n : the calculated use of violence (or threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimindation or coercion or instilling fear [syn: act of terrorism, terrorist act]
--WordNet, Princeton University
If terrorism is the 'calculated use of violence (or threat of violence)' to 'attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature', do you actually have to be the person or group causing or threatening the violence in order to be engaging in terrorism? Wouldn't it be possible to use a terrorist act or threat to achieve your own ends without actually causing the act or issuing the threat?
Agence France Presse reports a story we're all very likely to be aware of:
Britain said that it has thwarted a plot to wreak "mass murder" by the simultaneous mid-air bombings of planes to the United States, ordering a maximum security alert that snarled global air traffic.
Police said 21 people had been arrested, most of them in the capital London and surrounding area, over the alleged plot in which terrorists would smuggle aboard explosives in hand baggage and detonate them.
British and US authorities suggested the operation had been on the point of being carried out, while US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said it bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, US President George W. Bush said the alert showed the United States remained "at war with Islamic fascists" five years after the September 11, 2001 suicide plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
If this plot turns out to be actual, then these 21 are undoubtedly terrorists. If Chertoff is right and these people are al Qaeda, then they aren't the only terrorists involved. There were those who where to carry out the violence and those who supported them - both groups are terrorist. One to cause the terror, another surviving group to exploit and explain it.
There is a parallel. Glenn Greenwald writes in Salon:
Roughly 12 hours have elapsed since it was disclosed that the British police thwarted an attempt to blow up transcontinental airplanes. Few facts are known about how the plot was uncovered and exactly who was behind it. Nonetheless, supporters of President Bush have wasted no time attempting to exploit this event to make what they evidently perceive are powerful political points in defense of the president and his most controversial policies.
Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds excitedly points to this terrorist plot and then claims that "some people" -- he does not, of course, say who these "some people" are -- "have decided that the war on terror is passe. But although you may not be interested in terrorism, terrorism is still interested in you." Michael Ledeen in National Review attempts to use this incident to argue that we should confront Iran: "But here was a secret plot we found out about, and we acted. Iran announces its intentions openly, however we don't act."
Also in National Review's Corner, Cliff May quickly seized this plot as a weapon to attack seemingly every political opponent he could think of, from the ACLU and the New York Times to Howard Dean and Ned Lamont. And one popular right-wing blogger who writes anonymously behind the name "Ace of Spades," actually insisted that this event all at once demonstrates the wisdom of warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, the Patriot Act, Guantánamo military tribunals and torture (only to then casually recant all of that once it was pointed out to him that it was British law enforcement agents, not Americans, who foiled the plot).
By a strictly legalistic view of the definition of terrorism above, these people must be described as terrorists. They're using an undeniably terrorist act to 'attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature.' And it's not just a extremely literalist view that leads me to that conclusion. They jump on our fear of terrorism to freak us out and get us to agree with any harebrained plot to keep us safe.
The solutions don't really have anything to do with the problem. Michael Ledeen says it means we have to confront Iran - why do these two these have anything to do with each other? The ridiculously named 'Ace of Spades' says, in Greenwald's words, that it 'demonstrates the wisdom of warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, the Patriot Act, Guantánamo military tribunals and torture.' Did the brits use all this crap and, if not, why doesn't that prove the exact opposite?
So, that's why I say these guys are terrorist. Terrorists use fear as a weapon - these maniacs do the same thing. Call it 'reactive terrorism' or 'exploitative terrorism', but it's terrorism. They want to scare you into agreement with them.
In the process, they hurt the War on Terror they claim to support so much. It doesn't help things if the voters in a democracy don't understand the problem and they won't if we have morons like these misinforming them for their own political gain. Hyperbole, exploitation, and fear-mongering serve only very narrow interests and America as a whole, not at all.
If they're not being deliberately terrorist, then they're being short-sighted fools - which, in a practical sense, will have pretty much the same result. We need a long game and these idiots can't think any farther than November.