism is leveled against Israel but not against other countries engaged in similar (or worse) conduct, when Israel is held to a different standard than other countries, or when Israel is reduced from being a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse country to just “the Jews”, then one cannot but wonder if the criticism or treatment of Israel is something more than just a good faith policy difference and is, instead, anti-Semitic.

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At Wednesday, May 29, 2013 8:56:00 PM , Blogger erk said...

I've certainly not thought through all of the implications, but my brief definition of terrorism is "violence, or the threat of violence, employed to achieve political change." I wonder whether revolutions like ours, or others we'd regard as legitimate, fall under such a definition. As I said, this is just a rule of thumb.

Murder of an abortion doctor? That would count, as it's almost certainly a statement on the legality of abortion.

Cyberattack on a business? Maybe, if the attack is to change behavior based on the business's actions. If it's to put them out of business for financial reasons, it wouldn't fit "terrorism." On a government entity, unless it was for theft or some other reason, it would.

Drone strikes? Probably not, unless they're being used to cow the civilian population.


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