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Terrorism is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything.

- Glenn Greenwald
First, Canada has spent the last ! years pro"laiming itself a nation at war. #t a"tively parti"ipated
in the invasion and o""upation of $fghanistan and was an enthusiasti" partner in some of the
most e%tremist &ar on Terror abuses perpetrated by the '.(. )arlier this month, the *rime
+inister revealed, with the support of a large majority of Canadians, that Canada is poised to go
to war in #ra,, as -he. announ"ed plans in *arliament -. to send CF-/ fighter jets for up to si%
months to battle #slami" e%tremists. 0ust yesterday, Canadian 1efen"e +inister 2ob 3i"holson
flamboyantly appeared at the airfield in $lberta from whi"h the fighter jets left for #ra, and stood
tall as he issued the standard Chur"hillian war rhetori" about the noble fight against evil.
#t is always stunning when a "ountry that has brought violen"e and military for"e to numerous
"ountries a"ts sho"4ed and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fra"tion of that violen"e ba"4
to that "ountry. 2egardless of one5s views on the justifiability of Canada5s lengthy military
a"tions, it5s not the slightest bit surprising or diffi"ult to understand why people who identify
with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would de"ide to atta"4 the military
responsible for that violen"e.
+eraj (irajuddin
FIRSTLOOK.ORG
T6263T6 7 #n 8uebe" on +onday, two Canadian soldiers were hit by a "ar driven by +artin Couture-
2ouleau, a 9:-year-old Canadian who, as The Globe and Mail reported, "onverted to #slam re"ently and
"alled himself $hmad 2ouleau. 6ne of the soldiers died, as did Couture-2ouleau when he was shot by
poli"e upon apprehension after allegedly brandishing a large 4nife. *oli"e spe"ulated that the in"ident was
deliberate, alleging the driver waited for two hours before hitting the soldiers, one of whom was wearing
a uniform. The in"ident too4 pla"e in the par4ing lot of a shopping mall !; miles southeast of
+ontreal, a few 4ilometres from the Coll<ge militaire royal de (aint-0ean, the military a"ademy operated
by the 1epartment of 3ational 1efen"e.
The right-wing Canadian government wasted no time in sei=ing on the in"ident to promote its fear-
mongering agenda over terrorism, whi"h in"ludes pending legislation to vest its intelligen"e agen"y,
C(#(, with more spying and se"re"y powers in the name of fighting #(#(. $ government
spo4esperson asserted "lear indi"ations that the driver had be"ome radi"ali=ed.
#n a "learly prearranged e%"hange, a "onservative +*, during parliamentary ,uestion time, as4ed *rime
+inister (tephen >arper ?pi"tured above@ whether this was "onsidered a terrorist atta"4A in reply, the
prime minister gravely opined that the in"ident was obviously e%tremely troubling. Canada5s *ubli"
(afety +inister (teven Blaney pronoun"ed the in"ident "learly lin4ed to terrorist ideology, while
newspapers predi"tably followed suit, "alling it a suspe"ted terrorist atta"4 and homegrown terrorism.
C(#( spo4esperson Tahera +ufti said the event was the violent e%pression of an e%tremist ideology
promoted by terrorist groups with global followings and addedC That something li4e this would happen
in a pea"eable Canadian "ommunity li4e (aint-0ean-sur-2i"helieu shows the long rea"h of these
ideologies.
#n sum, the national mood and dis"ourse in Canada is virtually identi"al to what prevails in every &estern
"ountry whenever an in"ident li4e this happensC sho"4 and bewilderment that someone would want to
bring violen"e to su"h a good and inno"ent "ountry ?a pea"eable Canadian "ommunity li4e (aint-0ean-
sur-2i"helieu@, followed by "laims that the in"ident shows how primitive and savage is the terrorist
ideology of e%tremist +uslims, followed by rage and demand for still more a"tions of militarism and
freedom-deprivation. There are two points worth ma4ing about thisC
First, Canada has spent the last ! years pro"laiming itself a nation at war. #t a"tively parti"ipated in the
invasion and o""upation of $fghanistan and was an enthusiasti" partner in some of the moste%tremist &ar
on Terror abuses perpetrated by the '.(. )arlier this month, the *rime +inister revealed, with the support
of a large majority of Canadians, that Canada is poised to go to war in #ra,, as -he. announ"ed plans in
*arliament -. to send CF-/ fighter jets for up to si% months to battle #slami" e%tremists. 0ust yesterday,
Canadian 1efen"e +inister 2ob 3i"holson flamboyantly appeared at the airfield in $lberta from
whi"h the fighter jets left for #ra, and stood tall as he issued the standard Chur"hillian war rhetori" about
the noble fight against evil.
