I know that he is white. I know the history of attacks on churches. I understand how unfair our society is, how fucked up the debate and the media are, the gaping gulf that exists between black and white, red and blue, left and right. It’s still not terrorism.
But it is a crime: Hate crime, heinous act, tragic, evil. The act speaks for itself: White gunman walks into Bible study group meeting and kills nine black church members claiming, “You rape our women.” If the reports are true. I actually still believe in beyond a shadow of a doubt and even mitigating circumstances.
I took a deep breath this morning and answered Glenn Greenwald regarding the Charleston shooting.
Now social media is filled with talk of domestic terrorism, quoting the Patriot Act and its definition of domestic terrorist. But I think it’s a trap calling this terrorism, and falling into that trap, even rhetorically, no matter how many quotation marks are used for emphasis or irony endangers civil society and coarsens us. And not only that, but it defeats the very point I think people are trying to make, that is: that if anything is terrorism, this is. Because it isn’t.
I didn’t intend to continue the discussion about this on Twitter, and even the immediacy of this blog doesn’t give it justice. I could quote the sages, the philosophers, Jesus and the Bible itself. And the Quran; that too. I could quote the law: Patriot Act and the Geneva Conventions; and even older mores about morality and humanity. I could use the words distinction and discrimination in the ways the scholars and theologians have used and dissected and explained them.
But I don’t mean to ascend some perch of expertise. I’m not interested in slaying anyone and don’t even want to be clever.
“There is something we call terrorism, acts that stand outside the laws and accumulated conscience of mankind. But we should reserve the term for that which stands outside the law.”
Last night, police say the man prayed for an hour with his victims before opening fire. The Department of Justice has launched a hate crimes investigation, old wounds of other massacres are opened, black versus white festers, the mental health community foams. But he is not a terrorist.
By calling the Charleston shooter a terrorist, by using and dignifying this buzzword of our day, by being hyperbolic in the news media, we dehumanize the act. And back to terrorism and national security, and the promiscuity of the government in all of its appropriation, we also inadvertently bestow a heinous crime with some outsized political meaning. I think the consequence is real: No matter how demented this shooter might be, by dignifying this law-breaking act as being part of some noble (or even evil) struggle, by suggesting in using the word terrorism that it has some message and purpose, we aid this perpetrator (and others) in justifying the act. We aid them.
In the realm of warfare and national security, I don’t really care if al Qaeda or Obama, Clinton or Bush, Cheney or Biden think that they are justified, quote the law, make up their own laws, assert national interest and international security, aggrandize executive privilege, or even claim a greater good in what they do. You don’t intentionally kill civilians. And when you do, it is a crime. And in warfare — even there — it is a crime against humanity. I have my opinion as to who is worse because they intentionally do so. There is a gigantic body of law and consideration behind Nuremberg and even today’s International Criminal Court that parses such things.
Yet even in the case of those who are in custody, particularly in the case of such arch-criminals as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we have to maintain the rule of law. We have to want to see real justice. And we want justice also for the perpetrators because without that we have nothing. There is something we call terrorism, acts that stand outside the reach of our laws and the accumulated conscience of mankind. But we should reserve the term for that which our laws are truly inadequate to redress.
What I have to say today is so immaterial and insignificant in the sweep — I am saddened, even ashamed to be part of our blaring world. I’m hesitant to even throw out my own articulation of bloody murder. But it is not terrorism.
Talk amongst yourselves.
[Photo courtesy of AP.]
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