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Mass murder vs. terrorism

For critics of American foreign policy, it’s all but axiomatic that the designation of a violent act as “terrorism” says as much about the accuser as it does about the accused. The U.S. government itself can’t decide on a single working definition of the term, but a standard one denotes unlawful politically-motivated violence designed to intimidate a government or civilian population. Put pressure on any part of this definition and it starts to buckle.

“Unlawful”? Why can’t terrorists — as per the word’s original meaning — be state actors? “Civilian population”? The category becomes meaningless if individuals can be retroactively subtracted from it for the crime of being struck by an American drone.

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