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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What's it Take to be a Terrorist?

Two men, two guns, two cities, two days. On Sunday, Scott Roeder allegedly shot and killed Dr. George Tiller during a church service in Wichita, Kansas. The following Monday, Abdulhakim Muhammad shot Pvt. William Long and Pvt. Quinton I. Ezeagwula -- killing Long -- outside an military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Both shootings were politically motivated; Roeder killed Tiller because he performed late term abortions, while Muhammad killed Long because of what soldiers "had done to Muslims in the past" -- perhaps meaning torture or maybe just military action. What specifically set Muhammad off will probably become clearer. Two men, two murders, two political issues. Yet there's a clear difference between the two:

Associated Press:

Muhammad at hearing...On Tuesday, Muhammad, also 23, pleaded not guilty to one count of capital murder and 16 counts of committing a terrorist act — and could face the death penalty. He is being held without bond. Federal prosecutors also are considering charges...

On the other hand:

Associated Press:

Roeder mugshotAn activist abortion opponent was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the death of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, and the prosecutor said the evidence in the case ruled out the death penalty. Scott Roeder, 51, was shown via a video link from the Sedgwick County Jail. He fiddled with the charging documents on a podium in front of him, and said "OK" three times as Judge Ben Burgess read the charges and explained the court process...

Notice a little inconsistency there?

I'm not for the death penalty, so the disparity there in Roeder's favor doesn't really concern me. Besides, that's a difference in state law. Although Kansas allows for capital punishment, it sets the bar too high for Roeder's crime to clear. According to AP, "Kansas law requires that special circumstances exist for a defendant to be eligible for the death penalty. Such circumstances include the killing of a law officer, more than one person or a victim kidnapped for ransom or rape, or killed in murder for hire." Arkansas apparently has no similar restrictions.

Likewise, Muhammad was planning an ongoing crime spree. Police recovered "Molotov cocktails, three guns and ammunition" from his truck. Roeder, on the other hand, apparently had just one crime in mind. But Muhammad's crime was fairly random -- he had no specific person in mind. He just wanted to kill people in uniform. Roeder had a specific person in mind and a definite outcome was the motive -- no more abortions from Dr. George Tiller.

Yet, in the eyes of the law, one is terrorism and one is not. Muhammad faces 16 counts of terrorism charges and one count of murder. Roeder faces one count of murder. Something is definitely askew here.

Have we gotten to the point where define terrorism as a politically motivated crime committed by Muslims?

If we define the word terrorism as a crime committed to frighten, Roeder's crime definitely qualifies. There are now only two doctors in the United States who perform late term abortions -- how do you think those people feel about their career choices right now? Think they might be considering retirement?

And how many new doctors do you think will replace these three? Think that looks like an enticing line of work at this moment in history?

Muhammad's crime, while just as cruel, was much more pointless. I have deep, deep doubts that he's persuaded anyone that a military career is a bad idea. Other than revenge for perceived wrongs, it's hard to see what outcome this shooter expected, hard to see how this was supposed to change anything. That's not to say that Muhammad's crime doesn't earn him his charges, just that Roeder seems to get off easy for his.

We should probably take a moment and consider how we've redefined the word "terrorist" in our post-Bush world. When did it come to exclude anyone but a Muslim extremist? And when did it become impossible for a Christian extremist to engage in terrorism?

We can freak out about terrorism all we want, but when we get this selective with the label, it begins to lose it's meaning... Scratch that; it begins to take on meanings it didn't originally have. And it makes it much easier for terrorists like Scott Roeder -- who had been charged with possession of bomb materials in the past -- to continue and advance their careers in terrorism.

Pretending that only Muslims are terrorists helps no one but non-Muslim terrorists. And helping them really doesn't seem to me to be the right way to go here.


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