Glenn Greenwald & John Hinderaker on Terror

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Before the ink was dry on reports of the Austin crash, bloggers were debating how to categorize the pilot Joseph Stack's suicide. Was it terrorism or not? The discussion quickly split along partisan lines. Many liberals categorized Stack as a terrorist and berated conservatives for their hesitance. "Politically motivated violence undertaken by non-Muslims isn't terrorism, everyone knows that!" exclaimed left-leaning Matt Yglesias sardonically.

There are a few who have stepped back slightly from the front lines of this debate, however. Though Glenn Greenwald doesn't shy from the politics, he focuses more on the manipulation of the word "Terrorism"--with a capital T. "Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon," he declares.

A Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists.  A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T--not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process.

So why is this important? Greenwald articulates the generally liberal argument better than most: "If we're really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call 'Terrorists,' we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means." It should not be merely a label put on Muslims to justify extra-legal activities.

John at conservative Power Line also backs away from the fray. "For what it's worth," he says, Stack's suicide note "is left wing, not right wing" as so many have assumed from its anti-government tone. He homes in on the communist slogans bandied about at the end of Stack's rant.  However, John continues, "it's hardly worth parsing the political views of the terminally disturbed." This is, he notes, "a tragedy in which few will take much interest except insofar as a political point can be scored."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.