Defining terrorism key, but so is response

Kelly Sloan
Kelly Sloan

Facts are emerging about those responsible for the mass shooting in California, and it’s clear the attack was an act of Islamist terrorism — to the surprise of no one, save a few college kids around the nation cowering and shaking in their safe zones and wondering what kind of micro aggression must have been uttered to provoke such a deed.

Every time a high-profile act of violence takes place anymore, there’s a mad rush to taxonomize the event in an effort to glean some political advantage or another. Neither left nor right are immune to the temptation.

In the case of the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, the left was issuing statements condemning pro-life rhetoric and denouncing pro-life organizations for their imaginary role in the attack even before the lunatic was finished shooting it out with police officers. The term “terrorism” was generously sprinkled among the statements. The reason is obvious and simple: to try to reduce the pro-life movement to radical extremists who, as a matter of course, resort to violence to promote their agenda. Never mind the shooter lacks even a remote association to any pro-life group and appears for all the world to be a few holly leaves short of a garland, the terminological war had by necessity to take precedence over any accumulation of facts.

It’s a trap the right can fall in to easily enough if caution is ignored. It’s altogether conceivable, of course, that a Muslim man somewhere in America or Europe, motivated by the usual, merely criminal inclinations to violence, could murder his girlfriend’s lover or his ungrateful boss and the incident would be precipitously labeled as terrorism. Understandably so, perhaps, given the current state of affairs, but still…

Terrorism, and its conjugations, is a loaded word, hence its popularity for political attachment. It suggests something more organized, more sinister, more dangerous than a simple criminal act and also suggests a more robust response.

Definitions are important and distinctions need to be made lest undisciplined use of the word render it meaningless. But by any reasonable definition, the California killings fit the bill. The assailants identified with and pledged allegiance to a major terrorist network and carried out a “mission” against a soft, civilian target, consistent with the geopolitical goals of that organization.

So what, then, does the labeling of an event as a terrorist act mean in terms of response?

President Barack Obama addressed the nation ostensibly to take on that very question, and history should serve to mute our surprise that little in the way of an answer was presented. Obama’s naiveté was well displayed yet again. He spoke of his view the Islamic State has developed new tactics, having transmogrified from a battlefield army easily defeated by tanks, jets and rifles to a shadowy one infiltrating our cities to unleash mayhem from disguise.

Well, that’s actually not a new tactic, Mr. President. In fact, that’s built into the definitional construct of what we know as “terrorism.” It’s not a new phenomenon. The Provisional Irish Republican Army did that in both Belfast and London, just as their Fenian forbears did elsewhere in Ireland. The nihilists and anarchists of the 19th century pioneered the modern tactics. The left-wing terror groups of the 1970s and 1980s — the Red Army Faction, Action Directe, Red Brigade and others — did the same thing in Europe in their heyday. So did the Palestine Liberation Organization in Israel, the Viet Cong in South Vietnam and Shining Path in Peru. Incidentally, so did Al Qaeda. Perhaps the president and his advisors simply missed those ones.

Obama could have taken the opportunity to outline, in broad strokes to be sure, an overarching strategy for dealing with this threat at home and abroad, including strong military action to wrest their home base from them and targeted forensic actions domestically. Instead, he chose to focus on politically motivated distractions — guns, the avoidance of profiling and, of course, climate change.

It’s vital, but not enough, to accurately denominate these events as what they are and to make a concerted effort to separate that descriptive task from a political agenda. It would be swell if the executive branch could apply that same cold objectivity and formulate a response that was determined by reality rather than political considerations in pursuit of a politically correct agenda.  That might just save more lives than repealing the Second Amendment or outlawing energy production.