When is the right time to raise this?
It is two days after three men crashed a van into a London crowd and then set about indiscriminately stabbing as many people as they could before being shot and killed themselves.
As hard as it is to adequately describe their actions – abominable, repugnant, viciously brutal and savage – it is impossible to quantify the impact. For those slain and injured, their families and friends, the people who narrowly avoided physical harm, those who feel responsible for the protection of the community, and the community itself, there will be a spectrum of devastation, shock and loss; impossible to truly and accurately reconcile.
That’s how terrorism works.
While this is not the time for clever wordplay, nor vying for most accurate assessment of the killers’ cruelty or the harm they have done, it must be time for renewed analysis, dialogue and planning to protect people and the way of life that we hold dear.
To do this successfully, the words we chose are important.
Terrorism is a tactic. It is not a people. It is not a nation. It is not a way of life or an ideology. It is something that people resort to in order to inflict damage, physical and predominantly psychological damage, onto their enemy.
Elevating terrorism to the rank of an ideology is a perversion; a delusion of the terrorist and the labeller alike. Fundamentally, is it the means to an end.
It is a tactic.
This is an important distinction because it provides a shroud of anonymity to the perpetrator. If you don’t know who your enemy is, how do you take steps to protect yourself? How can you defeat them? How can you avoid many enemies of potential friends and allies? How can you know them if you can’t name them?
When George W. Bush declared War on Terror in September 2001, the speech included references to the heartening global response to the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, respect for Muslim faith and identification of Al Qaeda as fringe extremists. Then President Bush stopped referring to “Al Qaeda” and began referring to the “terrorists”. It is the terrorists who are the enemy; thousands of terrorists in over 60 countries, terrorists who are directed to kill Christians and Jews, all Americans and make no distinction between the military and woman and children. He described how America and its allies would starve the terrorists, pursue and eliminate them. And he sought in enlist the world in this campaign; “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”