Word Use: Terrorism

Despite what some U.S. Senators seem to think, the U.S. code has a very specific meaning for terrorism:


(2) the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents;

22 USC § 2656f – Annual country reports on terrorism


I’d expand that slightly to include the same kind of violence, by the same means, for ideological reasons, such as religion. Beyond that, though, any use of the word is wrong, and has more to do with manipulating opinion than it does with trying to define or explain something.

Blowing up an abortion clinic for religious reasons, for instance could be considered terrorism. Blowing one up for the purpose of extorting money from others is a crime.

In the context of the bombing in Boston last Monday, whether or not it’s terrorism depends on the motivations of the bombers, not on whether or not people were frightened by it. That is why I’ve avoided using the term, and will continue to until such time as the people responsible have been found and tried for what they’ve done, or until they admit what they’ve done and explain why in some other circumstance that doesn’t involve duress.

Any opinions expressed using the word “terrorism” should, I think, be viewed in that context. Words mean particular things. When people use those words in other ways, then their opinions should be viewed more skeptically.

(h/t to Micah Zenko of Atlantic magazine for that USC link.)

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About Cujo359
An engineer, computer programmer, and former defense worker who also does amateur theatre. Contact: my nom de ordinateur at earthlink.net

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