In the wake of the murder of British soldier Drummer Lee Rigby earlier this week in London, there have been numerous public discussions about the use of the word 'Terrorist' in reference to the killers. Kojo Koram wrote an excellent piece on the Banter, arguing that the term has basically become meaningless after Bush and Blair declared a 'War on Terror' and has used it to refer to anyone the US/UK government deemed to be an enemy. In a similar vein, Glenn Greenwald broke down the double standards regarding the use of the term, and concluded that the term 'Terrorism' is only used when Muslims commit acts of violence against the west:
It is very hard to escape the conclusion that, operationally, the term has no real definition at this point beyond "violence engaged in by Muslims in retaliation against western violence toward Muslims". When media reports yesterday began saying that "there are indications that this may be act of terror", it seems clear that what was really meant was: "there are indications that the perpetrators were Muslims driven by political grievances against the west" (earlier this month, an elderly British Muslim was stabbed to death in an apparent anti-Muslim hate crime and nobody called that "terrorism"). Put another way, the term at this point seems to have no function other than propagandistically and legally legitimizing the violence of western states against Muslims while delegitimizing any and all violence done in return to those states.
It is difficult to disagree with this logic. We have been engaged in wars in the Middle East for decades and have caused untold amounts of bloodshed in the name of 'freedom'. Many of the people affected by the violence harbor deep seated resentment towards our governments, and they do not regard our foreign adventures as noble causes predicated on a desire to liberate them. Anyone vaguely aware of geo political reality understands that our involvement in the Middle East has little to do with freedom and a lot to do with access to oil reserves - a fact that Muslim countries understand all to well. To the inhabitants of the countries we have invaded, we are the terrorists, and their attacks against us are acts of military defiance. It is a difficult concept for us to understand given how removed the majority of us are from the violence our governments commit. When an act of brutality happens on our doorstep, it appears to be out of nowhere - a random, senseless act of barbarism without justification or cause.
But the truth is, it isn't. As far as we know, the killers of Lee Rigby were politically motivated - Michael Adebolajo had a history of extreme Islamic political activity, and spoke articulately on the reasons for killing Rigby. "There are many, many ayah throughout the Koran that says we must fight them as they fight us," he told a passer by. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I apologize that women had to witness this today but in our land women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you."
Adebolajo and his accomplice, Michael Adebowale, targeted a soldier who had signed up to fight for his country, who had been in Afghanistan and who was part of a system that they believed killed and oppressed other Muslims.
These are not easy facts to digest, particularly given the horrific nature of Rigby's death, but they are facts nevertheless.
There is no doubt that both the UK and US governments engage in state sponsored terrorism - they have engaged in illegal military activity throughout their histories in wars for resources and political power - many of which fall directly under the definition of 'Terrorism'. Britain in particular has a storied history of terrorism against its colonies, subjecting native populations to awesome acts of brutality including starvation, genocide and rape.
The authors of the Iraq invasion strategy 'Shock and Awe' wrote that the military tactic was designed to "impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on...The appropriate balance of Shock and Awe must cause ... the threat and fear of action that may shut down all or part of the adversary's society or render his ability to fight useless short of complete physical destruction."
In short, you terrorize a population into submission through an overwhelming use of force.
But does this mean Rigby's death was not an act of terror, but a military counter attack as a part of a broader war between western governments and the Islamic world?
No. And here's why.
The acts of terror committed by our government do not detract from the astonishingly cruel act doled out to Lee Rigby in broad daylight, in front of the public and near to a school full of small children. The depraved crime was designed to shock the British public, to intimidate them and create a climate of fear to further their own political agenda. The two men didn't simply kill Rigby, they hacked him to pieces in a psychopathic attack of almost unparalleled brutality. It was a crime designed to terrorize a nation, and should be labeled for what it was - terrorism. Adebolajo and Adebowale also stormed police officers with their weapons, no doubt aiming to kill them. The police have nothing to do with the military, and play no part in Britain's foreign policy. Their role is to protect and serve the public, so there cannot be even the vaguest justification for attacking them.
The truth is that just because the British government engages in acts of terror doesn't mean acts of terror against it don't count. Adebolajo said it himself: "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" - or an act of terror for an act of terror.