Monday, August 23, 2010

the "terror" business

It seems to me that if I had the energy I could probably document to a fare-thee-well the grand entrance (circa 2001) of the word "terror" on the national and even world stage.

It's such a convenient word for politicians and others hoping to convince a nation or a world of the need for action. That convenience has seeped down to the American public. "Terror" and "terrorism" are now as well-worn as an old pair of sneakers...which is to say they don't mean much more than "the people you don't like."

A history of the Department of Homeland Security says:

Eleven days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (on New York's World Trade Center towers among others), President George W. Bush announced that he would create an Office of Homeland Security in the White House and appoint Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as the director. The office would oversee and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard the country against terrorism, and respond to any future attacks.

On Feb. 1, 2010, the Washington Post reported:

The Department of Homeland Security received a nearly 3 percent boost in discretionary funding, to $43.6 billion, in President Obama's 2011 budget request.

The money includes $200 million to pay state and local costs of securing terrorism-related trials; a 10 percent increase, to $950 million, for Federal Air Marshals; and $734 million to deploy up to 1,000 whole-body-imaging scanners at airports that use radio or X-rays to detect objects hidden beneath clothing.

These quotes are high-profile examples of the avalanche of terror-steeped linguistics that have dripped into our times. But the words "terror" and "terrorism" and "terrorist" reach into every barroom and civics class in the country. Few, if any employ the old journalistic saw, who-what-when-where-why-and-how, when it comes to the tendrils of terror.

I hated the words when the politicians began to sell them and I still hate the words today.

One simple word and suddenly someone is asking for $43.6 billion dollars. Wave the "terror" wand and people pony up ... what the hell, they're scared, just as intended. Americans use the word to describe their foes, real and imagined; Israelis use the word against Palestinians; Palestinians use the word to describe Israeli actions ... but with less effect in America: Israel, after all, is our friend so Palestinian terror is more terrifying than Israeli terror. Germans, Brits, French ... everyone wants a slice of the terror pie. And people have heart-felt reasons why the use of the word(s) is acceptable and appropriate.

But what gets lost in the shuffle is the dumbing down of discourse and understanding. Why anyone might feel pushed to the point of becoming a suicide bomber gets lost in the after-shock reports ... the blood, the destruction, the truly scary and inhumane aftermath... the kind of "terror" that news outlets can get their sound-bite, dividend-driven heads around.

An internet dictionary defines a "terrorist" as:
▸ noun: a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities
▸ adjective: characteristic of someone who employs terrorism (especially as a political weapon) ("Terrorist activity")

And no one in their right mind would deny that terrorism is real and horrific. But the notion that anyone could fend off the mind of a person bent on terrifying actions is thoughtless and facile and carries with it its own sort of ignoramus terrorism.

$43.6 billion to stop terrorism?

Stop terrorism?

Can anyone really halt minds that -- legitimately or connivingly -- envision such bloody tactics to achieve their ends? $43.6 billion ... and wait till next year: The terrorism wand is a conjurer of money.

But is anyone wondering what impetus lies behind such acts of terror? Sure, there are power hungry people with personal agendas everywhere in the world. And yes, some people don't understand your peaceful point of view unless you kill them.

But what about the people who are simply hungry or watch their family members die on account of someone's definition of "terrorism?" Facile definitions are obscene where people go hungry or unattended or must act as servants in a household not of their making.

2001 marked the launch of a great new world, a world in which terrorism was the excuse and the explanation and the expense account and finally, the old pair of sneakers -- not even worth investigating because (right?) it's just so damned obvious.

End of poorly-constructed rant.


  1. The US of A has ALWAYS needed a Bogey Man......Anarchists, Communists, Socialists..... always be afraid of ideas and people that are different. Cherish the sameness of wrapping the flag tightly around that collective sameness especially if you are a part of the "Fundamentalist" Christian group. Islamic "Fundamentalist" = BAD! Christian "Fundamentalist" = GOOD!
    The great American Way myth can only be maintained when there is the dreaded "OTHERS" ....this decade they are called "Terrorists" who knows but believe me there has to be someone we can point and apply a name that will make us all feel better about the sham of the US ideology which is based on our jingoistic nationalist ego!

  2. I don't believe that the U.S. has got a corner on the bogeyman: Every society seems to have one way or another of scaring its citizens.

    Pick a country. Any country. Isn't it part of the political landscape? And aren't we, ourselves, equally capable of picking out others for vilification?

  3. .....sorry, but as a nation the USA wins that award hands down...... in some so-called democracies they may vilify others but we (who know better ....wink wink!!) see it for what its is but WE (USA) as a collective mind-set USA does it best and we revel in it...!