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“Terrorist Act” vs. “Senseless Violence:” Why We Can’t Wait to Identify the Boston Bomber

In the wake of tragedies like the Boston Marathon, we yearn to make sense of the chaos, the violence and the hatred that unfolded. And so following Monday’s bombing, the media and their followers are desperate to find out who committed the heinous act. With the New York Postfalsely throwing in a “Saudi national” suspect in the picture, it seems as though people are on the edge of their seats, waiting for the bomber to be identified. Khaled A. Beydoun, wrote in his Al-Jazeera article “Boston explosions: ‘Please don’t be Arabs or Muslims,’” that the Arab community is hoping that the bomber wasn’t Arab or Muslim. He wrote the anxiety felt “between catastrophe and discovering the real culprits, define what it means to be Arab and Muslim-American today.”

What does it mean if the bomber is Arab or is Muslim? It seems as though the bombing will then automatically be considered an “act of terrorism.” After all, following the Post’s story, both media and social media outlets blew up with racist claims and “terrorist” forecasts.

And if the bomber isn’t? Is it then just an act of “senseless violence”?

Obama says no. At a press conference on Tuesday morning, he said a bombing is a “an act of terrorism … whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual.”

By labeling “bombings,” regardless of motivation, as ‘terrorist acts,’ Obama loosens up the traditional definition, which normally emphasizes a political motive. With no motive or even suspect confirmed yet, Obama essentially associated terrorism with the act of instilling terror in the population.

Yet, the president repeatedly referred to Newtown as an act of “senseless violence,” though fear was certainly been instilled in the population after the massacre. Lanza was labeled as a “madman.”

What gives?

Of course, in the political reality of our society today, the word “terrorism” is hinged on certain racisms. Therefore, I wonder if the bomber will be portrayed as a terrorist or a madman once we know his true identity.

But more importantly, there’s the widespread belief that the “Lanza’s” in our society don’t have political motives like “terrorists” do. Thus, if the bomber had an anti-American motive, we are forced to reflect on our policies domestic or foreign that most likely sparked the violent action  — policies that we work so hard to look away from. But if the bomber is deemed “insane” we can more easily find a way to not have to reflect much at all.  We treat them as isolated incidents, bad apples and ultimately, out of our control to fix. And in some ways, when the perpetrator is labeled a “madman,” it even provides some with relief. We think, “There’s nothing we could have done.”  Of course we fight for things that can bandage the issue, like stricter gun laws and calling for less violence in the media. But we feel that, ultimately, at some point, a “madman” will inevitably strike.

But “madmen” aren't simply "hard-wired" to be "evil;" they have political motives, too. And they are usually aimed at societal structures instead of national policies. These people are screaming to us that our society has made them feel trapped — and this is their one last attempt at gaining control.

Living in a violent, individualistic, technological world has its consequences.  We are more lonely, anxious and depressed as ever. And this can turn into rage.

Of course, I’m not sure what exactly goes on in the mind of a “madman,” but the urge to kill doesn’t come from a random place. For example, a family member of Adam Lanza just recently said that Lanza was bullied when he attended Sandy Hook elementary school. This is probably just one of the factors that shaped Lanza.

Thus, when we delve deeper into so-called “senseless violence” we see it’s not very “senseless” at all. This type of violence comes with living in such a violent world.

And so does “terrorism” in the traditional sense. So in reality, the way we differentiate a “terrorist act” and “senseless violence” is unsubstantiated. They both stem from the violence in society and in ourselves.

After using an entire population as a scapegoat for 9/11, I think we have learned that if this act does have an anti-American motive behind it, there is no longer an easy target. The target is ourselves and our complicity with our policies. But if the motive is pure rage, the target is ourselves, too. Let’s stop drawing such a divide between these terms. Let's stop using them all together.

Both "terrorist acts" and "senseless violence" are reactionary to our violent society today, both should cause a chilling queasiness in our bodies and both need to awaken us and force us to explore their cause. 

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