Today’s concept of terrorism seems to be largely influenced by the identity of the perpetrators or the nature of the cause, rather than the nature of the act. Take for example the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon last April 15.
|Bombs explode during the Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013. Photo by the New
Yorker. Click link to view Explosions at the Boston Marathon by the Boston
The suspects, the brothers Tsarnaev, are of Chechen descent and followers of Islam, but their Islamic or Chechen heritage alone is hardly proof of jihadist intent. No evidence has emerged to link Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother, who travelled to Dagestan for six months, to militant groups in Russia’s Caucasus. In fact, the Caucasus Emirate, which both Russia and the US consider a terrorist organization, denied involvement in the Boston attack.
US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and three other Republican lawmakers wanted the surviving Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, be declared an enemy combatant, not a criminal, which would deprive the 19-year-old American citizen the fundamental rights that distinguish this country from authoritarian regimes.
Right after the photographs of the Boston suspects were revealed to the public, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis quickly prejudged the Muslim brothers and considered them “terrorists with a mission to kill.”
But whose enemy is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?
Certainly, not the United States. Probably Russia. But why on earth did the Tsarnaev brothers choose to bomb the Boston marathon instead of the Bolshoi Theatre or the Moscow Metro, which is closer to home and symbolic of their dislike of Russia? Recall that in 2010, two women suicide bombers carried out an attack on the Moscow Metro. At least 40 people were killed, and over 100 injured.
Russian officials called the Moscow Metro bombing the deadliest in recent years. At the time of the attacks, an estimated 500,000 people were commuting through Moscow’s metro system. The Caucasus Emirate claimed responsibility for the Moscow Metro bombings, stating that attacks in Russia will continue unless Russia grants independence to Muslim states in the North Caucasus region.
The true motivation for the Tsarnaev brothers for bombing the Boston marathon with pressure-cooker bombs, if they were really the culprits beyond nagging suspicions of conspiracy or being framed up, would never be exactly known. One thing sure is their religion is going to be blamed for radicalizing them. That, “like all militant Muslims,” the Tsarnaev brothers are guilty of committing terrorism in order to create an atmosphere of fear and alarm. With no history of violence or prior criminal record (except for the older Tamerlan for domestic assault), both brothers will be forever linked to terrorism, simply because they are fervent Muslims from a volatile Muslim-dominated republic in the Caucasus where “violence, abductions, widows, orphans and rape” are ordinary.
Never mind that the younger Tsarnaev told FBI interrogators that they were self-radicalized, that they were driven to terrorism by the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and its policy against Islamic jihadists overall. Rebellious words from a young kid who regularly “stoned” with his friends. This is too convenient a motive to believe.
One wonders why this “self-radicalizing” effect has not similarly aroused other militant Americans to engage in terrorism to send a political message that they too don’t approve of American military intervention in the wars against Muslim extremists. Is it the Muslim connection that is missing as a trigger to commit terrorism?
It makes more sense to listen to the Caucasus Emirate when it said that its mujahedin are not fighting with the US. Their website declares: “We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims.” The group suggested that Russia’s secret services would have had a greater interest in carrying out the attack in Boston.
Ethnicity has often been used today to justify the violent behaviour of terrorists. But there is no ethnicity that is inherently violent. Even if the brother Tsarnaevs have aligned themselves with Chechen resistance against Russia or with Islamic jihad in general, which has not been established, treating Chechen ethnicity and the brothers’ Islamic faith as the cause of the Boston violence is highly irresponsible.
Muslim immigrants in the United States are being treated as walking symbols of violent behaviour. As if terrorism can only be explained by linking acts of terror to Muslims who are presumed to have a mission of committing violence against America and its allies.
In an article in Harper’s Magazine in September 1986, “Terrorism: A cliché in search of a meaning,” Christopher Hitchens writes: “The word “terrorist” is not-like “communist” and “fascist”— being abused; it is itself an abuse. It disguises reality and impoverishes language and makes a banality out of the discussion of war and revolution and politics. It’s the perfect instrument for the cheapening of public opinion and for the intimidation of dissent.”
