I Know that Halloween is Just Around the Corner but…



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

Related Post Roulette

53 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I think it’s because they raised a particular flag after the attack.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      So terrorism is defined by the “who” and not the “what” or the “why” or the “how”? That’s… convenient.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        If it happens on one of the anniversaries of 9/11 and an Al Qaeda flag is raised, I think that people can be forgiven for immediately going to “terrorism”.

        I mean, it’s not like the attackers were state actors.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

          I don’t mind people “immediately” going to terrorism. And I actually support Will’s well-supported criticism of the Administration for their waffling on to what they attributed the attacks. But to steadfastly and doggedly insist that we call this “terrorism” seems to ignore what terrorism actually is. And, more importantly, I think it leaves us ill-prepared to properly respond. We ought to respond differently to folks strapping bombs to their chest walking into pizza shops than we do to heavily armed, organized, and well-trained fighting forces.Report

  2. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    It’s because they’re Muslims. The Christian groups that slaughtered all those Palestinians in Lebanon were “militias”.Report

  3. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    It was a non-state actor, carrying out violence against civilian targets, for the purpose of achieving (an unstated) political goal.


    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      I’ll concede the “non-state actor” part. Civilian targets is a bit dicier… I doubt that folks over there consider diplomats with armed military guards to be “civilians”. Unstated political goals means we probably just aren’t listening… probably because we’re too busy yelling, “TERRORISM!!!”Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m not so sure the civilian part is as important as either the non-state actor. If Al-Queda bombed an army base, you’d still call it an act of terrorism.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          I wouldn’t.

          Isn’t the whole idea of terrorism is that it inspires terror? That it forces a society to change it’s way of life through fear and intimidation? Or does it not mean that anymore? If it doesn’t mean that anymore, fine, let’s change the definition. But we can’t keep acting like it still means that when it’s convenient and act like it means something entirely different when it’s not.

          Increasingly it seems that we simply want to unilaterally decide by what standards war is conducted.Report

        • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          I wouldn’t. Terrorism can’t just mean “violence by a non-state actor”, because given its place in political discourse, that classifies all violence by non-state actors as inherently less legitimate than violence by state actors – regardless of their actions and goals. Using it that way is just propaganda.

          I would define terrorism as any violence against civilian targets with the goal of influencing enemy morale or enemy political decisions. The Blitz was terrorism, Hiroshima was terrorism, 9/11 (at least the attack on the WTC; the Pentagon is a military institution) was terrorism; the attack on the USS Cole was not terrorism. An attack on a diplomatic target is ambiguous.

          An attack on a military target isn’t terrorism; it’s an act of war. If it’s done by a non-state actor, that simply makes it an act of war by a non-state actor.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Kazzy says:

        Diplomats are civilians with specific protections under international law. (Additional nitpick that Stevens didn’t actually have a military detachment of guards)

        But yes, civilian target is a key part of it. Otherwise it’s just guerrilla warfare (or insurgency)Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Exactly. Political violence, non-state actor and non-military target.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Don Zeko says:

        And Muslim. Or you’d have to call the massacres at Sabra and Shatila a prime example, and the word “terrorist” is never used about them except occasionally to describe the victims.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

          Flying an Al-Qaeda flag did them no favors if one of their goals was to have religion not be seen as particularly relevant to the attack.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

            Does the fact that they were religiously motivated (or might have been) matter in determining whether or not it is terrorism?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

              I think that if we’re hammering out whether it was an example of Islamic Extremism in a vein similar to that of the acts committed by Al-Qaeda, pointing out that they’re Islamic Extremists who went on to fly the flag of Al-Qaeda is one of those things that is germane to the conversation.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Does Islamic Extremism = terrorism?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                It depends. Are we talking about non-state actors killing people and then flying the flag of a major religious terrorist group that has been tied to the largest terrorist attack on American soil?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                My question is, does the Al Qaeda flag mean the same thing to them as it does to us? Maybe they weren’t saying, “We align ourselves with freedom hating Muslim extremist terrorists!” Maybe they were saying, “We align ourselves with our freedom fighting brothers!”

                Likewise, if I was overseas and wore an American flag t-shirt, I wouldn’t necessarily be saying, “I support the drone bombing of your villages!” I might just be saying, “I like the red white and blue!”

                There is something deeply problematic about our assuming that we get to define the terms for everyone.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think I’m willing to go on the record as saying that the Middle East’s version of Family Feud wouldn’t have that big of a score associated with “non-denominational” when it comes to the “name a trait you associate with Al-Qaeda” question.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m not denying that it has a firm and explicit religious affiliation, perhaps even an extreme one.

                I’m arguing that folks who fly the flag might mean something different by it than we interpret of it. They might not be saying, “BRING DOWN MORE TOWERS!” They might be saying, “LEAVE OUR LANDS!”

                Just like folks who fly the red, white, and blue might not be saying, “MORE DRONE STRIKES!” They just might be saying, “I LIKE FIREWORKS!”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                So now we’re just down to discussing whether non-state actors coordinating attacks on civilian diplomats resulting in mass murder should qualify as terrorism.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                I don’t know if you’re being snarky but… Yes, that is what I’m asking.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                I remember, when I was reading Man’s Fate some time around 2002 or 2003, being struck by how clearly they delineated terrorists like Chen Ta Erh and Suan and ordinary revolutionaries. It was obvious to anyone that the people who tried to blow up or otherwise assassinate leaders of the government were terrorists, and everyone who just wanted to fight the government with guns as a group was a revolutionary. At the time, I was having a hard time deciding when people were “terrorists,” when they were “insurgents,” and then they were something else.