#t is always stunning when a "ountry that has brought violen"e and military for"e to numerous
"ountries a"ts sho"4ed and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fra"tion of that violen"e ba"4 to that
"ountry. 2egardless of one5s views on the justifiability of Canada5s lengthy military a"tions, it5s not the
slightest bit surprising or diffi"ult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of
Canadian bombs and bullets would de"ide to atta"4 the military responsible for that violen"e.
That5s the nature of war. $ "ountry doesn5t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading,
rendering and bombing others, without the ris4 of having violen"e brought ba"4 to it. 2ather than being
baffling or sho"4ing, that rea"tion is "ompletely natural and predi"table. The only surprising thing about
any of it is that it doesn5t happen more often.
The issue here is not justifi"ation ?very few people would view atta"4s on soldiers in a shopping mall
par4ing lot to be justified@. The issue is causation. )very time one of these atta"4s o""urs D from EF on
down D &estern governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovo4ed, utterly senseless a"t of
violen"e "aused by primitive, irrational, savage religious e%tremism ine%pli"ably aimed at a "ountry
inno"ently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to e%plain why
it happensC they hate us for our freedoms.
Those fairy tales are pure de"eit. )%"ept in the rarest of "ases, the violen"e has "learly identifiable and
easy-to-understand "ausesC namely, anger over the violen"e that the "ountry5s government has spent years
dire"ting at others. The statements of those a""used by the west of terrorism, and even the *entagon5s
own "ommissioned resear"h, have made "on"lusively "lear what motivates these a"tsC namely, anger over
the violen"e, abuse and interferen"e by &estern "ountries in that part of the world, with the world5s
+uslims overwhelmingly the targets and vi"tims. The very poli"ies of militarism and "ivil liberties
erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are a"tually what fuels terrorism and ensures its
endless "ontinuation.
#f you want to be a "ountry that spends more than a de"ade pro"laiming itself at war and bringing
violen"e to others, then one should e%pe"t that violen"e will sometimes be dire"ted at you as well. Far
from being the by-produ"t of primitive and ins"rutable religions, that behavior is the natural rea"tion of
human beings targeted with violen"e. $nyone who doubts that should review the !-year orgy of violen"e
the '.(. has unleashed on the world sin"e the EF atta"4, as well as the de"ades of violen"e and
interferen"e from the '.(. in that region prior to that.
Second, in what "on"eivable sense "an this in"ident be "alled a terrorist atta"4G $s # have written many
times over the last several years, and as some of the best s"holarship proves, terrorism is a word utterly
devoid of obje"tive or "onsistent meaning. #t is little more than a totally malleable, propagandisti" fear-
mongering term used by &estern governments ?and non-&estern ones@ to justify whatever a"tions they
underta4e. $s *rofessor Tomis Hapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in The New York Times on +ondayC
*art of the su""ess of this rhetori" tra"es to the fa"t that there is no "onsensus about the meaning of
Iterrorism.5
But to the e%tent the term has any "ommon understanding, it in"ludes the deliberate ?or wholly re"4less@
targeting of "ivilians with violen"e for politi"al ends. But in this "ase in Canada, it wasn5t "ivilians who
were targeted. #f one believes the government5s a""ounts of the in"ident, the driver waited two hours until
he saw a soldier in uniform. #n other words, he seems to have deliberately avoided attacking civilians,
and targeted a soldier instead 7 a member of a military that is "urrently fighting a war.
$gain, the point isn5t justifiability. There is a "ompelling argument to ma4e that undeployed soldiers
engaged in normal "ivilian a"tivities at home are not valid targets under the laws of war ?although the
'.(. and its "losest allies use e%tremely broad and permissive standards for what "onstitutes legitimate
military targets when it "omes to their own violen"e@. The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a
military fighting an a"tive war is "ompletely in"onsistent with the "ommon usage of the word terrorism,
and yet it is refle%ively applied by government offi"ials and media outlets to this in"ident in Canada ?and
others li4e it in the 'H and the '(@.
