The word “terrorist” is trotted out far too easily. Media reports and politicians in particular love to use or misuse the word to draw more attention to their stories. This over-use of “terrorist” dilutes its meaning, especially as the definition of what constitutes “terror” can vary as much as each user wishes, with the consensus seeming to be “I’ll know it when I see it”.
The result is that almost any person or action can be determined to be terrorist. The attacks by the likes of Timothy McVeigh or Osama bin Laden will meet most people’s definition of terror. But what about other high-profile criminals? James Holmes, who is accused of the shootings at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, is not generally described as a terrorist (although he is none the less justifiably reviled). Adam Lanza, the gunman at the Sandy Hook school shootings, is not described as a terrorist. However, the terrorist label was instantly applied to Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsernaev, the alleged perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings. The result of each of these incidents is similar: a large number of people dead or seriously wounded, widespread panic, long-lingering fear in the affected communities. What makes one of these actions “terror” and the other two not?
It will be far better to refer to all of these criminals as what they are: criminals. Murderers, kidnapers, extortionists – all these actions are crimes, regardless of any underlying political motive, so it is simple, and correct, just to call them what they, without sensationalising their crimes with a further designation. Sensation is often precisely what the perpetrators of these crimes want, as it gives them publicity, and a way to benefit from their crimes. They also get a perverted sense of worth – as ‘terrorists’ they may perceive are warriors for their cause, and not mere murderers.
Don’t let them think that randomly killing people, any people, gets them or their alleged cause any credit. It is criminal behaviour, and that is bad enough without the drama or notoriety from being called terrorist.
I believe it will also help the cause of peace in places like Israel & Palestine to clearly identify killers as murderers, not as terrorists. Let those who participate in murder be identified as murderers, regardless whether they use rocks, knives, bullets or rockets. Make them criminals, not heroes.