THE BLOG
06/12/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Of Poets and Terrorists: A Terrorist By Any Other Name...

The English poet William Shakespeare famously penned, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Like any great poet's timeless words, Shakespeare's lines continue to offer insightful commentary. William Shakespeare was doubtlessly a giant of his time, a poet whose name has become synonymous with his art. But does that mean that poetry written by other than Shakespeare is not poetry? Or does that mean that others were, are, and will be categorically incapable of balladry? Of course not--that would be absurd.

Then why is it that only Muslims, according to the media and the Department of Homeland Security, are capable of committing "terrorist" attacks? Admittedly, since the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001, Islam has become synonymous with terrorism, just like Shakespeare is synonymous with verse. But terror, according to Dictionary.com is "violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion."

Let's consider the curious case of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax-hating computer engineer who infamously flew his Piper Dakota airplane into a federal tax agency building in Texas this past February. The New York Times said of the incident, "Two serious injuries were also reported in the crash and subsequent fire, which initially inspired fears of a terrorist attack and drew nationwide attention." What's worse, in a press release the Department of Homeland Security said, "At this time, we have no reason to believe there is a nexus to terrorist activity." Let's look back to our operative definition of terror for a minute: Violent? Check. Intended for coercion? Check. Terrorism? You Betcha!

Fast-forward: A militia calling itself the "Hutaree" is raided by the FBI. Allegedly, the group, whose slogan reads "preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive" was plotting the dastardly murder of a law enforcement officer so as to ambush, heavy arms and homemade explosives in tow, dozens more officers at his funeral. Terrorism? Damn right it is, but in the Washington Post's cover story on the incident, the word "terror" (or any of its derivatives) was nowhere to be found.

And what about a recent video posted by Wikileaks.org revealing the indiscriminate murder of 12 Iraqi civilians--including two Reuters news employees by US soldiers in East Baghdad? Poignantly, after a distressed call is made about an injured young girl following the murders, one of the soldiers insouciantly quips, "Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle." Is the New York Times or any branch of the federal bureaucracy going to call that terrorism? I'm going to guess they won't.

It's not the imperfect taxonomy of political violence that's so vexing about this trend, after all, "a rose by another name would smell as sweet." However the implications it has on the public perception of Muslims is troubling. Given the politicization of the term "terror" (e.g. "War on Terror"; "Joint Terrorism Task Force"; "state supporters of terror") by the Bush and now Obama administrations over the past decade and the term's targeted associative use with Arabs and Muslims in the media, "terrorism" has become a tool by which external enemies of the United States are identified and defined. If non-Muslims who engage in "violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion" are not terrorists, then Muslim identity is a necessary requirement for engagement in terrorism. The implication, therefore, is that by definition, Muslims are inherently one step closer to engaging in terrorist activity than anyone else.

If Shakespeare wasn't the only poet, than Muslims aren't the only terrorists. But by failing to identify "violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion" as terrorism without regard for the religious or cultural identity of the perpetrator(s), the Department of Homeland Security and media outlets have colluded in the fundamentally xenophobic enterprise of redefining the term terrorism in cultural and religious terms. What's the upshot? A Qatari (read Arab and Muslim) diplomat, Mohammed Al-Madadi, caught smoking in the lavatory of an airplane sets off an international terrorism alert, necessitating an F-16 escort of his flight and international media scrutiny. Why? He's a Muslim.