With the recent attack on a group of tourists the definition of terrorism becomes the dominant word of the day. I had an interesting series of comments in my last post on this incident where it was argued that what happened was not an act of terrorism but merely a criminal act of murder and that we are allowing the media and government to lead us in the thought process. I thought the discussion deserved a post unto itself especially with the Parliament recently defining “terrorism” when it comes to Jordan under the anti-terrorism law:
Ã¢??Every intentional action committed by any means that leads to killing anyone or causing him physical harm or inflicting damages to public or private propertyÃ¢?Â¦ if the intention of that action was to disturb public order and endanger public safety and security or impede the implementation of the law or the Constitution.Ã¢?Â
There is no doubt that since 9/11 the word terrorism has in one way or another been used and misused by the mass media and in that manner we are all being socialized to consider and reconsider a new and popular definition of the word. But the perhaps indoctrinating effect of western mass media aside, we do have our own definition of what constitutes terrorism, considering we too as Jordanians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Saudis and what have you, have all had our encounters with it.
The way I see it is that every crime is categorized by its intention; specifically when it comes to murder. It’s why there is first degree, second degree and manslaughter (for example). Terrorism depends on intention as well. There is a difference for instance between two people having an intense argument and one of them deciding to kill the other in the heat of the moment and someone who goes to a popular tourist destination, wields a gun and runs toward a crowd of tourists spraying them with bullets until he runs out and takes flight. Is it wrong to assume there is a difference? Is it wrong to assume that if there was no difference then everything and anything would be considered murder or terrorism and would receive the exact same punishment? Should we consider this latest act a normal everyday murder?
Should the definition of terrorism also depend on the number of victims and/or the number of assailants? Does there need to be more than one gunman, more than one person dead? Does the definition depend on the weapon: is a gun any less significant than a bomb? Does the definition depend on the spectacle: does a burning building make it more of an act of terrorism than a bleeding tourist?