Language, Politics

When is a Terrorist Not Called a Terrorist?


“I just think he was one of these whacked out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that… It’s about a young man who is obviously twisted.”

“This man, in my view, should be designated as a potential enemy combatant and we should be allowed to question him for intelligence gathering purposes to find out about future attacks and terrorist organizations that… he has knowledge of. ”

As Judd Legum of Think Progress pointed out, both quotes come from the same U.S. senator in reaction to the perpetrators of two separate national tragedies.

Both perpetrators were American citizens. Both were barely beyond their teenage years. One, however, is immediately labeled a terrorist. The other, “just one of these whacked out kids.”

One of the quotes refers to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the other to Dylann Roof, the A.M.E. Church gunman in Charleston. But off course, no one needs to tell you which quote is which.

Language matters here: Terrorism is terrorism. This is not even me trying to use a metaphor to make a point. We’re talking literal, legal, Patriot-act-endorsed definitions here:

Patriot Act

One of these patent terrorists, however, is afforded the luxury of individuality – Roof only represents himself. Immediate links to mental illness are made.

Tsarnaev is instantly connected to a larger, flawed ideology of religious extremism, which we combat with trillions of U.S. dollars and thousands of U.S. troops. The equally dangerous ideology that inspired Roof is given a flag over a state capital

But the way we’ll talk about about racism in America after this tragedy left even the comedian Jon Stewart jokeless:

“I honestly have had nothing… just sadness, once again, that we once again have to peer into the depraved violence of what we do to each other in the nexus of a gaping racial wound, that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist.

I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it it is… We still won’t do jack sh*t. Yeah, that’s us.”

So prepare for discussions of mental illness. How Roof was a “twisted kid” acting on his own. And luckily, we can ask him about it directly, as he was also given the luxury of still being alive. An irony illustrated by Professor Christian Christiansen on Twitter.

Charleston Shooting

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Follow on Twitter @chriskbacon

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