Wednesday, January 06, 2010

a terrifying act, but not terrorism

last weekend, a 28-year-old somali man broke into the home of kurt westergaard, the political cartoonist behind the most famous of the infamous mohammed cartoons that appeared in danish newspaper jyllands posten in 2005 - you know the one which depicted mohammed with a bomb as his turban. the young man had an axe and he was bent on killing westergaard because of his cartoon. it was big news and even BBC world ran the story again and again all weekend.

the young somali didn't succeed, westergaard locked himself in his specially-secured bathroom and set off the alarm direct to the police. they were there within three minutes. the somali tried to run and threw his axe at the police, after which he was shot three times in the hand and leg to prevent him from fleeing and taken into custody. most shaken was westergaards 5-year-old granddaughter who was sitting at the table in her pajamas when the incident happened.

this is a gravely serious incident and it has everything to do with a clash of extremist islam against core western beliefs like freedom of speech. in a way, it's not unlike the fatwa against salman rushdie over the satanic verses - with fanatics of a religion against a purveyor of freedom of artistic expression.

on sunday berlingske devoted 8 pages to calling it terrorism. it is careless use of that word, begun by bush and his cronies, that has brought us to a point where it begins to feel quite meaningless. terrorism is an act of aggression against a group of innocent people - a suicide bomber in a crowded marketplace or metro, the airplanes bringing down the world trade center - those are terrorism. but an assassination attempt on an individual over a specific incident, while undoubtedly terrifying to the individuals involved, is not terrorism. and to call it such takes away meaning from true acts of terrorism.

we need to be more careful than this with the language.

10 comments:

Bill Stankus said...

Of course you're correct except madness precludes rational and normal. And, unfortunately for most, a madness has settled in the hearts of too many people. Hopefully this global madness will go away, much as a fever eventually goes away ... before we all retreat and live in armed isolated camps or we succumb and perish as a species.

Elise said...

agree with you - but what is the answer ? Bill has a point.

Suecae Sounds said...

I agree: we must be careful about how we use language.

Amanda said...

Here here! I totally agree...great post!

smith kaich jones said...

Again, I am on the other side. I call it terrorism, and it's not Bush whispering in my ear that makes me see it as such. I would argue that even if only one person is killed it can be terrorism, that a "group" of deaths is not required, and if that were true, I would ask how many innocent people must die before it can be called terrorism. And are deaths actually required before it can be called terrorism? And is Kurt Westergaard not innocent, or will his death be seen as his "asking for it"?

Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. This attack was not just to kill Westergaard: it was a signal to shut everyone else up.

Gwen said...

yeah, sometimes it makes a person wonder if "terrorism" is actually code for "crime committed by muslim."

The Redhead Riter said...

I think the world has gone crazy! I have a hard time even watching the news because there are so many evil people running around, doing heinous crimes against innocent people. I don't know what the answer is either, but it makes me very sad and angry all at once.

Lisa-Marie said...

I agree with you. I don't think this is terrorism, I think it is the act of an angry man. I think it is er serious, but I think the word terrorism is bandied about far to regularly, and it is a scare tactic.

Our supposedly open minded governments us the word to describe any (racial or political) group they don't like. It seems to be a means for them to disguise prejudice as concern.

There are some interesting writings on the fact that very often the word 'terrorist' is used in place of 'freedom-fighter'. There is also a direct connection between the people our stupid governments help to fund, and their opposition being called terrorist.

Smith, If you look at your definition, you will note the word 'systematic' which implies acting more than once in a organised fashion.

Julie, I think the question of free speech is an interesting one. I wholly believe in it, bit I also believe that people should be aware of the consequences of using it flippantly. Whilst I don't think the man d4sere to be attacked, and my heart goes out to his child, I think he was wrong in publishing something that could be seen to tar a whole religion with a rather evil brush for the sake of humour. It is casual racism at its worst. I think that is the issue really.

Classic Independence said...

Lisa-Marie, I like the thoughtfulness of your post. I don't see the cartoon as a piece of humor or racist, exactly. It's a piece of political art., like editorial cartoons common in the US that rankle or make a point in a way that text sometimes cannot.

The cartoonist raises issues for us to discuss and ponder - for example, the turban bomb isn't on an everyman, it's on the founder of the religion. Does that imply that the people using the bombs in his name are actually blowing up the peaceful, human religion that Muhammed created? Or that the religion itself is being subverted to the point that it is explosive - literally or figuratively or both? Or something else? In my mind, the cartoon hasn't done nearly as much harm to Islam (if any at all), as opposed to the fanatics who would prefer to see the planet burn without a living soul on it in order to prevent little girls from learning how to read or drive or play sports.

And Julochka, you have a good point. Assassination is not always a synonym of terrorism. Overuse of language numbs us to the meaning of the word, makes it sound common, and also decreases peoples' ability to truly discern the real threats from the mere tragedies reported in the news. Exaggeration is a staple of the modern media; they use it as a replacement for depth, objectivity, and accuracy (at least in the US anyway).

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

It makes me shiver, to know what madness in the heart some carry...