24 May 2013

Was this week's murder of a British soldier a "terrorist" attack?

The argument in this Guardian column argues that terrorism is defined as attacks directed at civilians:
That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without saying, but given the legal, military, cultural and political significance of the term "terrorism", it is vital to ask: is that term really applicable to this act of violence? To begin with, in order for an act of violence to be "terrorism", many argue that it must deliberately target civilians. That's the most common means used by those who try to distinguish the violence engaged in by western nations from that used by the "terrorists": sure, we kill civilians sometimes, but we don't deliberately target them the way the "terrorists" do.

But here, just as was true for Nidal Hasan's attack on a Fort Hood military base, the victim of the violence was a soldier of a nation at war, not a civilian. He was stationed at an army barracks quite close to the attack. The killer made clear that he knew he had attacked a soldier when he said afterward: "this British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

The US, the UK and its allies have repeatedly killed Muslim civilians over the past decade (and before that), but defenders of those governments insist that this cannot be "terrorism" because it is combatants, not civilians, who are the targets. Can it really be the case that when western nations continuously kill Muslim civilians, that's not "terrorism", but when Muslims kill western soldiers, that is terrorism? Amazingly, the US has even imprisoned people at Guantanamo and elsewhere on accusations of "terrorism" who are accused of nothing more than engaging in violence against US soldiers who invaded their country
More at the link (those who reflexly dislike Glenn Greenwald's column can give it a pass).


  1. I think there is a *need* to call this terrorism because if it was not terrorism, it would be racism.

    And if it was racism the white British might connect the dots and that is very much not in the interest of the ruling parties...

    So terrorism it is. That is something the population is by now educated about and the people know that terrorism is fought in far away countries by trained soldiers.

    1. Addendum: I see you labeled this post just "war", which kind of feels to me like you connected the dots.

    2. I've just added the tag "crime."

    3. "... people know that terrorism is fought in far away countries by trained soldiers."

      Or by remote controlled drones from thousands upon thousands of miles away.

      The major factor that separates this horrendous, murderous act from a drone killing innocent children is that this terrorist act was committed up close and personal.

  2. On the matter of what constitutes terrorism I think the author's logic fails horribly.

    Terrorism is not defined by the targets being civilians (than almost every murder would be an act of terrorism). Lets start for convenience with wikipedia: Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, often violent, especially as a means of coercion. So:
    1. terror in the sense of "inducing fear"
    2. should be systematic
    3. should have a political target
    All three, one could argue, are true in this case:
    1: You aren't even safe at home anymore.
    2: Of you were a uniform, you become a target.
    3: Remove your soldiers from "our lands".

    And here the logic gets totally fuzzy not to say intentionally misleading:
    "Can it really be the case that when western nations continuously kill Muslim civilians, that's not "terrorism", but when Muslims kill western soldiers, that is terrorism?"
    - "western nations" - does it matter wether the nations are western (e.g. America in Iraq), Eastern (e.g. China in its north-western provinces) or arabic (e.g. Saudi Arabia in Syria)?
    - "continuously" as defined how? Is it important? Would the argument change in any way if those killings were not continuously but more or less sporadic?
    - "Muslim civilians" - defining one group by its origins, the other group by its religion. So what about western muslims? If Britain would only send Muslim soldiers, would that change anything? Or if a muslim had be the target of the attack? I see what the author did there...
    - "Muslim kills western soldiers", as above. What if such a soldier were a Muslim himself. What if the attacker was an Arab Christian?

  3. The purpose of terror is to get attention to your cause, and to make you fear. This attack certainly did that. Winston Churchill said "Islam in a man, is like rabies in a dog" This man did what his book said to do, kill the infidel. (anybody not a Muslim)

    1. Nope he said:

      "How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men."

      "Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome."

      -- The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan (1899), Volume II pp. 248-250

  4. Actually, my wife who is a British citizen thinks they're are calling it terrorism so that the killers can be tried for treason. The only way a death sentence can be handed out in the UK now. This was a horrible crime, those two killers are being praised by extremists around the world. How do you think we'd handle this if it happened in say San Francisco, New York city, Chicago? I'm not going to climb the extremist soap box, so I'll end this here.

    1. Oh, I assure you we here in the US would handle it worse than the British have. They have the superior stiff upper lip and a culture of facing adversity with grace.


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