What Does “Linked to Terrorism” Mean?
A question occurs in response to Doug Mataconis’ post this morning: what does "linked To terrorism" mean?* After all, we often want to know if a given act of violence is “terrorism” or not (and we seem, collectively, to react differently if an act is “terrorism” or not).
If an armed individual holds hostages because they are depressed or mentally disturbed, but do not articulate a specific philosophy or motivation, is that terrorism if they use that violence to make some kind of demand?
Is a demand necessary?
Is an ideology necessary?
If the person kills five but says nothing, what is that?
If a person kills five but says “Allahu Akbar” what is it then? What if they yell “cthulhu fhtagn“?
Was Sandy Hook terrorism? Was James Holmes a terrorist?
It seems to me that we casually (overly so) use the term “terrorism” these days to mean “Islamic extremism.” As such, it may be fair to say that the gunman in Sydney was motivated by Islamic extremism, but exactly how is unclear at this point (the flag is not really enough to judge).
In terms of being “linked to terrorism” I would note that terrorism is a tactic, not an organization. If the violence in Sydney is being used to influence the government of Australia to change its policy in some way then it is fair to call it a terrorist act. However, that does not necessarily mean that the individual is linked to a broader group (save, perhaps, in his own mind). From a policy (and reporting) point of view, it seems to me that it is important to distinguish between individuals and groups.
For example: if this individual is an actual agent of Daesh (or some other group), that would mean one thing. However, if the individual is acting on his own that is a different issue, yes?
What if a person simply thinks they are acting for a greater cause, but really are just mentally disturbed, what is that?
Is it simply “terrorism” if the perpetrator can be linked (by name, by heritage, etc.) to Islam?
What, ultimately, is the purpose (and usefulness) of using the label?
*I am not picking on Doug—I think this is a common response.