That5s be"ause the most "ommon fun"tional definition of terrorism in &estern dis"ourse is ,uite "lear.
$t this point, it means little more thanC violen"e dire"ted at &esterners by +uslims ?when not used to
mean violen"e by +uslims, it usually just meansC violen"e the state disli4es@. The term terrorism has
be"ome nothing more than a rhetori"al weapon for legitimi=ing all violen"e by &estern "ountries, and
delegitimi=ing all violen"e against them, even when the violen"e "alled terrorism is "learly intended as
retaliation for &estern violen"e.
This is about far more than semanti"s. #t is "entral to how the west propagandi=es its "iti=enriesA the
manipulative use of the terrorism term lies at heart of that. $s *rofessor Hapitan wrote yesterday in The
New York TimesC
)ven when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetori" of terror is applied both sele"tively and
in"onsistently. In the mainstream American media, the terrorist label is usually reserved for those
opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By "ontrast, some a"ts of violen"e that "onstitute
terrorism under most definitions are not identified as su"h D for instan"e, the massa"re of over 9;;;
*alestinian "ivilians in the Beirut refugee "amps in E/9 or the 4illings of more than !;;; "ivilians in
3i"aragua by "ontra rebels during the E/;s, or the geno"ide that too4 the lives of at least a half million
2wandans in EEJ. $t the opposite end of the spe"trum, some a"tions that do not ,ualify as terrorism are
labeled as su"h D that would in"lude atta"4s by >amas, >e=bollah or #(#(, for instan"e, against
uniformed soldiers on duty.
>istori"ally, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion,
but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror.
$t this point, terrorism is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. #t is long past time that
media outlets begin s4epti"ally ,uestioning its usage by politi"al offi"ials rather than mindlessly parroting
it.
Photo: AP/The Canadian Press Adrian !yld
UPA!"C +ultiple "onservative "ommentators have "laimed that this arti"le and my subse,uent
dis"ussion of it are about this morning5s shooting of a solider in 6ttawa. $side from the fa"t that what #
wrote is e%pressly about a "ompletely different in"ident 7 one that too4 pla"e in 8uebe" on +onday 7 this
arti"le and my "omments were published before this morning5s shooting spree was reported. (o unless
someone believes # possess powers of "lairvoyan"e, the "laim that # was "ommenting on the 6ttawa
shooting 7 about whi"h virtually nothing is 4nown, in"luding the identity and motive of the shooter?s@ 7 is
obviously false.
Then there5s also the e%tremely predi"table a""usation that # was "usti#ying the atta"4 on the soldiers. #
4now from prior e%perien"e in dis"ussing these ,uestions that no matter how "lear you ma4e it that you
are writing about causation and not "usti#ication, many will still distort what you write to "laim you5ve
justified the atta"4. That5s true even if one ma4es as "lear as the )nglish language permits that you5re not
writing about justifi"ationC !he issue here is not #ustification $very few people would view attac%s on
soldiers in a shoppin& mall par%in& lot to be #ustified'. !he issue is causation. #f there5s a way to
ma4e that any "learer, please let me 4now.
6ne more timeC the differen"e between "ausation and justifi"ation is so obvious that it should re,uire
no e%planation. #f one observes that someone who smo4es four pa"4s of "igarettes a day "an e%pe"t
to develop emphysema, that5s an observation about "ausation, not a "elebration of the person5s illness.
6nly a willful desire to distort, or some deep "onfusion, "an a""ount for a failure to pro"ess this most
basi" point.
UPA!" IIC #n that brilliant essay # referen"ed above, published just three days ago in The New York
Times, *rofessor Tomis Haptian made this pointC
6bviously, to point out the "auses and obje"tives of parti"ular terrorist a"tions is to imply nothing about
their legitima"y D that is an independent matterK.
That point is so simple and, as he said, obvious that # have a hard time understanding what "ould
a""ount for some "ommentators "onflating the two other than a willful desire to mislead.
)mail the authorC glenn.greenwaldLtheinter"ept."om