Cooperating with Terrorism
The FBI defines terrorism as follows:
“There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as 'the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives'”
It is not easy to say who is a terrorist and who is not. Is Whitey Bulger, connected to 19 murders, a terrorist? It is not unreasonable to think that some of those murders were aimed at “terrorizing”, at seriously frightening the public or fellow gangsters. But Bulger probably did not have “political” goals in mind. He was not interested in weakening the government by creating widespread panic.
Were the shooters in Newtowne, CT. or Aurora, CO. terrorists?
Are the Tsernaev brothers terrorists? As soon as the two bombs went off at the end of the Boston marathon, reporters, police and all other people supposedly in the know were looking for the political connections of the brothers. None have been found so far.
Did the Tsernaev's try to scare people? Or were they just “acting out” in a spectacular and terribly destructive way?
But the experts and the general public alike have decided that the Tsernaev brothers are terrorists and as terrorists they will go down in our history.
Who is a terrorist or not is largely decided by the public, especially by the police, the FBI, Homeland Security. They will announce that this person is a suspect in terrorist acts, while that other one is just a mass murderer. The Tsernaevs are terrorists; Adam Lanza of Sandy Hook Elementary School is a murderer. The difference lies in the official law enforcement labeling not in the crimes committed.
It is we, the public, who make the crimes into terrorist acts.
Terrorism involves creating fear in as wide a public as possible.
In the recent Boston bombing, two young men set off two homemade bombs. People waiting at the end of the 26 mile marathon course screamed and ran or rushed in to help victims. Everyone was frightened. As the news spread, more people felt great fear.
TV, radio and the newspapers contributed to spreading panic. For the better part of the week, whenever I turned on the radio—my favorite source of news—I heard the anxious voices of newscaster repeating that they had no news, interviewing panicked members of the public, or spreading stories which later proved to be incorrect.
If the bombing was intended to frighten us (which is still not clear), the news media cooperated enthusiastically. I did not hear any news reporter who told the public that we are not easily frightened and that we will, therefore, carry on with our customary daily activities and ignore the uproar as far as we can. Instead of canceling their ordinary programs in order to maintain a high level of public anxiety, the news media should have consigned information connected with the bombing to back pages, or the news on the hour, and tried as much as they could to reestablish an air of normalcy.
There has been a great deal of praise for the professionalism of the various police forces on the scene. But at one point there were 9000 heavily armed men and women in Watertown, a town of 20,000 inhabitants. They were looking for one, certainly very dangerous, 19 year old.
Hardly a way of calming the public or reminding us that we do not scare easily.
Three people died. Many others were injured, a number of them seriously. Their pain is not alleviated by creating a general atmosphere of panic.
However difficult to identify, terrorism is a fact of modern life. We need to learn to resist the inclination to shout “terrorists!” every time we hear an explosion; we need to resist the impulse to be frightened. Media and police forces need to do their part to support the citizens' efforts to remain calm and carry on their daily lives unperturbed.
In the Boston bombing, police and media manufactured a terrorist event. They not only failed to help ordinary citizens to preserve their equanimity but cooperated with the bombers to create panic.