Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook 3 Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 3 (6 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Article Stats   11 comments

OpEdNews Op Eds

Why Is Boston "Terrorism" But Not Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson And Columbine?

By (about the author)     Permalink
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Must Read 6   Well Said 4   Supported 3  
View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com Headlined to H2 4/22/13

Become a Fan
  (111 fans)
Source: The Guardian

Can an act of violence be called "terrorism" if the motive is unknown?

Police officers aim their weapons amid a hunt for two suspects caused officers to converge on a neighborhood outside Boston.
Police officers aim their weapons amid a hunt for two suspects caused officers to converge on a neighborhood outside Boston. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

Two very disparate commentators, Ali Abunimah and Alan Dershowitz, both raised serious questions over the weekend about a claim that has been made over and over about the bombing of the Boston Marathon: namely, that this was an act of terrorism. Dershowitz was on BBC Radio on Saturday and, citing the lack of knowledge about motive, said (at the 3:15 mark): "It's not even clear under the federal terrorist statutes that it qualifies as an act of terrorism." 

Abunimah wrote a superb analysis of whether the bombing fits the US government's definition of "terrorism," noting that "absolutely no evidence has emerged that the Boston bombing suspects acted 'in furtherance of political or social objectives'" or that their alleged act was 'intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.'" Even a former CIA Deputy Director, Phillip Mudd, said on Fox News on Sunday that at this point the bombing seems more like a common crime than an act of terrorism.

Over the last two years, the US has witnessed at least three other episodes of mass, indiscriminate violence that killed more people than the Boston bombings did: the Tucson shooting by Jared Loughner in which 19 people (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) were shot, six of whom died; the Aurora movie theater shooting by James Holmes in which 70 people were shot, 12 of whom died; and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting by Adam Lanza in which 26 people (20 of whom were children) were shot and killed. The word "terrorism" was almost never used to describe that indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, and none of the perpetrators of those attacks was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A decade earlier, two high school seniors in Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, used guns and bombs to murder 12 students and a teacher, and almost nobody called that "terrorism" either.

In the Boston case, however, exactly the opposite dynamic prevails. Particularly since the identity of the suspects was revealed, the word "terrorism" is being used by virtually everyone to describe what happened. After initially (and commendably) refraining from using the word, President Obama has since said that "we will investigate any associations that these terrorists may have had" and then said that "on Monday an act of terror wounded dozens and killed three people at the Boston Marathon." But as Abunimah notes, there is zero evidence that either of the two suspects had any connection to or involvement with any designated terrorist organization.

More significantly, there is no known evidence, at least not publicly available, about their alleged motives. Indeed, Obama himself -- in the statement he made to the nation after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured on Friday night -- said that "tonight there are still many unanswered questions" and included this "among" those "unanswered questions":

"Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?"

The overarching principle here should be that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is entitled to a presumption of innocence until he is actually proven guilty. As so many cases have proven -- from accused (but exonerated) anthrax attacker Stephen Hatfill to accused (but exonerated) Atlanta Olympic bomber Richard Jewell to dozens if not hundreds of Guantanamo detainees accused of being the "worst of the worst" but who were guilty of nothing -- people who appear to be guilty based on government accusations and trials-by-media are often completely innocent. Media-presented evidence is no substitute for due process and an adversarial trial.

But beyond that issue, even those assuming the guilt of the Tsarnaev brothers seem to have no basis at all for claiming that this was an act of "terrorism" in a way that would meaningfully distinguish it from Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine. All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism (by contrast, virtually every person who knew the younger brother has emphatically said that he never evinced political or religious extremism). But as Obama himself acknowledged, we simply do not know what motivated them (Obama: "Tonight there are still many unanswered questions. Among them, why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?").

It's certainly possible that it will turn out that, if they are guilty, their prime motive was political or religious. But it's also certainly possible that it wasn't: that it was some combination of mental illness, societal alienation, or other form of internal instability and rage that is apolitical in nature. Until their motive is known, how can this possibly be called "terrorism"? Can acts of violence be deemed "terrorism" without knowing the motive?

This is far more than a semantic question. Whether something is or is not "terrorism" has very substantial political implications, and very significant legal consequences as well. The word "terrorism" is, at this point, one of the most potent in our political lexicon: it single-handedly ends debates, ratchets up fear levels, and justifies almost anything the government wants to do in its name. 

It's hard not to suspect that the only thing distinguishing the Boston attack from Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbine (to say nothing of the US "shock and awe" attack on Baghdad and the mass killings in Fallujah) is that the accused Boston attackers are Muslim and the other perpetrators are not. As usual, what terrorism really  means in American discourse -- its operational meaning -- is: violence by Muslims against Americans and their allies. For the manipulative use of the word "terrorism," see the scholarship of NYU's Remi Brulin and the second-to-last section here.

I was on Democracy Now this morning discussing many of these issues, as well as the legal and civil libertarian concerns raised by this case, and that segment can be viewed here (a transcript will be posted here later today):


 

For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, How Would A Patriot (more...)
 

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

HSBC, too big to jail, is the new poster child for US two-tiered justice system

US investigates possible WikiLeaks leaker for "communicating with the enemy"

Prosecution of Anonymous activists highlights war for Internet control

The myth of Obama's "blunders" and "weakness"

Are All Telephone Calls Recorded And Accessible To The US Government?

The Remarkable, Unfathomable Ignorance of Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
8 people are discussing this page, with 11 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

As you've noted, it is essential that people recog... by Philip Zack on Monday, Apr 22, 2013 at 4:56:33 PM
at less than 1000 words, the power of emotive word... by Paul Repstock on Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013 at 8:59:25 AM
because they were Muslims - apparently to two diff... by Doc McCoy on Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013 at 12:15:19 AM
I agree a crime is a crime is a crime, regardless ... by Maxwell on Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013 at 2:09:31 PM
I was about to ask it myself.Here's another one: w... by Maxwell on Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013 at 1:55:18 PM
Of course, they are all terrorism.  They are ... by Pete Chrisman on Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013 at 2:30:53 PM
"The controlled press doesn't use the word "terror... by Maxwell on Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013 at 9:54:55 PM
Famous Nike T-shirt Boston Massacre was pulled out... by Ethan Hollow on Wednesday, Apr 24, 2013 at 9:46:01 AM
Power and the money, money and the power Minute a... by Ethan Hollow on Wednesday, Apr 24, 2013 at 9:53:01 AM
"Can an act of violence be called "terrorism" if t... by Natalie Oberman on Thursday, Apr 25, 2013 at 12:10:15 PM
I have had this very question in my mind for a whi... by Lynn Wilson on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 6:55:04 PM