Friday, May 31, 2013

New Posts & Preliminary Queries: An Interesting Follow-Up Discussion

Earlier this week I posted about my desire to examine the definition of the word “terrorism” (New Posts and Preliminary Queries) and I invited readers to chime in and offer their thoughts. In response to that post, a friend offered some thoughts on my Facebook page, another friend joined in, and an interesting discussion developed.

Because those comments were left on my Facebook page and not on this public blog, I’m not going to use the names of the friends who posted comments. I’ll simply refer to them as “Felix” and “Oscar”. I’ve also cleaned up typos and made some fixes for readability.

Felix:

My definition of terrorism = the use of violence by a state-independent agent (but which may act on behalf of a state) directed at a group of civilians, with the intent of forcing a political agenda or “pain” on the larger society.

Me:

So by that definition, a suicide bomber that attacks a military base has not committed terrorism.

Felix:

Perhaps not. More likely, a freedom fighter, revolutionary, or enemy combatant. The crime might be treason or an act of rebellion.

Me:

Is a mass murder, think Columbine or Aurora, a terrorist act? What about Maj. Nidal Hassan’s attack at Fort Hood?

Oscar:

How would define a KKK cross burning in someone’s yard? Is not the KKK a group of domestic terrorists? The FBI lists them as such…

Felix:

The acts of the Klan fits my definition.

Cross burning is an act of psychological violence

Me:

The problem there is that many crimes, in particular “hate crimes” would also qualify.

Felix:

I think there are fuzzy-linguistic laymanish definitions and strict legal definitions.

Mass murder with an ideological motivation directed at civilians would be terrorism, but not all mass murders are terrorism.

Oscar:

In my book, terrorism is a near meaningless term as it’s the umbrella under which too many things may be categorized.

Last year there was that crazy Amish guy who ordered his kin and a few others to go after other Amish and forcibly cut their beards off. He said it was a personal matter. The government called it a hate crime. Why isn’t he a terrorist?

Me:

But that’s what I’m trying to work out: A definition that excludes acts that ought to be excluded but includes those that should, even if not currently included in the default definitions.

Felix:

One may also want to ask … who is using the term and why are they using the term. What’s the purpose of the label?

Me:

Good questions. It goes back both to the “one man's terrorist…” and to the reason for certain governmental action (or inaction).

Felix:

Islam is the new Communism. Some segments of society have an interest in feeding fear. Conservatives went all ape-shit because the believed Obama didn’t label the Benghazi attacks as terrorism (when in fact he did.)

Fuzzy logic (classifying or categorizing the degree to which something belongs to a set) is helpful for building a definition for studying phenomenon but difficult when dealing with our legal system.

Similar to fuzzy logic is a index or scale. Instead of arriving at a binary yes/no decision, the incident is given a score … 90% on index (pretty much safe in saying its terrorism), 50% (marginal), 20% (not likely but some might say it is). The point is one can arbitrarily say 70% is a cut off between calling an incident an act of terror or not, but since this is a continuum, an incident that is rated 71% is pretty similar to an incident that is rated 69%. To construct an index, a set of criteria would be chosen and each characteristic would be given a value. The values are then fed into some formula, and out pops out a rating. The art of classification depends on the person or people who constructed the index to begin with. Once some rating exists … one can decide what to do with the information. It might be useful to have an index, if taking action on the numbers correlates well to some desired outcome.

Me:

Interesting concept. I’ve thought of the issue in terms of a continuum, bit not a scored ranking. Hmm.

Felix:

When you construct one, you can name it the Wallack Index.


In addition, knowing that most readers probably don’t bother reading the comments to my posts, I thought I’d post the one comment that New Posts & Preliminary Queries did receive here on the blog from erk:

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.

Anyway, I thought that this was a thought-provoking discussion (and comment) and is just the sort of discussion that I was hoping to have on the issue. Please join in the discussion!

(Of course, it’s also the sort of discussion that I’ve hoped to have in the comments section on many of my posts… Sigh.)

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