We Need a New Word for “Terrorism”

We Need a New Word for “Terrorism”

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Will the latest massacre at Fort Hood again be labeled simply "workplace violence"? Given the intense criticism that the White House received for the way it blocked any attempts of officials to label Nidal Hasan's actions at Fort Hood in 2009 as terrorism, one would think that the White House would be a little slower to inform us all that there is no terroristic intent behind this so-similar shooting. How can they know? Does anyone really know anything about this incident? Is propaganda more important than facts and details? But we're told, almost as soon as the news breaks, that there's no terroristic motive associated with the Ivan Lopez incident that took place hours earlier today (April 2).

We'll not know anything related to motives until the investigators have had some time to sort out the details and probe into the circumstances. It's absurd for any government to discount terrorism in an action such as this - and to do so in knee-jerk fashion. Absurd, that is, unless that government is led by an individual or individuals who have a desire to suppress any news that points to Islamic-related terror strikes. We're supposed to believe that Benghazi was strictly a non-terroristic action as well.

Meanwhile, as the world ponders the possible implications behind the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, with all the accompanying worry about the possibility of terroristic intent behind that act, we again find ourselves assailed with that presumptuous word “terrorism.”

I won't try to suggest that the word is inadequate in denoting what a perpetrator of “terrorism” hopes he has perpetrated. It does succeed in expressing that. But therein lies the problem. “Terrorism” is an apt term for the act only insofar as we grant some credence, and some power, to the intent of the terrorist.

Photo of opened dictionaryIf we are not so worried about what the terrorist hopes to achieve among us, then “terrorism,” as a word, begins to show itself to be merely a hopeful term. And it's time we hurled that inadequacy back at the world's would-be terrorists.

That begins when we change the word that we'll permit to be applied to these acts that now go by the name “terrorism.” I'll suggest a replacement word shortly. First let's consider some more reasons for a change.

The schoolyard act of “bullying” gives us a helpful parallel. The bully wants his victim to know fear and dismay. To cower and to capitulate. The “terrorist” wants his victims to acknowledge terror. That's the point for him. That's the objective. To oblige him is to be in accordance with his aims.

Children who are bullied are often urged to go right at the bully. To fight. To set fear aside. To not show fear—and, rather, to instill some fear (insofar as they are able) in the bully. In short, to be fearless. The victims of terrorism ought confront their bully by doing everything in their power and in their own minds and psyche to be fearless. To be un-terrorized, un-terrified. To think themselves, not the “terrorist,” as the terror to be feared. That starts with semantics. “Terrorism” is terrorism only insofar as we grant it that power. It can be malevolence, yes. We can acknowledge that. That's a quality that resides in the malefactor. But terror—that's a quality that we succumb to, or not, in our own selves. That's for us to decide, not some “terrorist.” Let's stop helping them gain that advantage.

If the intention behind the act is, from the perpetrator's perspective, to “strike terror,” then the name “terrorism” is precisely the term that the perpetrator would like for us to apply to instances of the violent act in question.

Conversely, if the act does not “strike terror,” then, from the perpetrator's own point-of-view, the whole thing would have to be deemed a failure. Simply bestowing the term “terrorism” upon a specific malevolent act is, in a sense, giving the perpetrator precisely what he wants.

Let's consider, in passing, that word “malevolent” and its derivatives. If it's a replacement word we seek, “malevolence” might be a candidate, though I'll grant it's not perfect. “Malevolence” does call attention to “terrorism's” ill will, but only to that much of the act's defining characteristics—not to all of them. Besides, calling the act “malevolence” puts every other past act of malevolence (of any kind) into the category of so-called “terrorism.” That won't do.

I submit that no word that currently exists in our vernacular or even our full vocabulary will be exactly right. Not “hostilities,” not “brutality,” not “retaliation,” not “anarchy.” Not “anarchical violence.” Not “violent insurrection.” The problem with borrowing any of these words is that they already have well established denotative meanings and connotative associations. They have jobs to do elsewhere. It's ineffectual for us to conscript one of these terms into our service.

So I propose that we coin a word to do the job for us. And yet not purely make up a word out of thin air, because that has its own drawbacks—strangeness being foremost among these.

I propose that we take a word that evokes some of terrorism's meaning and then we alter the word with a slight change, to make it distinct, and to free the “root” word to stay on its own course.

Let's consider that word “malevolence.” If we added an “i” to it, we could have this neologism: “maleviolence.” But that sounds like “male violence,” and there is evoked a gender-specific dimension that carries connotations that were never intended here.

So maybe we just insert the “i” but remove the first “e.” That gives us “malviolence.” Bad violence. A word which doesn't carry with it old, deep-rooted connotations. “Malviolence” covers two essentials of what needs covering. Badness and violence. As suggested earlier, we want to call out those traits, but nothing beyond that. Why imbue the word with political or religious implications? It deserves none. Nor does it deserve an “ism,” as though it is a school of thought. It is not a school of thought. It is not politics, though its practitioners fancy themselves as being politically relevant or politically minded. That needs to be stripped away.

No one—not even a so-called terrorist—seeks a violent society. The “terrorist” might be confused, might even be fooling himself, but if he could honestly examine his own motives he would realize he does not want a society in which his fellow man is ready to lift a hand against him. The “terrorist,” in practicing violence for purportedly political ends, or for “religio-political” ends, or even purely for religion, is inflicting violence to advance some vision he has of a “better” society, and that better society is presumably better for all, and hence happier for all, in the long run, than the current society. The “terrorist” blasts people apart that people might be happier.

Let the people who commit these acts be excluded from recognition as being “terrorists,” and let this be so for this reason: because we henceforth know them instead as criminals—malviolent criminals—and we are not struck with terror by criminals, no matter how agenda-driven they may think themselves to be.

No, they are just vicious thugs who strike no terror into us. They belong to no party when they commit violence for violence's sake. That ought automatically, to our minds, remove them from the world of politics and put them into the world of the deranged criminal fringe—where “politics” is, insofar as it exists for them, something that exists only in their deranged minds. We ought disassociate them from all of that. They are mad dogs, to be rounded up and taken out of circulation. They're malviolent, and we grant that much, but that designation simply marks their entry or furtherance into crime, and into all that crime entails for the criminal. That's all.

If the recommendation made here is to become a reality, more people must hear about this idea, but more people will not hear unless readers take the step of sharing this page. I don't normally ask that an article of mine be shared, but this feels like an instance when the public itself would be the prime beneficiary. So, to that end, I ask that you share a link to this page, either through email or, if you have favorite social media platforms, by utilizing the sliding "share bar" that appears alongside this article. Thanks much. Together we can make a difference.

Copyright 2014 Jesse Mullins

Jesse Mullins is editor and e-publisher of Something Solid. He can be reached at jfm (at) jessemullins.com.



2 Responses to “We Need a New Word for “Terrorism””

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