Terrorism: An act or acts meant to cause fear of harm in others in order to affect behaviour.
Terrorism is one of those things in life that is so important that its definition has been clearly set out - both in society and in the law. We may argue over whether a particular set of facts fits within the definition, but reasonable minds do not disagree with its definition.
The federal definition of terrorism is spelled out in 18 USC 2331 as activities which (1) involve illegal acts (2) that are dangerous to human life (3) with the apparent intent to (a) (i) intimidate, or (ii) coerce the population, or (b) influence government policy thru (i) intimidation or (ii) coercion, or (c) affect governmental behaviour thru (i) mass destruction, or (ii) assassination, or (iii) kidnapping.
In Virginia 18.2-46.4 defines terrorism as (1) (a) 1st degree murder, or (b) 2d degree murder, or (c) voluntary manslaughter, or (d) violent crimes done by a mob, or (e) abduction, or (f) felony malicious bodily wounding, or (g) malicious bodily injury, or (h) robbery, or (h) carjacking, or (i) felony sexual assault, or (j) arson of a residence, or (k) destruction of a public building while occupied, or (l) being (i) a conspirator, or (ii) an abbettor, or (iii) an accessory before the fact to any of the previously listed crimes (2) which are committed with the intent to (a) intimidate the civilian population at large; or (b) influence the conduct or activities of the government of the United States, a state or locality through intimidation.
Even if you only rely on dictionaries you get similar definitions. Oxford Dictionary Online defines it as "the use of violence in the pursuit of political aims", Cambridge Dictionary Online says it is "violent action for political purposes" and Merriam-Webster states it is "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion."
Over at Gruntled Center, Professor Weston has confused bias with religious terrorism. In a post obviously meant to convey his disapproval of the biases displayed by a county commissioner in Coffee County, Tennessee, Professor Weston labeled the man a Hate-Filled Religious Terrorist because the man re-posted this photo:
Right. So this was apparently a one-off, thoughtless joke Barry West forwarded from someone else and only meant to share with his "friends" on Facebook. The man obviously never thought it would go any farther. However, in the modern era of constant need for "news", this non-story was salacious enough and fit into the Americans in flyover country are ignorant meme of sites like HuffPo, ThinkProgress, and msnNow and therefore it got lots of over-coverage (and I'm sure local media followed their lead). Pretty quickly, they beat the guy into submission.
Anyway I commented as follows:
A hate-filled religious terrorist would be someone who believes he has a positive duty under his religion to go out and do X to others to make them act in a certain manner. This man is reacting to a perceived threat. He may be over-reacting, but there's nothing here to indicate that his reaction is religion based or that he feels that he has a positive duty to seek out and harm or cause fear in those not of his religion in order to force them to behave in a certain manner.Professor Weston replied only to my first sentence and stated:
I have to disagree. A terrorist is not trying to make others act in a certain way. A terrorist is trying to induce terror by threatening violence and/or carrying out violence.Try as I might, I can't come up with a single act which falls into a "just to create terror" category. Most actors engaging in violence or threats have a blending of reasons for their violence. Revenge, self-aggrandizement, and intimidating other potential victims seem to be the top three reasons. Attacks such as the Oklahoma City bombing - which was undeniably terroristic - are usually a mixture of revenge (for Waco and Ruby Ridge), attempted inspiration (trying to inspire like minded people the rise against the federal government), self aggrandizement (we remember McVeigh and Nichols), and an attempt to affect the behaviour of others thru terror (to cow the government so that it would not use militaristic force against people).
It also seems an unsupported assumption to state that these biases rise out of a religion (presumptively Christian) rather than fear and anger brought about by a long list of terroristic attacks on American targets by people associating themselves with Islam - the bombing of the Embassy in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center bombing, the Khobar Towers bombing, the killing of U.S. airmen in Germany, the USS Cole attack, 9/11, the Benghazi attacks, and the Boston Marathon - as well as a long list of similar attacks in Britain, Russia, the Sudan, Egypt, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
To be fair, while not terrorism itself, the bias expressed in the joke is such that it may be indicative of a society that fosters terroristic activity. On the other hand, the glib reposting of a Facebook joke is not a good way to measure the depth of a bias. It required almost no time, thought, or effort (a couple clicks) and seems more likely an indication of a bias that is widely shared but shallow. How many thousands of people, through the simplicity of Facebook, shared this particular jape? Unknown. Probably thousands. Looking through my Facebook feed this morning there are all sorts of similar posts relying on shallow biases. Jokes rely on biases in order to give the person receiving the joke a frame of reference. My feed has jokes based upon biases about men, women, children, parents, and Yankees. I do not expect any of those are indications of strong bias but they are indicative of widespread bias or they would not be so popularly reposted.
Actually, the question that keeps popping into my head is, what is the agenda of the person who initially publicized this story? Because, that person put a lot more effort into this than the politician who clicked twice to repost.