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What Do We Mean When We Say Terrorist?

Islamic extremism and terrorism seem to be synonymous with one another. But should we be re-thinking how we define terrorism?

Toby Hiscock

Naked Politics Blogger

The other day I saw this photo shared onto Facebook by someone I met during my time in America. Much like here in the UK, the American public is currently swept up in a frenzy. They are terrified about global terrorism, hidden refugee terrorists, and perhaps most frightening of all, the dreaded home grown terrorist. Shocking then that someone can so casually promote terrorism so soon after the tragic Paris attacks. Unfortunately, the irony was of course lost on him like it is apparently lost on so many others. Facebook was not interested in my grievance, claiming the post did not violate their community standards, not even for being of an “annoying and distasteful humour”. Apparently there’s nothing annoying and distasteful about one big extremist, misogynistic conflation of sex and car bombings (kinda like 72 virgins for suicide bombers).

Of course what this hateful Facebook user, and apparently the gormless Facebook employee who reviewed my complaint, failed to grasp is that terrorism is terrorism; even (and here’s the really tricky part) when it isn’t committed in the name of a perverse version of Islam. By extension promoting extremism is the same whether it is endorsing an ISIS bombing or an IRA (Irish Republican Army) one. The general public’s wilful ignorance of this fact shames us all and makes a significant contribution to the rising tension within our society.

Terrorism, according to the Terrorism Act 2000, can be defined as:

“The use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public; made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause; and it involves or causes:

serious violence against a person;
serious damage to a property;
a threat to a person’s life;
a serious risk to the health and safety of the public; or
serious interference with or disruption to an electronic system.”

Despite this incredibly broad definition, (which could even be used to describe some football hooligans) we now limit our discourse on terrorism to describe actions committed by a tiny percentage of a religion, and in doing so, tar the whole religion in our own perception. We as a society have become so fixated on the idea of Islamic extremism that we are starting to struggle to see Islam without extremism, and extremism without Islam. If you want to see Islam without extremism, you need only actually talk to a muslim and ask what Islam is for yourself. Don’t believe everything you see on the telly, or indeed, read in the Sun. If you want to see extremism without Islam, I suggest you take a look at the UK’s own recent and very bloody history of Christian terrorism in Northern Ireland.

Although this conflict has deep historical roots, I have chosen to focus on its more recent events. In 1969, a series of civil rights protests by the marginalised catholic minority, and protestant counter protests spiralled into violent conflict. On one side were groups of Catholic extremists who wanted to see Northern Ireland reunified with the republic of Ireland. On the other side, were groups of extremist Protestant loyalists committed to Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. All sides of this conflict, the British government included, are guilty of committing terrible and heinous acts. It is therefore important to note that while I am focusing on IRA violence, they were by no means the only aggressors.

If Islamic extremists had achieved half of the violence and disruption in this country, as the various versions of the IRA, there would probably be a nuke flying somewhere over the middle east right now. In case you are unaware this violence includes: Murdering the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten, blowing up the Grand Hotel in Brighton to try and kill the sitting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, killing 11 people by bombing a Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen, Assassinating Conservative MP Ian Gow, and causing thousands of other deaths and injuries through propagating a campaign of violence up and down the country that involved bombing pubs and detonating roadside car bombs. All of this was being supported and funded by many of our supposed “friends” and guardians against global terror from America. NORAID, or the Irish Northern Aid Committee was set up to acquire donations from families and supporters of IRA members in large Catholic Irish communities such as those in Boston.

terrorism

Fast forward to 2015 and suddenly we can’t understand what would make young, impressionable, home grown, Western educated Muslims want to support, fund, and fight for ISIS terror domestically and in other parts of the world. Maybe it’s a Muslim thing? Maybe, just maybe, we should stop blaming Islam for terrorism and start trying to understand the lessons of our own past. At least then we might start to address this alarming assumption that we, the white majority, are somehow above terrorism.

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