Whenever a white man is accused of, or commits, a crime, particularly a horrific and targeted one, our leftie-liberal response is always the same: why won’t the media call it “terrorism”?
“But that’s what it is!” we cry.
After all, “white guy does it” = “sad loner with mental health issues”, “brown guy does it” = “links to terrorism”. Whether the “terror” label applies or not has nothing to do with the nature of the crime. This is a pattern seen so frequently it hardly needs discussed or proven here. Even obvious cases of supposedly normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill murder, people might expect to investigate so-called “links with terror” if the perpetrator matches up to the wrong part of a Dulux colour chart. But if they don’t, we look the other way – probably blaming “mental illness” as if that sweeping generalisation was any more helpful than “terrorism” as an explanation of motive.
Our usual response is “why won’t the media call it what it is: terrorism”.
But I think there’s a better way of looking at it, namely, to ask “why does the media call it terrorism when it does?”
On one level, it gets us the exact same answer. It tells us an event is called terrorism because of ethnic identity, or the tangential involvement of religion. Well, religion applies at least in today’s narrative. Back in the ’90s Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kaczysnky were the prototypical terrorist narratives: Paranoid lone bombers, high-intelligence/low-empathy psychopaths, anarchists or vaguely-right-wing separatists. Before that, in the ’80s, that narrative followed paramilitary organisations such as the IRA, organised groups with a specific goal that would birth the idea of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – since the rise of Daesh, our narrative is swinging slightly back toward this but the motivational focus now lies with religious, rather than national, identity.
On another level, asking it that way around reveals something about the word “terrorism”. It’s applied loosely, and only when the context of a crime fits the narrative, rather than the crime itself. It doesn’t really add new description. If I were to shoot someone in the face, calling it “terrorism” or not doesn’t change the fact I shot someone, nor does it change why. “Terrorism”, as a label takes what we would otherwise call “crime” (murder, bombing, threats, all of which are nicely illegal already without needing further legislation) and portion off a sub-group for special treatment for no real reason. Except perhaps political ones.
Make no mistake, I’d rather we never used the term “terrorist” at all.
We can pretend that when we label crimes as “terrorism”, it’s for good reasons. We can pretend those reasons make sense and aren’t, at the end of the day, arbitrary.
“Ah, but it means they use fear as a tactic!” pipes up one commenter. So? Are you saying a little old lady stuck in her house because there are kids loitering outside isn’t experiencing a strong element of fear? That victim of a burglary, or their neighbours who have realised they no longer live in a “safe” neighbourhood, aren’t experiencing fear? What about the mass campaigns by the media to make us fear paedophiles, are paedophiles now terrorists “by definition”?
“No, you don’t understand, terrorists are organised!” So Anonymous are organised? No, but terrorist “organisations” usually work as just separate groups operate, almost as emergent phenomena, from following an ideal rather than an obvious command structure. And would organised crime count? Organised crime and gangs have structures similar to terror cells, planned crime, pre-meditated in advance in secret, has all the trappings of a terror plot.
“But terrorists are influenced by radical religion!” shouts a neckbeard, desperately clutching to his copy of The God Delusion. Well, only since 9/11. Kaczynski and McVeigh had no links with religious fundamentalism, and the Troubles in Ireland are only religiously motivated if you sweep 95% of history under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist Meanwhile (to bring it briefly back to the original, usual complaint) countless crimes are motivated by religion and aren’t labelled “terrorism”. Bombing abortion clinics? Shooting up churches? We need to remember that what terrorism “is”, is whatever the current narrative says it must be. Even when the narrative claims “religion”, it’s very selective with which religion counts.
But what use does the term have? Why have that narrative?
In short, “terrorism” is a word we use not to describe a crime, but to determine how we should react to it. And the reactions can be very different to mere “crime”.
The perpetrators need interrogated, often tortured, and that’s okay because they’re terrorists not criminals. Or we need special departments set up to tackle it that require more money and more funds and take much needed cash from other projects, and that’s okay because they’re not crime networks they’re terror networks. Or we treat the perpetrators differently and don’t give them fair trails as people, but that’s fine, we can throw out the basic tenets of our civilised democracy because it’s terrorism, which is different just because okay. Or we need to repeatedly punish and spy on the law-abiding, civilian population to protect them, because we’re stopping terrorism so the population feels safe. That last one holds so much more in America, where you’re forced to take your shoes off to board a plane but can buy all the guns you want without so much as a cursory “are you on the no-fly list?” background check. Such absurdities occur when you stop trying to prevent crime and start trying to prevent terrorism, and distinguish the two through a magical arbitrary method that falls foul of prejudice, misunderstanding and good old fashioned racism.
We can kid ourselves that it isn’t true, but with its constant changes of definition over the decades and its very selective application, it’s very clear “terrorism” as a term exists only to determine our reaction.
“Terrorism” is a term that adds no real descriptive value to any crime, but by heck we collectively shit our pants when we apply it to a crime, or an act of war, or a conspiracy.
So, instead of getting annoyed when the media refuses to label a white man’s crime as an act of terror, let’s look at when they do call it terrorism and demand to call that what it really is.