Defining terrorism: a question of politics


An explosion rocked the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan Saturday night. Twenty-nine people were injured from the bomb, but all were hospitalized and released the following morning.

Then, not hours later, a man dressed as a security guard approached and stabbed nine people in St. Cloud, Minnesota. All victims from the St. Cloud event only sustained minor injuries.

Even though there was no death toll, spotlights continue to shine on police officials and politicians, asking what happened and why it could not have been stopped.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked whether the bomb was a terror attack and said that would depend on what one considered terrorism.

“A bomb exploding in New York is obviously an act of terrorism,” de Blasio said, but admitted there was no substantive evidence linking the attacks to international terror groups such as ISIS.

This leaves many people asking just what exactly terrorism is, and due to both recent events and the quagmire that is American politics, there is no easy answer.

In my opinion, any act meant to intimidate the American public, whether by religious extremists, criminals or homegrown terror groups, should be considered one of terror.

The word terrorism has taken on a whole new, culturally-constructed meaning in the last 15 years since 9/11. That day marked a new era for both American policy on security and our attitude toward foreign powers.

Our security seemingly depended on our intervention, and suppression of insurgencies in the world abroad, prompting the United States to enter Iraq and Afghanistan.

Terrorism, as defined by the Code of Federal Regulations, is “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

This definition can be applied to any number of heinous acts, which is a problem when trying to identify different types of crimes. If we go by the definition above, attacks like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Charleston Church Shooting and bombings are technically terrorist attacks. And none one of these attacks were tied to ISIS.

As some sort of unspoken rule, they do not amount to the same kind of severity as terror linked to groups such as ISIS, or in the past Al-Qaeda, despite larger death tolls on average from homegrown terror.

Recent political rhetoric regarding Islamic Extremists have transformed the American idea of terrorism to be synonymous with jihadists such as Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, terrorists are not just one isolated group of terrorists we have waged a war against.

Terrorists exist in America as well.

In order to truly deal with the core moral problems with terrorism, we must regard each and every category of it as equally imposing against our ideals as a nation.

Benjamin Hummel is an English and speech & communications major at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected].