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It’s Premature to Call the Boston Bombing an Act of “Terrorism”

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Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)

In the wake of a tragedy, we are often compelled to do the only thing we can to regain control in the wake of total chaos: name and classify the trauma. We feel a need to rationally understand what is, in truth, beyond comprehension.

Which is one reason why we have collectively rushed to categorize the tragedy that occurred at the Boston Marathon as “terrorism.” Our elected leaders (from President Obama to city councils) have done so, our media elite have done so, and most Americans have done so.

However, without knowing a motive – and we don’t yet know what the motive was – can we truly classify the horrors that happened in Boston as terrorism? My answer is an unequivocal no.

And a look at U.S. code and varying U.S. classifications reveals that our government indeed requires a known motivation in order to classify a violent act as terrorism.

Title 22 of the U.S. Code, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as:

“premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

In this definition, violence must clearly be “politically motivated” in order to be classified as terrorism.

According to the F.B.I., it is defined as:

“the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

So too the F.B.I. defines terrorism as something that is meant to further “political or social objectives.” While methods are emphasized in the F.B.I.’s definition, a motivation must be present in order to classify what happened in Boston as terrorism.

Why does it matter? Classifying the bombing doesn’t bring back the dead; it doesn’t mitigate the suffering of the living, of the bereaved.

But it does matter for public policy and for how law enforcement treats those who are involved. Much controversy emerged when it was learned that the Department of Justice was withholding Miranda protections from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old bomber still clutching to life.

Why was he not read his Miranda rights when Wade Michael Page, who fatally shot six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, was presented with such rights?

Does it have to do with our post-9/11 prejudices? Does it have to do with the fact that immediate assumptions were made that Tsarnaev, who is Muslim, must have committed a politically-motivated act of terror?

A look at his Twitter feed reveals nothing but a (shockingly) normal teenager, and news that Tsarnaev “partied” after the bombing certainly doesn’t fit any radical profiles.

Which is why, in our rush to classify the horrors which occurred in Boston, it’s premature to label it – in my eyes – as terrorism. It’s too early to assume that, based on Tsarnaev’s religion and ethnic background, his actions were motivated by anything but pure madness.

It’s not too early to name it for what it definitely is: an unspeakable tragedy.

Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG

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