                My suspicion is that Malraux, or his characters at least, would have called the perpetrators of the attack on the consulate terrorists, but I’m not certain.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                I tend to see attacks on civilians as terrorism and attacks on military targets as revolutionary. (I’m not prepared to tackle the issue of whether the po-po are closer to one than the other at this moment in time.)

                So far, that’s worked out for me.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

                Was the attack on the Pentagon revolutionary?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                Using a civilian plane in which stewardesses had their throats slit in a gambit to get the pilots to open the cockpit door?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

                You said military target, not I. You don’t find a much bigger military target than the Pentagon.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

                Were they attacking the Pentagon as a military installation or as a symbol of American imperalism? I’d argue the latter, and that it matters.

                (At least, if they were trying to disable our military with a single plane to a side of the Pentagon, that was monumentally stupid from any strategic standpoint. From a symbolic standpoint, less so.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                I’ve got no problem saying that it was a terrorist attack that also had government targets.

                I don’t know that we can really separate the Pentagon attacks from the WTC attacks nor the tools used in the Pentagon attacks from the Pentagon being targeted.

                Now if the *ONLY* thing that happened that day was a hijacking of planes that went on to crash into The White House, The Capitol, The Pentagon, and… oh… The Supreme Court, perhaps we could discuss whether it was actually an act of war along the lines of Pearl Harbor.

                If my aunt had basketballs, she could play basketball.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

                So would you consider Joe Stack a terrorist? What about the Aurora shooting? Fort Hood? McVeigh? Abortion clinic bombers/shooters?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Stack, yes.
                The Aurora shooter, I’m not sure (I don’t know enough to know whether he’s just a crazy dude who wanted to kill some people or whether he actually thought he had political/social reasons for doing so, crazy or not).
                Fort Hood, maybe. I think attacking a military base when we are supposedly in the midst of a “global war on terror” seems like a difficult case. Is it terrorism or is it an attack that is part of the war? And the fact that our military itself calls things like road side bombs in a war zone the work of terrorists clouds this picture.
                McVeigh, definitely.
                Abortion clinic bombers/shooters, yes.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

                And that gets at my point. Some folks want to call attacks on troops in the war zone terrorism but do not want to apply that label to those other things.

                My objection is less about this particular case and more about the politicization of the term “terrorism” and redefining it towards “people we don’t like doing things we don’t like.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                As for Joe Stack, I don’t know that I’d consider his suicide terrorism per se (though it was very much a political act).

                Aurora was the act of an insane individual.

                Fort Hood was an act of treason.

                McVeigh was terrorism (but he had hoped to spark revolution).

                There is this thing I wrote here about Tiller’s Murder (the second comment).Report

          • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Jaybird says:

            I’m confused. Does conflating a terrorist organization and a religion mean you agree or disagree?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Nob Akimoto says:


      I believe I misread your final point there. You seem to be arguing that having a political goal is part of what makes it terrorism. I always thought the opposite… terrorism was not intended to achieve a political goal but was instead intended to terrorize.

      Otherwise, the only REAL difference between terrorism and acts of war are who does it, since both often include civilian targets and are done for political reasons. So… armies = war, non-armies = terrorism. Again… convenient…Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Kazzy says:

        Lacking a political goal would just make it carnage. Terrorists have relied on terror for ages because they had a political goal in mind.

        The difference between terrorism and acts of war are in fact who does it, because it changes the nature of the response. State vs. non-state actors is a key distinction, as are the targets.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Nob Akimoto says:


          If that is a key distinction, I would say it is a fair one if we didn’t make the terms so morally and value laden. Terrorists are inherently evil. They’re cowards. They’re freedom haters. Etc. I’m not comfortable with that.

          It also is interesting that we don’t attach it to other, non-brown, non-Muslim folks. See: Joseph Stack. Political agenda, non-state agent, attacked an IRS building.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Kazzy says:

            Stack was a terrorist by my definition of the term. So too was Timothy McVeigh. It’s not value laden, terrorism is a tactic. It’s also a tactic of the weak. If they had more power, they’d be attacking the government directly through warfare.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              The problem is that the colloquial way in which we do (or do not) use it matters. We treat terrorists differently than enemy soldiers, etc. The clamoring to call it terrorism might have been for symbolic reasons, but officially declaring it as such has real implications for our formal response.

              I’m okay with your academic definition if it were applied consistently. But that isn’t what folks are doing. They are saying things we don’t like done by people we don’t like is terrorism, regardless of all else.Report

        • Side note:
          This is more of an academic definition of “terrorism” in order to figure out what the heck motivates it, why it’s different and what policy prescriptions are needed (if any).

          So it might not be the same as the colloquial sense. I spent a long, long time trying to parse out definitions like this and have read scores of journal articles and books… I’m going with a simple definition, I dunno about others.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I’m with you on this and the rest of the thread. I don’t think the Cole or Khobar towers (or Beiruit Marine Barracks) attacks were ‘terrorism’ either.

    (which is not to say they weren’t something that required response, including but not limited to blowing some people up)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kolohe says:

      Thanks, Kolohe. To be clear, I don’t think that labeling them as something other than terrorism mitigates them or otherwise suggests we shouldn’t respond. In some ways, I think calling them terrorism could do this if we didn’t turn a corner into thinking terrorists were evil incarnate.Report