It is a difficult reality of modern political discourse that some seek to leverage high-visibility events to fit their on-going agendas. One particularly galling example of this is the effort to tu quoque those who condemn radical Islam by casting the Las Vegas shooting as an act of terrorism. The argument, such as it is, is that there are terrorists of many stripes, and singling out Islamic terrorism is an act of religious bigotry intended to further vilify an already-oppressed group.

Can a religion with 1.8 billion adherents, a religion established as the law of the land in at least 30 nations, and one whose domestic adherents are elevated to the top of the grievance hierarchy by the arbiters of social justice, can be considered an oppressed group? Despite all this, yes, there are many in America who look askance upon all Muslims. There is injustice and bigotry and profiling, but none of that justifies efforts to downplay Islamic terrorism by casting it as merely one form of many.

A book definition of terrorism reads: the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. The colloquial understanding aligns with this definition. Thus, the recent murder of 8 people by an Uzbekistan native driving a truck onto a bicycle path in lower Manhattan, a man who exhibited all the tell-tales of Islamic radicalizing, is understood by any reasonable person to be a terrorist attack.

Compare this with the Las Vegas shooter. Certainly, people in the crowd felt terror. But, was it terrorism? What was the political motive? What change did the shooter hope to effect? Was there an ideology or an agenda that instigated the attack? Six weeks after the fact, we have no knowledge of the shooter’s motives or “rationale.” How can the shootings be considered terrorism if there is no known political aim?

The movie Dr. Strangelove, a wickedly funny political satire, centers around the construction of a doomsday machine. The machine, which would destroy the world if a nuclear bomb exploded anywhere, was meant as a deterrent and as an influence on world affairs. But, and here I quote Dr. Strangelove himself: “The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost… if you keep it a secret!” The builders of the doomsday machine turned it on before they told the world of its existence.

So, if someone commits an atrocity but does not put forth reasons for it, how can it be considered terrorism by any finite definition of the word? To expand every mass murder into the realm of “terrorism” without knowing a political motivation is to dilute the word into meaninglessness. Sometimes, mass murderers are just psychopaths.

Nevertheless, I get why people do it. People prefer to bend facts and information to fit their preferred conclusions, rather than consider them at face value. So, before facts were even known fully, efforts to dub the Vegas shooting as “terrorism” ensued (along with the usual anti-gun hyperventilation, but that’s its own matter). OBVIOUSLY, not all Muslims are terrorists, but those who want to make that point to the absolutists who think that way harm rather than help their cause by wanting to call the murderous actions of an agenda-less (as of now) old white guy “terrorism.”

Words matter, and some words pack a strong punch. “Nazi,” “rape,” “terrorism,” are three biggies that share a common characteristic: people know their potency, and use them expansively to leverage that potency, even when the use is incorrect or inappropriate. There is harm in doing so, however, because over-use inures us to their potency, or starts to inculcate a skepticism, or simply dilutes them.

We don’t need to call the Las Vegas shooter a terrorist to comprehend or recoil at the magnitude of his atrocity. Those that insist we do should be challenged, and they should be reminded that advancing an agenda in such a fashion does them and their agenda more harm than good.

Some people look to the Humpty Dumpty philosophy on language: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” I prefer a greater fealty to the proper meaning of words and language. Language is how we communicate and exchange ideas, and if we start expanding and blurring the meanings of important words, we undermine our ability to effectively communicate with each other, to convey ideas, and to reach common understanding. While language is a naturally and ever-evolving thing, we should not treat that fact as an excuse to turn it into slop.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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