Defining Terrorism

Posted on 13/12/2015 by


I’ve never really understood what people mean when they “terrorism”. Especially when those people saying “terrorism” are white straight men in positions of power and privilege.

This confusion was really brought home to me because of recent church burnings. There are the burnings of black churches, of course, which somehow aren’t terroristic. But when a (very white) church in my town gets burnt down, the T-word got murmured in the local chatter.

The local paper has been running front-page articles about this church since Hollowe’en. Only two articles, in my opinion, have been front-page-news worthy. The salvaging of the building’s large exterior cross, although meaningful, do not warrant supplanting Scott Walker’s announcement of another term as Dictator of Wisconsin to the third page.

Has any paper been running near-constant front-page articles about the ongoing minutiae of the black churches which have gotten torched? Honest question, but I suspect the answer is probably ‘no’.

The local church burning gets even more complex. The accused arsonist looks to be white, and is the son of a former pastor of that same church. I previously met the accused arsonist, and I can emphatically state he is mentally and emotionally very damaged. Something terrible happened to him, and the rage he barely kept contained the few times I talked with him boiled over in the direction of his former church. I leave connecting dots to you, Dear Reader.

The burning of black churches by white people, on the other hand, is very simple. Angry white bigots went full metal apeshit and burnt churches to the ground. Victim and victimiser here are cut and dried. We should have no trouble identifying racism as being the motivation for the burnings.

But yet black churches burnt by racists isn’t terrorism, and a white church burnt by a mentally disturbed former member is potentially terrorism.

I gave the context of the local burnt church a lot of thought for awhile. It’s a very affluent church, perhaps even the most affluent in the area. When most local religious groups are struggling to keep the lights on, they had bought a new plot of land across the street for a even bigger church, with the to-be-former church turned into an even bigger parking lot. I’ve met several of the three hundred members, and words I can use to describe them are comfortable, affluent, privileged. And white (or at least very white acting). This led me to my realisation about what “terrorism” means in its modern context.

Terrorism (n): the unexpected, violent interruption of the enjoyment of privilege, by a person outside of the privileged classes.

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