I recently had a Twitter conversation with a person who really wanted to paint the recent Charleston attack as an act of terrorism.
My first objection to this person’s claim was not necessarily his use of the term terrorism. The tragedy is bad enough without getting bogged down over whether the event should be discerned as an act of domestic terror or a hate crime. Pedantic adherence to catch phrases does an injustice to underlying meanings, and that isn’t isolated to events like these. The real challenge in life, I think, is to dig beneath the surface to get a clearer picture of what’s going on, and that doesn’t happen when people are hung up on their own contrived meaning or emotional link to a word, instead of the phenomenon itself.
My real objection was to his desire to call the Charleston victims religious martyrs. This is a terrible misrepresentation of the event, plainly incorrect, and deeply insidious.
The victims of the Charleston church shooting did not die because they were Christians. They died because they were black, and because they had the bad luck to be in the place where Dylann Roof thought he would have a good chance to kill a lot of people with that particular skin tone. He literally said he killed those people because of their skin color; the meaning here is clear.
What’s worse than the logical error here is the hijacking of victimhood for one’s own purposes. When you focus on the Charleston victims’ religion, rather than their skin color, and then you say that this was an act of terrorism (a word with clear religious implications), this allows a sort of weaseled link to the victims because of the characteristic you share with them (their religion). This contrived link subsequently allows for the claim of religious persecution because of the shared relationship.
This logical wormery is the worst humanity, exhibited by the worst sort of humans, and is nothing less than obscene. What makes it worse is that this nonsense convinces people they’re under attack because of their religion, which amplifies and reinforces their persecution complex. I can’t really imagine a cheaper or more vile exploitation in these circumstances.
The shooting in Charleston is a national tragedy, and it is proof positive there exists not just a robust culture of institutional racism, but also a pervasive and dogged cultivation of white supremacy. The tragic irony here is that it happened in a state hell-bent on reverence to the flag of a defunct, treasonous country which celebrated oppression and subjugation, and justified both with religious doctrine.
We should not allow the Charleston tragedy to be exploited by religious vultures who want to advance their own vile, narcissistic agenda.
Aside from my rant, one of the things I started thinking about was the word “terrorism”.
A quick Google search provides the following definition of terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
Of course, when you ask an American what comes to mind with the word terrorism, odds are they’ll bring up 9/11, Islam, and the various things we’ve been conditioned to believe about terrorism over the past few decades. What’s hard to ignore is the perception that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were motivated by people who hated the west, namely Christianity, Zionism, and America. Wouldn’t it have been narrative-fitting if the Charleston attack had been committed by a Muslim?
If you think about it though, terrorism is an awfully generic word, yet it has all sorts of built-in connotation. The fact that people throw the term around so haphazardly to their own benefit demonstrates how powerful words are, and how easy it is to exploit people’s psychology with the right words.
But note in the definition of terrorism, there is no need for destruction of property, injury, or death. It’s only violence and intimidation. In fact, the thing that comes to my mind is that the word most people use to associate with the acts of 9/11 (etc) is probably an insufficient, and even inappropriate.
In the definition above, a lot of people are terrorists. Yet, we tend to reserve the word “terrorism” for only a specific subset of behaviors which barely match its definition.
So what do we accomplish by calling something terrorism? It seems to me that all it accomplishes is to attach a buzzword, filled with all sorts of connotations, to an event that is almost entirely unrelated to other events that share the same label.
It occurs to me that the word, itself, is very prone to being misused as propaganda?