Thursday, July 3, 2008

A murderer, not a terrorist

I'm getting kind of tired of beating this lonely drum, but then what's a blog for?

The tendency to slap the label of "terrorist" on any Muslim, Arab or Jew who goes berserk and starts indiscriminately killing people is in serious need of a reality check. Part of the problem stems from the lack of a consensus as to the meaning of the word "terrorist." As some are fond of saying, "one man's 'terrorist' is another woman's 'freedom fighter.'" But this is a definition that I would hope rational people could agree upon, regardless of whether they see such conduct in the name of any specific cause as justifiable:

Wikipedia actually helps to clarify this picture by identifying three separate but necessary elements of terrorism:

  • intention to create fear (terror)
  • perpetration for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack)
  • deliberate targeting of or disregard for the safety of non-combatants.

So I find myself in agreement with the attorney for the Dwayat family when he says that the man who perpetrated the slaughter in Jerusalem yesterday was a murderer, not a terrorist.

Husam Taysir Dwayat, the 30-year-old east Jerusalem man who carried out Wednesday's terrorist [sic] attack in the capital, was "a murderer and not a terrorist," according to his family's attorney, Shimon Kukush. Dwayat "went berserk and ran over everyone in his vicinity," Kukush told Israel Radio, pointing out that "We're talking about the center of Jerusalem, and Arab residents could have been there as well. He could have killed anyone and there is no evidence that it was terrorism."

According to Kukush, Dwayat's family was "hurting and aching" over their son's action and condemns the killing of innocents. He insisted that Dwayat had not been sent by any organization. "Minutes before the attack he was eating with a group of coworkers and did not show any signs that anything was about to happen. But then he went amok."

Is murdering people in cold blood for no reason any more laudable than committing an act of terrorism? And shouldn't we distinguish, for the sake of clarity, between people who murder for political or ideological gain and those who murder for the sake of murder itself? If not, why not simply call all murderers by one name, regardless of their motivation? When we say "terrorist," it's supposed to mean something.

I frankly couldn't care less that Dwayat once lived with a Jewish woman or was reputed to be a drug addict or whether he was attacked by a group of haredi teenagers. So what? None of those things has any bearing on whether or not he was a terrorist. So what does? Unless he left a written or spoken record of his intent, we probably can't know for sure, but it certainly sounds as if this was an unplanned, non-politically and non-ideologically motivated mental and moral collapse. Why it occurred when and where it did are matters for speculation and evaluation. I suspect that a significant part of the answer to those questions lies in the unending stream of vitriol, hatred and scapegoating with which residents of Arab communities in most (not all) parts of Israel and certainly in the terrorities are bombarded. Is that an excuse? No. A justification? Absolutely not.

Terrorism, at least in my conception of it, is not a crime of passion or revenge. Those elements may be present or they may not. Terrorism is a deliberate, despicable, cowardly crime committed with a goal and a purpose in mind and it can best be fought by thwarting the goals that motivated it, by "rewarding" it with the opposite of what it was designed to achieve. That's why those are correct who suggest that every terrorist attack, every kassam launch, should result in a clear and measurable loss for the side that perpetrated it.

Mindless murder, on the other hand, has no goals and can only be deterred by punishment of the perpetrator and/or amelioration of the social conditioning that fosters the growth of such disease. The victims (z"l) are still dead. But the distinction is nevertheless important and will continue to be important if we're to effectively combat both of these scourges. L'havdil, as we say.

Update: This, on the other hand, would appear to be evidence to the contrary. Assuming it's true.

"He yelled Allah Akhbar and hit the gas," recounted the soldier,whose brother-in-law, Cpt. David Shapira, took out the terrorist who killed eight seminary students at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in March.

"I did what is expected of any soldier or civilian," he said.

No question about that whatsoever. Amazing and appalling that anyone would raise one.

For more on the implications of Dwayat's reported last words, see Soccer Dad.