Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Terrorist or Asshole

It occurs to me, after engaging in a discussion on Morton's blog, that we have to distinguish between two types of people: the terrorist and the asshole.

It's useful to have a definition of a terrorist: a person who uses violence or the threat of violence to create political change or change in public opinion.

The subject of the discussion on Morton's blog was that of honour killings. If a man kills his daughter for wearing the wrong clothes or courting the wrong suitor, is this an act of a terrorist, or is he merely an asshole? (We take it as read, here, that he is at least an asshole.)

Does this constitute an act of terrorism?

A lot of that depends on how we weasel the definition. If this act of assholery has the effect of intimidating other women from making the clothing and courting choices they truly want, the effect is that of terrorism. But did the guy who murdered his daughter intend that effect, or did he just go off in a murderous, punitive rage and only incidentally have that effect?

If he were to take his petulant child and, as the bible advises, bring her before the town and have her put to death, we could definitely conclude that he is a terrorist. He, and any townspeople helping him, are intentionally using violence to intimidate others in to obeying their moral code. That would be terrorism.

But if we include the unintentional effects of a violent act committed by an asshole and allow that to declare him a terrorist, I would think that pretty much every violent act would have to be called a terrorist act on account of the fact that violence is always intimidating.

This is probably why the designation of "hate crime" had to be created. We judge the crime not only on the intent or the result, but on that shady region in between, where the victim was chosen because of her membership in a group (young women, possibly "young women of a certain culture") and the effect of the assault was to intimidate others of the same group. Additionally, the violence is part of a system of behaviour that intrinsically intimidates that group.

So. Honour killers are terrorists? I don't think so (though I'm not married to not thinking so). But they are assholes and deserve extra time in jail for participating in a hate crime.

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