Each time a terror attack happens in France, I receive several messages from friends and family to inform me, even though I’m usually already aware of it. Worse: I often do the same thing! Should I do that?
There is no universal agreement on the definition of terrorism. The broadest definition is: “the use of intentional violence for political or religious purposes.” More specifically, according to American philosopher Michael Walzer:
Terrorism is the deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of its political leaders.
And according to the United Nations, terrorists acts are:
Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes…
So if terrorists want to spread fear, are we helping them when we share news of their acts? Probably… And yet, we can’t ignore them!
Or maybe we should? There are about 1,000 assassinations per year in France, including less than 10 from terrorism last year. So should we treat terrorist acts as we treat other murders, which means mostly to ignore them?
Conversely, as soon as an attack isn’t classified as “terrorism”, it doesn’t spread anymore. For instance, a man in medieval clothing killed 2 people with a sword yesterday in Québec. First described as a terror attack, it was shared thousands of times online. After it appeared that the man wasn’t affiliated with any terror group, the information quickly disappeared. Even though the murderer maybe wanted “to provoke a state of terror”. But we were not terrified, so it wasn’t terrorism, so we didn’t share it. Other example 3 days ago in France: a man was killed by the police after he tried to attack them while shouting “Allahu Akbar”. It was all over Twitter. However the police then declared that the man never shouted anything and that he wasn’t a terrorist. The information disappeared. And yet, because the police killed him, how can we know whether he was a terrorist or not? How could we know his intentions?
So our own fears define which acts we consider terror attacks, and which ones are “just” assassinations. So if we’re not afraid anymore, does it mean that terrorism disappears?
I don’t know… And in any case we probably cannot control our fears. Terrorists precisely exploit our basic psychological responses to provoke a state of terror. So there’s probably nothing we can do but continue to live and fight them. What do you think? Free free to comment below :)