The attacks last week in Woolwich were horrific and terrifying. Vicious and bloody they have rightly shocked us all. This post is inspired by the fallout of those attacks, but is NOT directly about those attacks. I don’t claim to be an expert on what happened in Woolwich, or what happened in the build up or what has happened in the aftermath.
I say that to provide an excuse for me if I get any facts wrong. This post is not about the attack itself, but it is about the use of the words “terrorism” and “terrorist” so quickly after it happened. Words are powerful – and for a nation they are more powerful than the actual attack, as shocking and horrible as this was for the individuals concerned. The word terrorism is especially powerful. By using the word it allows us to:
– Blame “others” – you know “them”, they’re not like us, they’ve been radicalised by more of the “others”. But it’s certain not our fault.
– Be afraid – terrorism is much more scary a word and a concept than murder. Terrorism has a mass effect and is unrelenting – after all we have to fight a “war” against it, while murder happens one at a time and is unlikely to actually affect us.
– Be racist – this links to the “others” comment above, but if some Muslims are terrorists then maybe we can blame all Muslims
– Ignore the individuals – by calling it terrorism we don’t ask the question about why and how someone can be radicalised – what was going on in their minds and lives to lead them to choose this path?
“Terrorist” is a get out clause to get us to ignore the smaller details, the real issues and the actual lives of those involved. I’m not even going to touch on the issues that the attackers shouted out to the media (about revenge for attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq), this isn’t a post about the global situation and the rights and wrongs of those “wars”. But instead we should consider how and why two individuals decided that this was the best course of action – radicalisation or not. Or perhaps, how these individuals could be radicalised.
Without knowing the facts I would suggest that there aren’t many affluent, successful, comfortable and confident individuals who choose this path. There aren’t many people, irrespective of religion or place of birth, who feel welcomed and happy in this country, who feel they have a future and the chance of a happy life that choose this path. So why don’t we look at the issue surrounding the estates that people live in, the job opportunities open to them, the institutionalised racism they suffer?
Then of course there is the other side to it all – why is a single murder by people claiming a “Muslim” agenda terrorism when similar attacks from so-called “Christians” not considered terror? If terrorism is from “others”, surely reinforcing the “otherness” will only increase these so-called terrorist attacks.
Terrorism is an incredibly emotive word and one which is designed to invoke an emotional response from people. In a situation like this that emotional response is not usually conducive to calming things down and working out ways to reduce further attacks.
We need to be careful how we label attacks such as the one in Woolwich – in my view two idiots with a knife and some “Muslim” slogans doesn’t equate to terrorism.
2 responses to “Just because they’re “Muslim” doesn’t make them “terrorists””
Terrorism is the use of violence to further a political agenda, so Woolwich probably does qualify given the attackers justified the attack as being a reaction to the deployment of British troops and used the attention to make political statements.
I’m not sure it’s correct to say similar actions by other religions – such as Christianity – aren’t considered terrorism. Several groups in Northern Ireland committed violent acts in the name of Protestantism or Catholicism and were labelled terrorists. Likewise fundamentalist groups in the USA.
I suspect you could argue inconsistency because groups such as the EDL aren’t labelled ‘terrorists’ (AFAIK) yet frequently commit violent acts in the name of their cause, but I’d guess this is more because of the severity of the crimes.
Ben, I completely take your point about Northern Ireland. Maybe it is attacks on the “others” that aren’t classified as terrorism. And as for use of the term, I’m still not convinced that a couple of blokes with a knife can constitute a “political agenda”.