What is the definition of terrorism? An act that inspires terror in people’s hearts – or is it a violent act underpinned by religious convictions? It would seem to me the term ‘terrorism’ has been appropriated in recent times to signify the latter definition. It not only signifies a religiously inspired attack of violence which incites fear and pain, but it is closely associated with members of the Muslim faith (or if it occurs within Ireland, then either Catholics or Protestants.) Yet in general, excluding Ireland, I would argue that terrorism has not only obtained religio-cultural connotations, but also racial ones.
That is why it surprised me tonight when reading that a white male adult walked into an office block on Tottenham Court Road, a major road in the heart of the London, with gas canisters strapped to his body threatening to blow himself up – because he had nothing to live for, and they made explicit that they were not treating this as a ‘terrorist case’. As of now they aren’t sure what the personal circumstances were that drove him to this point – yet let’s, for a moment, theorise. Perhaps in the recession he has lost his job, perhaps his wife/partner has left him. He may have experienced the deaths of those close to him. Whatever his personal circumstance were which drove him to a place of such abject despair, his desire to potentially murder innocent people and throw a whole city in disarray was selfishly constructed. And I use the term selfishly very specifically. Because yes, all acts of terrorism are, to a degree, selfish. They, by definition, violate the rights of all the people subjected to the act of terror because of a personal ideal. But this is where the religious terrorism we are so distressed by, and abject depression, go their separate ways. One has an ideal. An ideology which in their minds – whether we believe them to be screwed up or not – elicits a purpose. They have a telos, a focused objective which they firmly believe can be achieved through an act that those who are subjected to, define as terror. The other has no object, except to inflict pain on others because of, what I feel, is a cowardly desire to not suffer alone in silence.
This may be a controversial way of thinking, yet I do believe that both are acts of terrorism. They may be insane individuals, brainwashed individuals, psychologically unstable, but they have committed to enacting a violent form on an unknowing and generally innocent public (barring personal views on the guilt of ‘the public’). When we elide the concept of terror and place it firmly within religious boundaries, and more than that, within racial and cultural boundaries, primarily identifying Muslims from the Middle East, Southern Asia, and North/Western Africa, then we create the space for other acts of terrorism to comfortably exist within our sociopolitical conceptions, we damn religious and ethnic groups to a vilified identity of ‘terrorists,’ and we, in the end, endanger ourselves to a wider variety of external acts of violence – which we unwittingly condone.
We bring the beast into our society and say ‘Welcome.’