Date :Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Time : 22:43 |ID: 15576 | Print

What is — and isn’t — ‘terrorism’?

Anam Khan

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

On October 24, 2014, Jaylen Fryberg shot five students at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in the US state of Washington. On April 16, 2007, a 23-year-old gunman killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus. On April 3, 2009, Jiverly Wong killed 13 people at an immigrant centre. On July 12, 2012, James E Holmes walked into a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, and killed 12 people. The list of gun attacks in the US is endless, and writing about every single shooting incident, since 1949, would be a draining task.

In 2010, 13,186 people reportedly died in terrorist attacks worldwide, whereas 31,672 people lost their lives after falling victim to gun attacks in the US. The contrast between the number of deaths resulting from terror attacks and the number of deaths resulting from gun attacks in 2010 is a startling example of how US government officials have failed to decimate the frequency of gun violence within their own country, while trying to suppress terrorist activity in other parts of the globe.

Boston became the venue for a wide-scale manhunt when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, allegedly killed four people and wounded 100 after detonating a bomb during the April 2013 marathon in the city. People’s limbs were amputated, a child lost his life and the concept of placing a bomb strategically next to the finish line is metaphorically heart wrenching. People who had been running for hours were hanging on to their last bouts of energy, and the finish line was a symbol of their achievement, endurance and hard work. The Boston Marathon bombing was, without a doubt, an act of terror. However, what was the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School classified as? How is a gun attack against 26 toddlers not an act of terror? The Sandy Hook shooting was every parent’s greatest nightmare coming to life in its truest form.

Conservative entities in the US vehemently defend the American Constitution’s second amendment, which gives citizens “the right to bear arms”. This constitutional privilege does not consider the mental health or criminal background of potential gun purchasers. Everyone supposedly has a right to defend themselves. In April 2013, a majority of Republican senators and the National Rifle Association (NRA) fiercely opposed President Barack Obama’s attempt to enforce strict background checks on people buying guns. It is ironic how Republicans are simultaneously urging Obama to conduct a prolonged military operation on the ground against the ISIS as a result of the hazardous risk posed by the militant group. The ISIS is, by any standard, a dangerous force. However, there are also many threats that exist within the US today, and these threats are not solely the result of a radical ideology or the ISIS.

The word terrorism means, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes”. Another definition of terrorism is, “the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorisation”. Fine, terrorism has been referred to as a politically motivated act, but a textbook definition of terrorism should not cause people to discount the state of “fear” or “submission” that people are likely to feel during a gun attack. Any form of violence, whether it is a gun attack or a politically inspired attack, should be considered an act of terror. Cases of unstable mental or emotional health might explain the root cause of these shooting rampages, but the presence of “fear” or “terror” that transpired as a result is indisputable.

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