Hitchens goes on: “What is frightening and depressing is that a pseudoscientific propaganda word like “terrorism” has come to have such a hypnotic effect on public debate in the United States. A word which originated with the most benighted opponents of the French Revolution; a word featured constantly in the anti-partisan communiqués of the Third Reich; a word which is a commonplace in the handouts of the Red Army in Afghanistan and the South African army in Namibia; a word which was in everyday use during the decline of the British, French, Portuguese, and Belgian empires. Should we not be wary of a term with which rulers fool themselves and by which history is abolished and language debased? Don’t we fool and console ourselves enough as it is?”
Timothy McVeigh committed a terroristic act in the Oklahoma City bombing, but at least we knew exactly why he did it. The “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski was an American terrorist who single-handedly waged a bombing campaign against modern technology that killed three people and injuring 23 others. We all knew why he did it.
When the trial is over, the Tsarnaev brothers will be found guilty for the Boston bombing. But for whatever rhyme or reason, meaning the real one, we simply will never know. All that matters is “it was for the cause of terrorism,” however vague or nebulous these words may mean.
|Is there a conspiracy behind the Boston bombing? Click link to view video,
Because we have allowed ourselves to abuse the concept of terrorism in its modern usage. For it is enough that the perpetrators are believers of a perverted form of Islam and that they come from a terrorism-infested place where violence is a way of life. Many Americans have been led to believe that Islam is capable of nurturing terrorists and suicide-bombers and that committing terrorism among its adherents has an evangelizing charm.
The perverted idea of Islam being able to generate a “self-radicalizing” effect that could trigger domestic terrorism has gone too far. Muslim immigrants to the US, many of whom are peace-loving people, should have reason to worry that they could be deprived of their First Amendment right if their religion is seen as so powerful to convert them to embrace terrorism against their host country. Immigration of Muslims might even be shut down if this anti-Muslim hysteria is allowed to dominate the debate on current initiatives to reform immigration in the US.
In addition to the twisted American definition of terrorism, there is also the distorted basis for laying charges of terrorism, at least in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The federal criminal complaint charges the young Chechen-American with “unlawfully using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction ... against persons and property.” The WMD in question was, the document explains, “an improvised explosive device (IED).”
Now, isn’t this notion of WMD a ridiculous charge?
If pressure cookers retrofitted with explosives were to be considered WMD, then George W. Bush was right that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction after all. Furthermore, if an IED is a WMD, then Iraq actually ended up with more WMDs after the U.S. invasion than before. It does not fit any logical definition of WMDs.
Obviously, the federal statute could no longer distinguish “dangerous weapons from apocalyptic ones.” Under the statute, 18 USC §2332a, a weapon of mass destruction might be what it’s always been understood to be – a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon. It can now include any bomb, grenade, mine, or any rocket with a propellant charge exceeding four ounces, or any missile with an explosive charge exceeding one-quarter ounce. Someone suggested that a cherry bomb, exploded on the Fourth of July, if deployed with sufficient malice, would be deemed a WMD.
The United Nations adopted the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” in 1947 to describe not only nuclear weapons, but also chemical and biological weapons that are capable of extinguishing human civilization. With new technologies being made available on the Internet, we should be thankful that no category of weapon has been invented to date that could match the destructive power of nuclear weapons.
In characterizing the Boston Marathon bombers as wielding WMDs, we probably miss the point as to what was truly frightening about that event.
Timothy Noah writes in Foreign Policy: “It isn’t only terrorist masterminds who can harm us with weapons of unimaginable power. It’s also ordinary people moved by inexplicable hatreds using the simplest of tools. Weapons of minor destruction, in the wrong hands, are perhaps even more terrifying, because they’re so much easier to acquire, and so much easier to set off.”
Whether the Boston bombing is really an act of terrorism or not has significant political implications and legal consequences as well. Terrorism could raise our levels of fear and even justify any government response.
But the current use of the word “terrorism” has been manipulated to suit what the state officially wants.
As Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian writes: “It’s hard not to suspect that the only thing distinguishing the Boston attack from Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbine (to say nothing of the US “shock and awe” attack on Baghdad and the mass killings in Fallujah) is that the accused Boston attackers are Muslim and the other perpetrators are not. As usual, what terrorism really means in American discourse – its operational meaning – is: violence by Muslims against Americans and their allies.”