When is a Terrorist Not a Terrorist?

So here’s the interesting thing about the MI-5 episodes we watched. MI-5 is, of course, the FBI of the United Kingdom. And since this series began in 2002, it focuses (at least for these first two episodes) on terrorist threats.

In the first episode, the enemy is an American woman who has come to England to blow up abortion doctors and recruit new members to bring the anti-abortion battle to U.K. soil. There’s a lot of talk in this episode of the U.S. wanting her extradited as soon as possible so they can show her capture off as a success in the War on Terror.

What’s wrong with this picture? That’s right, the U.S., in 2002 (and now), would not have regarded someone who murders her own civilians with bombs to cause fear as a terrorist, if she was American. As terror expert and blogger David Neiwert has repeatedly pointed out, as far as the War on Terror is concerned, all terrorists are non-Americans. Mary Kane, the character from MI-5, might be paraded before the cameras as a criminal–might–but she’d never be called a terrorist.

Likewise with the enemy from the second episode, a white supremacist trying to foment a race war. England might consider that a terrorist threat, but our country wouldn’t. And I’m not being smarmy or sarcastic here, I’m telling the plain truth. As Neiwert quotes the Washington Post in the link above, “Officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI acknowledge that since the Sept. 11 attacks they have viewed foreign threats as a higher priority than domestic ones. A recent department internal assessment of threats did not list militias, white-supremacist groups and violent antiabortion activists. The assessment, first reported by Congressional Quarterly, did mention radical environmental groups and animal rights activists as potential threats.” So yeah, Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front are terrorists, but the Klan, the Minutemen, and Operation Rescue, less so. The only other terrorists are the ones we’re fighting in Iraq.

Except when we’re not. Last week Karl Rove, a guy who seems to believe he’s someone who was elected by the people, declared that after September 11, liberals wanted to talk to terrorists, but conservatives wanted to fight them. Yes, yes, whatever. We all know how that’s a load of kack. I only mention it as setup for this punchline: now Rumsfeld is talking to terrorists. This was first reported in the London Times (you know, the foreign paper that we have to go to because our domestic news agencies feel Americans aren’t interested in “non-stories” like what our government is up to.) and interestingly, is actually mentioned on the Fox news website as a TV show transcript. Rumsfeld, in that interview says sure, they might be talking to bad guys, but not the bad bad guys, just the good bad guys. You know, moral relativism and all that.

So the lesson to be learned is: by all means, you should be afraid of terrorists, because the government needs you to be afraid. But you gotta keep an open mind about what we mean by “terrorists”. You go around with all kinds of fancy definitions like, “people who use violent criminal action with the intention of spreading fear among a populace in order to make a political statement” and you’re gonna be lumping in all kinds of non-terrorists like people who murder abortion doctors, people who murder gay folks, and the religious fanatics who hate us but are our friends today. You just let the government tell you who the terrorists are. Some days it’s Europa, some days it’s Eurasia, and that might seem confusing, so just worry your little head about terrorists in general and leave the specifics to the experts on causing fear to a populace for political gain.

Incidentally, in other political news, your property isn’t yours if a shopping mall wants it, and oh look, we are torturing people after all!

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3 Responses to When is a Terrorist Not a Terrorist?

  1. But really, MI-5 is all about that dreamy Tom.


  2. I’m half-way through season two of Mi-5, and watched perhaps their best episode ever.

    Anyway for proof on how we treat American terrorists, we only call them terrorist is they kill more than a handful of people. Look to the OKC bombing. But if the numbers are smaller they are “activists” re: the abortion clinic bomber, Eric something.

  3. Lefty: The bioterror incident? If the answer is yes, then I’ve got to tell you that I had to turn on the lights, go outside, and walk around my neighborhood after that one to make sure that the real world was OK.