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What is a terrorist?

Written by: David Lacy


The other day in my Islam class, I was asked an interesting question. What does it actually mean to be a terrorist?


The term is usually used when referring to a group of extremist Muslims from the Middle East who use violence to get their way politically or because they believe this is how to spread Islam, but there is more to it than that.


For starters, terrorism is not exclusive to the Middle East. In a recent Huffington Post article, writer Matt Sledge discusses a man who was sent to prison for conspiracy and arson. Daniel McGowan was living out his eight-year sentence in a low-security prison when one day he was transferred to a higher-security one.


McGowan asked, why am I here?


He began to think about his reputation as an environmental activist who was “Unrepentant in his political identity.”


“I think what they ‘re trying to do is say, Ok you want to be a little political prisoner type, you want to write and be all active and say stuff, and get a ton of mail and everyone thinks you’re peachy keen?” McGowan said. “You’re gonna get crushed.”


So basically, if you don’t line up with what the government wants you to be and fall in line, you may find yourself in jail. Now Daniel still holds his political beliefs, but he is repentant about the violent acts that he committed.


Here’s the thing, though: He did not hurt anyone. Is he still a terrorist? I say yes. He committed violent acts to try and scare people into thinking like him. Whether he hurt anyone or not is irrelevant. The tactics he used caused fear and were clearly violent.


So here’s the thing: If you have to use violence to scare people into believing what you believe, what’s the point? You’re not allowing people to think for themselves.


It’s hard to say that anyone who goes out and scares people with violence is considered a terrorist. What is certain, and hopefully this is something most people can agree on, regardless of religious affiliation, is that violence to progress any ideology, be it political or religious, is not right. What’s the point of forcing your beliefs on someone, when that belief will only come from fear of persecution for not sharing the same beliefs? Perhaps the definition of “terrorism” is too broad.

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