Sunday, October 12, 2008

Calling Someone a Terrorist is a Form of Terrorism

Falsely invoking terrorism is a form of terrorism. If the idea behind terrorism is to terrorize (use tactics to make others instantly and incredibly afraid) some group into doing either a) what the terrorist wants and/or b) something other than what the group would normally do, then the outcome of calling someone a terrorist is to get others to be afraid of being around or associating with that individual. Since 9/11, the US has been in the thrall of the word terrorism. It has been used over and over to make us afraid of “others” in the world who would do us harm. For some, such as myself, this can become numbing. I don’t tend to think much about anyone labeled a terrorist anymore since it is used so often and incorrectly. 

Now the definition I am using to describe terrorism may be objected to as being too broad, as it may include such tactics as using fear to get someone to stop smoking, or brush their teeth, or be good or receive a lump of coal at Christmas, or worship one specific God or spend eternity listening to New Kids on the Block. I added the qualifiers instantly and incredibly to offset the difference between simple fear and the full blown terror that terrorism is attempting to invoke. The fear involved in terrorism arises from sudden and unexpected actions that is of a much grander scale than the examples of fear I gave earlier. And this leads to my conclusion that given the climate of our country and the rhetoric of its leaders since 9/11, calling someone a terrorist who has not done the actions of a terrorist is an act of terrorism. It is an attempt to make someone so suddenly afraid of that individual that they will abandon their previous way of living and thinking and adopt one more in line with the invoker or will at least stop what they were doing. 

Lately, McCain/Palin supporters have gone in public and proclaimed Obama a terrorist (see last post.) Now I’m not saying this is representative of all of his supporters, nor am I disagreeing with my earlier post that most of these individuals are mostly saying these things to rile those they see on the other side of the ticket. But to use the term terrorist to describe a Senator who is running for President is to try and scare someone into either a) voting for the other party or b) getting them to not vote for someone else, or not at all.

I’m calling them out as terrorists. 

The Rational Moderate


Mike D. said...

I have been thinking about your definition for a few days now and I think I have finally pinned down what has been bothering me about it. It occurs to me that terrorism deals with someone else inflicting harm upon you and/or yours.

The examples of smoking, brushing you teeth, or worship of a particular deity leading to their respective consequences seem to still match your definition. If you don't stop smoking now you will die for example. The threat of death, in my opinion brings instant and intense fear to most people. However, his statement tends to say that you are doing the act of terrorism to yourself.

Terrorism on the other hand seems to lead more towards if you don't stop doing some activity then I will bring harm on you and yours. For example, if you don't worship Allah then I (or someone) will kill you. You are no longer inflicting the act of terrorism upon yourself but someone else is now committing the act against you.

I submit to you that your definition with the addition of "with the intention of inflicting harm upon the person(s)" would be more complete yet still concise. This definition still is in line with the original assertion of this post. By calling Obama a terrorist, persons are still trying to convey to the opposition that if they vote for Obama then someone will inflict harm upon them and theirs.

On another thought, are you committing an act of terrorism by calling out these people as terrorists?

Rational Moderate said...

I'm not sure that the addition of "with the intention of inflicting harm upon the person(s)" is accurate because their are instances of terrorism that do not involve harming others in the way I think you intend. For example, William Ayers with the Weatherman is, I think correctly, identified as a domestic terrorist. But, the bombings that the Weatherman did when he was involved warned people to evacuate the area so no one would be physically harmed. Their intention was to scare them into thinking they could be harmed without harming them. At the same time, I too feel there is something missing in my definition, but I think the problem is less with the concept itself than with trying to define concepts (See below).

(An Aside: Trying to define something is this side of impossible because we always try to give necessary and sufficient conditions for the concepts and concepts simply don't have necessary and sufficient conditions. The quick and dirty example is a dog. We think that the definition of a dog is four-legs, furry, barks, wags its tail... and that works fine for us for the most part until someone brings in a three legged hairless dog that doesn't bark and has no tail. Yet, we still can recognize it as a dog.)

As far as my being a terrorist because I'm calling people who are calling people terrorists terrorists (wheh) I tried to fix that in my description of terrorists namely - they are falsely claiming that Obama is a terrorist because it doesn't match with either they're own thought out understanding of terrorism, or with the conventional accepted interpretation of the term, or with my own. Since my use of the term for them matched the definition I argued for, I would say I am being accurate and so not a terrorist. (I had thought of that as I wrote this)

Mike D. said...

I think harm in my addition to the definition was misunderstood as harm is not necessarily limited to physical pains. Harm can also be used in the context of hurting ones ability to perform jobs, support persons, or wage wars in the Weathermen example.

Also while I agree that the Weathermen are correctly defined as domestic terrorists; the use of this example in this context confuses me as this sort of terrorism does not seem to fit your definition. The Weathermen were not using the bombings or demonstrations in order to scare people or make them afraid (although that appears to be a side effect of using bombs to prove a point). Instead, what they were trying to accomplish was to bring attention to the war in Vietnam and how it was being waged (or that it was being waged at all). Thus it seems the purpose was to inform rather then to terrorize as defined in the original post.

(To further your aside: The example provided for the dog is less a definition of what a dog is and more a description of what a dog generally looks like. I searched for several definitions of dogs (Webster,, wikipedia, etc.) and I never find descriptions. For example, according to Wikipedia a dog is: "(Canis lupus familiaris)[2] is a domesticated subspecies of the gray wolf, a mammal of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora." This, I believe, accurately defines all dogs regardless of their physical characteristics. I think the ability to define something, whether it is a physical object or an abstract concept or anything in between and outside of those, is indeed possible. The ability to describe all variances of the concept or item, in most cases, is the ultimate lesson in futility.)

Rational Moderate said...

I'll bring the aside out of the parenthetical gutter for a moment by saying the reason I made it an aside is because the issue of defining concepts is a major problem in the philosophy of language & psychology and I didn't want to get too bogged down in it. That is why my example of the dog was a simple as it was. That being said, take a look at what you thought was a good definition of dogs everywhere and ask yourself: if I didn't know what a dog was, would this help? You might be tempted to say yes because of the reference to terms like domestication, wolf, and species, but those terms are not as set in stone (the result of picking out necessary and sufficient conditions for placement in the category) as one would think. Even something as straight forward as the definition of a circle, a line with no end point whose every point is equidistance from a center point, doesn't hold true in every branch of geometry or physics. And circle is purely a concept we use, rather than something that exists in the physical world we inhabit such as a dog.
Having said that, don't think I'm a big fan of postmodernism and Wittgenstein, but rather I recognize the difficulties in formulating a definition of a concept that will always be at least one peg short of an actual description of a natural kind.

But, back to the natural kind of terrorists. I didn't fully confuse your addition of harm to the working definition, though I worried it would come across that way in my reply. The problem I see with adding inflicting harm is that without understanding the extent to this harm or the motivation behind it, the addition has no teeth. For example, opening a Burger King across the street from a McDonald's harms the McDonald's by taking away positive income.

I contend that if there is any harm it is contained in the fear part of my definition. I think it likely the case that every (non-psychotic) terrorist would be fine with not physically or mentally harming if their actions changed the behavior or beliefs of the individuals targeted.