“Terrorism, US Politics, and the US Media”

First question: what is terrorism?  One definition is that it is an armed technique, usually used against non-combatants, in a conventional or non-conventional war situation.   (Well yes, I did make that one up.)  One dictionary definition is: “1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes; 2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization; 3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.”  Another is: “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal; the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”  But then the good old Wikipedia tells us that: “There is neither an academic nor an accurate legal consensus regarding the definition of terrorism.  Various legal systems and government agencies use different definitions. Moreover, governments have been reluctant to formulate an agreed upon, legally binding definition. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term is politically and emotionally charged. “ 

One thing that all of these definitions have in common is that they describe a tactic, or at best a strategy, of war.  Nevertheless, since the time of President Bush (who described the 9/11 disaster as a “terrorist attack” before anyone had the foggiest notion of who/what was responsible), we have somehow had the “War on Terror” (which for the military-industrial complexes involved in fighting it has the advantage of being a Permanent War).   Without a definition of the term having ever been provided by the U.S. government, it just so happens that the so-called “War on Terror,” was declared by Bush, and, as Eugene Robinson noted, continued under Obama.  However, as Robinson also said, paraphrasing an unknown U.S. general, declaring a “war on terror” is like declaring a war on “flanking maneuvers.” 

Except that in the United States, acts that can be described as “terroristic” using any of the definitions quoted above, such as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes,” or “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal” or any others that one could think of for that matter, have one very peculiar characteristic.  That is, in this day-and-age, flanking maneuvers or no, according to most U.S. politicians (and all Repub. politicians), and most of the U.S. media (most especially what is referred to as the “mainstream media”), for the most part to be labelled as “terrorism,” a violent act carried out against civilians has to have been done, or made to appear to have been done by Muslims.  Just consider what has happened in the case of the militia attack on the Federal Bureau of Land Management in Burns, OR.

And so, since “San Bernardino,” (an absolute horror to be sure) we have been hearing about it and its apparent perpetrators virtually 24/7.  Most especially we are on the one hand hearing about their “radicalization,” and on the other about just how the Pakistani woman got into the country.  (We don’t hear so much about how they happened to be able themselves or through a friend to freely acquire military-style assault rifles, but of course we know the reason for that.)  That word, “radicalization,” as though it were some kind of secret process conducted by witches (think “Macbeth”), is repeated over-and-over again.  The implication is that it must be Muslims who are the potential subjects for it, and that it, the process, must be found out.

One does have to wonder why we don’t hear too much about Robert Dear, who murdered three people at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs and how he got “radicalized.”  Lots of people think that abortion is murder (after all, the Repubs. and their echo chambers at Fox”News” and right-wing talk radio spew that stuff 24/7.  Remember O’Reilly and “Diller the baby killer,” on the murdered abortion doctor.)  But fortunately not-too-many are “radicalized” enough to go commit murder.  We do hear some about Sandy Hook, but that was not “terrorism,” mind you, because it was committed by a clearly mentally ill young man who had a clearly mentally ill mother for an accomplice (and they both happened to be white).

But have you ever heard of the 2009 mass killing at an adult immigrant resource center in Binghamton, NY?  Well, you may have, but I had to be reminded of it by a recent column on the Huffington Post.  Of course, they were all foreign nationals, but I wonder if the killer had become “radicalized” against such folk.  I don’t think that we’ll ever find out.  And then what about the “massacre [that] took place at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where 40-year-old Wade Michael Page fatally shot six people and wounded four others.HYPERLINK "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_Sikh_temple_shooting" \l "cite_note-Huff-4"  . . . . Page was an American white supremacist and United States Army veteran. . . .”  I can’t recall much of an investigation about how this known white supremacist got radicalized.  And oh by the way, Page thought that he was murdering Muslims.  Sikh’s aren’t.  

Next we come to the out-lier rancher Cliven Bundy and his gang of “militia-men” who threatened to murder Federal law enforcement officials if they attempted to stop him from breaking the law on grazing his cattle on public lands.  And now his son is into the same sort of business at Burns, OR.  How did such folks “get radicalized?”  Hmmm?  And when Dylann Roof, known for his open association with white “The Confederacy Will Rise Again” hate groups (of which there are many not only in the South but other parts of the country as well), slaughters eight church-goers in Charleston, South Carolina (the capital of the first of what became the Confederate States of America) we don’t hear the media going on and on about “how was he radicalized.”

But heck, we would be getting much too close to home (literally).  After all, the Southern Policy Law Center has identified about 1600 armed and dangerous right-wing “militias/hate-ist/domestic terrorist groups.”  But when early in the Obama Administration the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was going to launch an investigation into domestic organizations posing potential terrorist threats the screams and outrage from the supposedly “anti-terror” Republicans in the Congress brought that one to halt quickly.  And we could go on. 

However this is not just the work of Republicans and their Propaganda channels who work hard to get the country terrified about “foreign,” especially “Muslim” terror.  The so-called “mainstream media,” from The New York Times to the “liberal” cable news channels, are focusing almost exclusively on “San Bernardino” and the apparent killers’ “radicalization” (that’s quickly become the in-word).  And so on most of the media “terrorism” has a very narrow focus, because it is of course linked to Muslims and furriners, donchaknow.  They are just stoking the fire, which the likes of Trump breath in and then spew out into general Muslim suspicion, which can very quickly turn to hate (yellow crescents, anyone?)

And so, where are the Democrats?  When on the day I wrote the original version of this column (December 17, 2015) President Obama gave another one of his patented “calming” speeches about terrorism he mentions just one place: San Bernardino, where he was to stop off on his way to his annual holiday-time Hawaii vacation, to “comfort the families of the victims.”  “What?” (as the great sports commentator on New York City’s WFAN Steve Sommers likes to say about subjects of much less importance).  The President could have also stopped in Colorado Springs to comfort the families there.  After all it’s on the way.  But that would mean not feeding into the narrative that his enemies intend to use to win the 2016 election.  And it would also mean standing up for Planned Parenthood.  And we can’t have either of those, can we?

Please indulge me for one more “oh, by the way.”  There will be at least one more “Muslim terrorist attack” between now and the next election, most likely about two weeks before it.  After all, the Repubs. really do want to win, even if it means having a former pro-choice Democrat totally loose cannon in the White House.