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Identification of Terrorism is Productive

While I find much value in Daniel Pipes writing, he missed the mark when he wrote that it was unproductive to consider whether the Ft. Hood attack was an act of terrorism, because there are too many definitions of terrorism and attacking soldiers is not terrorism.

In response, I commented:

I disagree with this pragmatic approach that finds it unproductive to question whether Hasan’s attack was an act of terrorism. Ideas matter as is reflected by the recommended narrower focus on jihad.

While there are numerous definitions of terrorism that prevent communication on the subject, an objective definition that represents the essential elements of the concept is possible. Based upon comparison to concrete instances of terrorism and effective counterterrorism, the best definition that I have found is that terrorism is “a belief that the initiation of force against symbolic targets by a non-state organization is an effective method for achieving political change.”

Using this definition, based upon news accounts, Hasan’s attack was an act of terrorism. The military personnel were symbolic targets representing American power and the threat modernity poses to reactionary interpretations of Islam.

Focusing upon jihad alone addresses the motivation for the violence, and is part of creating a backlash policy; however, it would prevent addressing other critical counterterrorism policy issues. For example, detaining terrorist criminals require isolation to prevent efforts to recruit those disposed to violence into the organization, in this case the “true” Ummah. Further, deterrence measures need to be taken to address terrorist infiltration into our military.

A narrow focus in the name of a pragmatic consensus obscures the proper course of action by evading the objective principles involved.

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  1. This was a workplace shooting. I don’t doubt for a minute the reports that this guy was sympathetic to the actions of, animated by the ideas of, and even slightly connected to the structure of foreign Islamic jihad organizations, but first and foremost this was a mentally unstable person trying to externalize his internal hurt. He may have sincerely believed that his actions were a part of the “war” against Western civilization (much as the killers at Columbine believed their’s were; they had plans to comandeer an airplane and fly it into New York City also), but unlike true Islamic terrorists, this guy was under the illusion that his actions had some direct, non-psychological tactical benefit.

    Anyone who believes that killing a few soldiers is going to destroy the United States isn’t a terrorist, be definition. A terrorist understands that his purpose is only to set into motion a chain of events whereby the United States destroys itself. You have to be mentally ill to some degree to not understand that distinction. The leaders of the Islamic jihad movement aren’t mentally ill (they’re willfully evil), but their minions are. Maybe this guy wouldn’t have ever done what he did had he not had that last, final ingredient (Islamic radicalization) added to his lethal cocktail, but there are plenty of other people who are just as unstable as he is running around; it’s just that the particular ideology they need in order to unleash their inner beast isn’t in vogue at the moment.

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