Is it not enough that nine people, nine human beings, are dead? Is it not enough that they were murdered in a church, apparently by a twisted young man who sat there for an hour with his soon-to-be victims, and then executed them? Is that not enough tragedy to satisfy whatever lust burns within us?
Oh no. War of another sort has broken out, where wild-eyed madmen fight to see who gets to own this nightmare to use it for their own agenda, whether that’s political or clickbait. It’s not about what happened in Charleston, though some have already condemned the accused killer, Dylann Roof, to the deepest region of hell for being pure evil, even though he might just be a deeply flawed human.
But what happened in Charleston. Was it terrorism? Was it racism? Was it the work of a madman? Was it a “mere” crime? What? Without putting it in a pigeonhole, how can it possibly make sense and be used to push a larger agenda?
Dylann Roof, who is now the primary suspect in the Charleston, South Carolina massacre of 9 women and men in the historic Emmanuel AME Church is a terrorist. Call it domestic terrorism if you must, but this man is a terrorist and what he did, pure and simple, was terrorism.
Why must we “call it” anything? And by what stretch of language or ideas does writing “plain and simple” make a difference to anyone anyway?
You see, these nine human beings who were brutally murdered are just as dead, whether killed by a racist, a terrorist, a madman or anyone else. They are dead. Their deaths are a tragedy, no matter what tail you choose to pin on this donkey.
So old school an idea, to not use a tragedy for one’s own ends, and not impose one’s politics onto the deaths of others (you can, of course, do it for your own, but that’s a lot harder to accomplish). Can we not mourn a tragedy without having to seize it for our own purposes?
Well, if King was bad, he was nothing compared to Max Fisher at Vox.
What “counts” as an act of terrorism? It’s a question that is both easy and impossible to answer, and one that many Americans are now debating with regards to the mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina.
That this question has grown so urgent should tell you there is much more at stake here than a matter of terminology.
It tells me that Fisher couldn’t give a damn about the actual human beings murdered, because he’s got a cause to promote, and no dead bodies are going to get in his way.
Defining this as terrorism is a way of asking that Americans recognize the severity of the effect and intent of this attack, and that we take this as seriously as we would other forms of terrorism. It asks that we see this as part of a long and painful history of politically motivated white violence against black communities.
Is there someone, somewhere, who doesn’t take these murders seriously? But that’s not really his issue, as it’s not just a matter of taking this seriously, but co-opting the word “terrorism” to violence against black communities.
It’s also a way of calling attention to the fact that Americans are willing, even eager, to use the word “terrorist” for some kinds of people, but not for others. It demands us to ask why that is, and what it says about our attitudes toward race and violence.
Like a three year old crying, but what about my issue. Isn’t my issue terrorism? I want my issue to be terrorism too!!! But the coup de grace is hidden in parsing the definition of terrorism, the government’s and political scientists’ efforts to define it, all of which Fisher dismisses in favor of his own:
Today in this country, when we call something “terrorism” we are making a moral judgment about the odious wrongness of the perpetrator but also about the right of the targeted group to feel that they are under threat and thus to be protected.
That makes the debate over whether white supremacist violence against African Americans counts as “terrorism” both a very important one and a very uncomfortable one.
Begging Fisher’s pardon (as he begs the question), but he’s neither Funk nor Wagnells, and doesn’t get to strip the word “terrorism” of all meaning by reducing it to a “moral judgment about the odious wrongness” of anything. Neither does he get to sit in moral judgment for anyone but himself.
But most importantly, he trivializes a problem that is very real, though not coming to where he lives anytime soon, by trying to seize it for his own agenda. Yes, white supremacist violence against blacks is a very important problem. No, whether it’s called terrorism or racism or anything else is absolutely meaningless and utterly inconsequential. If you can it “spaghetti,” it’s every bit as serious a problem that there are white people who want to kill black people because of their race. It’s neither more nor less serious because of how you pigeonhole it.
When you understand that, the debate over whether to call it terrorism begins to make a lot more sense.
The title of Fisher’s post is, Yes, Charleston was terrorism. Denying that isn’t just wrong, it’s offensive. To disagree with Fisher is to offend someone. Certainly not those who died in Charleston, because they’re dead. Apparently, the person we should be concerned about not offending is Fisher, because don’t we stay awake at night worrying about whether something we say offends Fisher?
Murdering people is offensive. Murdering people because of their race is offensive. What you call it is irrelevant. When you understand that, the debate over whether to call it terrorism begins to look a lot more ridiculous, narcissistic and offensive.
No matter what characterization floats your boat, there will still be nine dead human beings in Charleston, and none of them will be you. They don’t give a damn what you call it. They’re dead, though that detail doesn’t seem to filter through to anyone in this debate.