How the word ‘terrorism’ lost its meaning: Neil Macdonald

More good commentary from Macdonald:

What appears to have qualified those attacks for inclusion on the Trump list was the fact that the attackers, Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, had converted from their birth religion to Islam.

Similarly, Trump’s list did not include Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who, in the summer of 2015, pulled out a gun in a black church in Atlanta and began killing. Roof was a practising Christian, a member of an evangelical Lutheran congregation. Reportedly, he sat and argued about scriptural issues with congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before murdering nine of them.

Still, like Bissonnette, Roof was not labelled a terrorist by law enforcement authorities, or charged as such. He was certainly not called a “radical Christian terrorist” or “white supremacist terrorist.” Those are phrases the mainstream media rarely find pronounceable.

The FBI even went to far as to say Roof’s killings were “not a political act.”

If that sounds outrageously hypocritical, that’s because it is. (Go ahead and imagine the official reaction had Roof or Bissonnette been Muslims).

Western concept of ‘terrorism’

But it’s perfectly consonant with the Western concept of “terrorism,” which is itself a form of hypocrisy deeply embedded in the American and Canadian psyches.

Terrorism is political invective, nothing more. It’s a great favourite of demagogues, widely accepted by audiences, and is almost always applied exclusively to the other, never to ourselves.

Take the Irish Republican Army. The IRA was an exclusively Roman Catholic organization, and had no problem killing civilians to advance its agenda. The British government characterized the IRA and all its offshoots as terrorists, but did not for decades apply the label to the equally murderous Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries.

IRA flag Irish Republican Army Gerry Adams

The State Department’s list of designated terrorist groups has never included the IRA. (Paul McErlane/Reuters)

Some Irish Catholics in Canada and the United States, though, tended to regard the IRA’s behaviour as understandable, if not excusable. They preferred not to label it as terrorism, never mind “Christian terrorism,” even though the Troubles were all about a schism in Christianity, something like the violent Sunni/Shia fissure in the Middle East. Almost certainly because of domestic American sentiment, the U.S. State Department’s long list of designated terrorist groups has never named the IRA

Because the terrorist is always the other.

While working for CBC in Israel, I once searched the database of the Jerusalem Post for uses of the word “terror,” “terrorist” and “terrorism.”

There were thousands over the course of several years, all of them relating to Palestinians or other Arabs.

The newspaper had another term for Jewish settlers who targeted and killed Palestinian civilians: “Jewish extremists.”  Most mainstream Israeli journalists have just as hard a time with the phrase “Jewish terrorist” as Western media do with “Christian terrorist.”

Those two words simply seem a contradiction in terms to many Jews, although, to give the Israeli justice system credit for at least some consistency, authorities there have charged Jewish Israelis with terrorism-related offences.

Until the 9/11 attacks, there was at least an attempt in the West to define terrorism: the deliberate targeting of civilians by non-government players to advance a political agenda.

By that definition, of course, Alexandre Bissonnette, if convicted, and Dylann Roof would qualify.

War on Terror

But once America began its “War on Terror,” the word was stretched and adapted to mean anything Washington wanted it to mean, and the U.S. media fell obediently into line.

Any attack on any U.S. soldier anywhere became terror, even attacks by people whose country had been invaded.

Groups such as the Shining Path in Peru, or Kurdish ultranationalist groups, or fringe Irish diehards, or Tamil extremists, are relegated to trivial regional annoyances. The predations of militants or governments America approves of are overlooked or ignored.

Today, the word terrorism is so objectively meaningless that the only sensible definition is: “Violence we disapprove of.”

Source: How the word ‘terrorism’ lost its meaning: Neil Macdonald – CBC News | Opinion

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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