James Taranto thinks it’s time for Fox to discontinue the use of this terminology:

In the spring of 2002, at the height of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, the network began using the term homicide bombing to refer to what everyone else calls a suicide bombing. In a FoxNews.com column, Reagan defense official and Shakespeare scholar Kenneth Adelman made the case for the new nomenclature: “Someone committing suicide does so alone, without any inkling to harm anyone else. Here, . . . the goal is not to kill oneself but rather to kill others.”

It’s hard to argue. But while Mr. Adelman is on the right side, homi- is the wrong ‘cide. Timothy McVeigh committed 168 homicides, but nobody calls him a “homicide bomber.” What sets a “homicide bomber” apart from an ordinary homicidal bomber is that the former takes his own life in the process. In short, a “homicide attack” is one in which the attacker commits suicide.

Aside from this confusion, this use of homicide as a dysphemism for suicide obscures the singular depravity of suicide terrorism. It’s not just that terrorism is deadlier when the perpetrators are unconstrained by the imperative of their own survival, though that’s certainly part of it: The suicide hijackers who attacked America two years ago killed 500 times as many innocent people as the mere murderers who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.

This is an interesting debate, although not one that I’ve taken a firm position on. On the one hand, Fox’s usage of this term is a form of editorializing that I rather dislike. Further, it strikes me as unnecessary since virtually everyone recognizes the despicable nature of intentionally blowing up innocents to send a political message. On the other, media outlets often make political judgments, like refusing to print the name of the Washington Redskins or other Indian-named teams, refusing to call terrorists “terrorists,” and the like. “Suicide bombings” puts the focus on the individual murderer and his motivations, rather than on the consequences of the action.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Terrorism, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Lemon says:

    I think it is kinda pretentious and editorializing, if not just goofy and weird sounding.

  2. cj says:

    I agree with Lemon’s comment. Also, I think the term “suicide bomber” has certain connotations. We all know that the bomber kills others (or attempts to), and not just himself.

    I think “suicide bomber” underscores the point that the person undertaking such an attack not only is willing to kill others to further his agenda, he is willing to kill himself. There is a certain depravity of spirit required to be a suicide bomber. I think it is important to maintain the distinction. It speaks to a deeper sickness, and should be retained in order to keep to the forefront the realization that certain segments of certain societies/cultures foster such depravity in individuals — it is one thing to condone killing of others (which has degrees, as in self-defense, captial punishment, etc.), it is really quite another to be a proponent of convincing an individual to take his own life in the furtherance of one’s agenda.

    The last time I checked, Arafat hadn’t strapped a bomb to his own chest, although he has been quite willing to indoctrinate Palestinian youths to do so for him.

    What is more evil than that?

  3. Paul says:

    Virtually everyone recognizes the despicable nature of intentionally blowing up innocents to send a political message.

    ahhh but if that were only true. Sadly, for many, it is not. Hence the problem.

    But on a humorous note, if one can be found on this topic, I vote we call them “Chicken-shit coward bombers.”

    While you might call it editorializing, it is the most accurate of all the above.

  4. A.W. says:

    I think the better term, then, is “murder-suicide bombing.” its clunky but it is only accurate version, that doesn’t gloss over any of it.