Terrorism is defined in Webster’s as, “The systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.” But Google provides the definition that is closer to the common, popular understanding that also seems to dominate our legal landscape: “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”
The term “terrorism” is now haphazardly applied to anyone and everything whose activities are disliked by those in power, either in governmental or corporate settings. As a result, the term itself is used as a form of terrorism against those who would dissent, including the brave souls who have exposed extreme animal cruelty at factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Meanwhile, things that might justifiably be called terrorism are ignored, or even praised and rewarded. To illustrate this point, let’s look at a disturbing contrast…
The now infamous Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, performed an act of classic terrorism. They set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring more than 250 – some seriously. They apparently did this as some sort of political statement that they were dissatisfied with America. What they hoped to accomplish I cannot imagine. Whatever their goal may have been, they most certainly (and predictably) failed.
After the Tsarnaevs were identified as the prime suspects, the city of Boston went to war, eventually “locking down” a huge area of the city and occupying it with all types of police vehicles, including some that resembled military tanks. The expense of this operation in democratic, financial, and economic terms, was immense.
As a result of an act committed by two inept, misguided clowns, we have given up even more of our freedom (both in the short and the long run), we have paid a large bill, and we have embarked on even more spending on security that will live on into the foreseeable future.
But what about the other, more insidious acts of terrorism that affect millions of Americans? What about the pollution of our drinking water and soil with substances that, among other impacts, have negative effects on fetal and child development? If a “terrorist” did that, if a person did it, it would be an outrage. There would be 24-hour television coverage for a week. There would be special logos and titles created by all the major news networks: “Terror at Your Kitchen Sink,” “Are You Safe in Your Own Home?” etc., etc., etc.
The truth is that the acts of terrorism I’m describing go on every day, have gone on for many years, and are rapidly accelerating. Under the guise (or justification) of increasing or cheapening our food supply or providing ever more cheap energy, untested (or sham-tested) chemicals have been dumped into our environment in incredible amounts. Weird and completely unnecessary chemical ingredients have also been added to our food, and toxic gases have been released into our air.
Regulations have been fought, tooth and nail, by the very terrorists committing these acts. We have been told, many times over, that regulating chemicals or even labeling our foods properly would raise prices or bring about shortages. The people of California were told that labeling genetically modified ingredients in processed foods would raise their grocery bills by $400 per year – a lie, but an effective lie.
How much does every American man, woman, and child pay each year for the “War on Terror?” It’s a difficult question to answer accurately, but a study from Brown University puts the figure at around $1,000 per year. That seems a conservative estimate. How much will our collective acts of terrorism cost in lost resources and lost health? That’s much more difficult, but you can bet it’s a whole lot more.
As a country, we are apparently more than willing to swallow almost limitless costs to fight one type of terrorism but downright intolerant of the very idea of stemming the type that can do far more damage to many more people. The Tsarnaev brothers certainly should have been pursued, caught, and punished (Tamerlan actually got killed trying to get away) for their cruel and idiotically pointless crime. Should we not also pursue and punish, as a society, what could be called “slow terrorism?”
It seems that if terrorists like the Tsarnaev brothers had been motivated by profit rather than making a political statement, instead of being hunted down like dogs, they would have been featured in business television shows and magazines. Maybe they would even have a commercial about how cool they are, narrated by a smart-looking woman in a white pants-suit.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.