Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Terrorism in Tennessee

I'd like to take a few minutes to discuss the concept of terrorism. Yesterday, a man opened fire in a church because he disagreed with the liberal policies of the church, killing two and wounding seven. My wife points out that this was nothing short of terrorism. It didn't take me long to agree. I've not seen major news outlets classifying this as a terrorist attack, and it got me thinking - why not, and what would it take for this incident to be classified as such? What does that mean for our view of international terrorism, and the "war on terror" as commonly described in political discourse? Would we be looking at this incident any differently if it were a person of Arabic descent who committed it, or a person who practices Islam?

It's not at all clear to me how this incident differs from a bomb going off in Iraq, except perhaps maybe for the scale of destruction. What's the appropriate response to the TN shooting? Is it any different than the response to a bomb planted by what we would normally consider a terrorist? Do we bring in the U.S. Army to round up people who talk like Ann Coulter and put them in Guantanamo? I realize this might sound extreme, but that's my point - is the TN shooting terrorism? If it is, how should we respond, and does that affect how we combat terrorism in its more commonly described form? If not, why not? Keep in mind the shooter had a hateful, politically charged agenda - with no other apparent motive other than to kill those with a world viewpoint he disagreed. I'd be interested in your view. If you'd like to leave a comment on the blog, you can do so - where others can see it and respond to it. Or, you can send me an e-mail privately (ask for my e-mail) if you'd like that's okay too.

I don't have the answers to those questions, at least not in a format concise enough to put into a a blog post. However, dictionary.com defines terrorism as "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes."


digitante said...

They are plenty of individuals in the Bush administration who might agree, but the danger is not in considering too few events terrorist activities but too many. Post 9-11, the word "terrorism" has been conflated with so many meanings - and the construct "war on terror" is sloppy in itself, given that terror is not a state but a tactic - but it's difficult to see the event in Knoxville as much more than the misdirected anger of a psychologically disturbed individual. More than a terrorist act, it's a hate crime, which is what it's being investigated as.

Just because Adkisson thought "all liberals" should be killed because they are "ruining this country" - ironic, given that responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of a Republican administration - doesn't make this a political act. Acts of political terrorism, where an individual attempts to advance an ideological agenda, however twisted or abhorrent, through wildcat violence, are real, and we discount their danger when we equate them with backwater loonies who, frustrated with his own inabilities, resorts to violence. Adkisson was not part of a coordinated effort to kill liberals or punish a gay-friendly congregation; he was the classic "lone gunman." Given the scarily wide swath the Bush administration has cut itself when dealing with "terrorists," we're going down a very dark and scary road the minute we consider every violent act with some other "aim" in mind an act of terrorism.

schmog said...

An astute and thoughtful response.

Urban Pink said...

Digitante has a thoughtful post, but I disagree. Even though the Bush administration (and Republican rhetoric) has abused the term "terrorism," I don't think it's definition is limited to "coordinated efforts." I think the definition is open enough to include individuals who are religious, political or ideological in their desire to kill, as the Tennessee guy clearly was. I noticed that there was a shooting in Michigan, and I would include misogyny (if that is the motive there) as and any-of-the-above motive. I think it's helpful to define lone gunmans as terrorists because they may see themselves as an enemy to our society, which they clearly are.