What makes a terrorist?
I don’t mean why do people starting bombing, and shooting and fighting from the shadows. I mean, for the purposes of news organizations defining terrorism, what should the definition be?
The United States and others clearly call Hezbollah a terrorist group: The source of countless raids, bombings and attacks on Israel; the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which left 241 people dead; and the architects of all those displays in which young men cover their faces, strap mock bombs to their chests, and parade before the cameras pledging to kill any and all soldiers and civilians alike who oppose their cause.
All this makes Hezbollah, especially for many westerners, the very definition of a terrorist group.
But some people describe another part of Hezbollah. They talk about a group that is beloved in southern Lebanon for running schools, hospitals, social services, even clearing snow in the winter for some communities that the official government of Lebanon does not serve. They say these things make Hezbollah something other than a terrorist group: A quasi-government; a nation within a nation.
All of this is done for Shiite Muslim families. The Shiites in Lebanon have long felt economically and politically deprived, and Hezbollah clearly gives many of them a feeling of both military and social strength.
So for one side, Hezbollah is a killing machine bent on seizing by terror what it wants from the world; for the other side, Hezbollah is a brave force, fighting for the rights of its people.
So what should the standard be? If you ran a newsroom, how would you define who is called a terrorist and who is not? What, for you, is Hezbollah?Okay, insert here whatever word you use to represent the Howard Dean scream. Arrrrrgggh! Is it really that difficult? If Jeffrey Dahmer took care of his family or donated money to worthy charities or rescued stray puppies would that have made him any less of a cannibalistic murderer? Of course not. Then why is it so hard for some to call terrorists what they are? I think it is necessary that news organizations report the other side of terrorist organizations so that the public can understand how so many in the Muslim world would support them. But that does not mean that they are not still terrorist organizations.
Hint to Tom Foreman: when an organization is “the source of countless raids, bombings and attacks on Israel,” bombs U.S. Marines and engages in “all those displays in which young men cover their faces, strap mock bombs to their chests, and parade before the cameras pledging to kill any and all soldiers and civilians alike who oppose their cause,” it is safe to call them terrorists. Got any more questions?
Update: This comment from “Goddess of the Classroom” is an even more appropriate comparison:
I remember how shocked I was when my grandfather told me stories about his childhood in Chicago during the Jazz Age.
Al Capone was a hero to the local neighborhoods. He bought shoes for the kids and provided other kinds of help.
It doesn’t change the fact that he was a vicious gangster though, does it?It certainly doesn’t.
Update 2: Mary Katharine wonders how much pizza and Cheetos it would take to buy a Christian terrorist group such understanding. Update within an update: Mary Katharine just updated her post to say someone in Anderson Cooper’s office is complaining about the attention being directed to their blog. All the bloggers I know like attention being paid to their wriiting, but if I had written that I guess I wouldn’t want the attention either.