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Terrorism does not fit convenient stereotype

7:40 PM, Jan. 15, 2013  |  Comments
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On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes used tear gas, grenades and multiple weapons to kill 12 people and injure 58 others in a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater.

On August 5, 2012, Wade Michael Page burst into a Sikh temple in Milwaukee shooting and killing six people and injuring three more.

On the morning of Friday, December 14, Adam Lanza used combat-grade weapons to gun down 26 people inside an elementary school in Newtown. Twenty of them were young children.

Each one was a heartbreaking and nefarious tragedy. And each one was perpetrated by a white male.

What I'd like to know is why, despite fact that each engaged in acts of terror, no one has leveled the claim against them.

Well, I'm prepared to do it. Mental illness or not, those men are terrorists. All of them.

What's taken so long? Is it because they're not of a particular ethnic minority, or donning suicide vests, or wearing turbans? Is that what we look for before we apply the terrorist label? If so, perhaps we need to revisit the definition.

Defining terrorism is, hands down, the most challenging part of the academic field dedicated to its study. (For the record, the United Nations has yet to so much as agree on a definition.) And so, every academic article on the subject begins with the definition.

Max Taylor and John Horgan are two top scholars in the realm of Terrorism Studies and I was lucky enough to study under Professor Taylor at the University of St Andrews in 2010 and 2011. In a joint article, Horgan and Taylor acknowledge that terrorism is difficult to define. They write that the abnormal tendencies and violent behaviors terrorists harbor are also found in common criminals. What they write, and what we forget, is that "terrorism works at both an individual and political level."

In the words of Terrorism Studies scholar Alex Schmid, "acts of terrorism usually, but not exclusively, take place in the context of political conflict." He writes that "Since terrorists generally challenge the monopoly of violence in the state and its ability to protect citizens, terrorist acts obtain political significance even when the motivation for them is not primarily political but religious, criminal or psychopathological."

For the past decade of post-9/11 life, we've been so captivated by the sensational nihilism streaming out of the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that it's become all we know. That's not right, and nor is it fair.

Still wavering? Two words: Oklahoma City.

Timothy McVeigh committed the single deadliest act of terrorism in the United States pre-9/11. An individual actor with semi-political motivations, he is what my former professor and mentor Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan would call a lone wolf terrorist. Lone wolves are shrouded in mystery and extremely unpredictable. As such, they're especially difficult for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to track and understand.

But, that doesn't make them any less of a terrorist.

In the end, it doesn't matter what race, religion or creed terrorist actors are. It's time we stepped back from our media-infused connotations of terrorism and approach the phenomenon more objectively. We could begin with a basic understanding that terrorism is not limited to one part of the world or one people.

Yes... That would be a good start.

All I ask is that you, I, we all think a little more critically-about everything-because this perpetuated stereotype of a terrorist as someone only ever stemming from the Middle East or Central Asia is not right.

It never was.

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