I listened – if that’s the right word – to a social media conversation last week about the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash.
The discussants were four colleagues who have been around homeland security for over a decade. The discussion took place at various times on March 26th and 27th, as news and speculations about what happened and why trickled through the Internet.
Here’s some of that discursive conversation, lightly edited
Person A. So, the French procureur just said that crashing a plane to the ground and killing more than 100+ innocent people is not an act of terrorism….thoughts? ( I know, I know… I am opening the can of worms of “define terrorism” but this seems to be a good reason to open it.)
Person B. This is easy! If he’s Muslim it’s terrorism. If he’s Christian it’s mental illness.
Person C. Can an act be deemed terrorism if the affected population isn’t terrorized? Any reports of Europeans en masse opting not to fly for fear on inadequate pilot screening procedures?
B. The first 19 Aum Shinrikyo attacks failed to terrorize the population too.
C. Yet, that incident is widely referred to as an act of terrorism…at least by the host government officials.
A. This just happened: ggreenwald It’s the definition. RT @AliAbunimah BBC just said Germanwings pilots “was German. Not a known terrorist.” They really do go by ethnicity.
A. Parents are still sending kids to school after sandy hook….. But it is scary as hell!
C. Two things strike me as odd about this latest plane crash. 1) if the lone pilot was pursuing a murder-suicide plot, why fly the plane on into a mountain? Major urban areas were nearby and he had a near full load of fuel to get him to these areas. 2) why hasn’t AQ or ISIS claimed credit for the incident. Even if they had nothing to do with the pilot it could cause short-term terror in some.
A. I guess the question that troubles me here is, why do we need a big political motif as motivation? The imbecile in Santa Barbara killed 6 people because he could not get a date. That does not make his bullets less real. 100+ people are dead in an aviation suicide attack. Why are their deaths less “terrorist related” than those of the victims of 9/11?
B. Because the political motivation impacts the funding steam. Did you know that the Santa Barbara shooter shot one of our colleague’s daughters through the hoody? He also shot her boyfriend.
A. Did both survive? (say yes).
B. Are you saying violence = terrorism?
A. Violence with an audience to send a message (even if the message is trivial) = terrorism.
B. Those impacted are just as traumatized.
A. Ritualized killings to provoke a reaction in an audience = terrorism. It does not have to be about Palestine. It may be about getting laid, or telling the department of veteran affairs “fuck you” or, whatever sick excuse.
C. What is the motivation of the perpetrator? Killers of people to scare other people that others are pursuing a like agenda = terrorism. Kill lots of people because you are having a difficult time adjusting to societal norms = mass murder.
B. But you aren’t saying it’s an excuse. You are saying it is the motivation. Some violence is good right? When we do the violence to send a message. Right?
A. It is its public nature.
B. When the state says fuck you and uses violence that is legit.
A. Carpet bombing Dresden or the Blitz killed a lot of people, but it was not a ritualized act.
B. My ass it wasn’t.
A. Instead, it had a strategic objective.
C. Violence may not be good but it is necessary.
B. It may have been less personal but it sent the message intended
A. (it was also a ritualized act) but not only. The objective was to limit the military capacities of the other to kick my butt.
B. And Hiroshima and Nagasaki did exactly what it was to do re: Russia? Really?
A. I had written something about Big Boy, and I deleted it, because the bomb was a ritualized act!
B. That may have been an additional benefit but our violence is often intended to send a message, take for instance the conventional fire bombings in Japan. Or Doolittle’s raid.
A. So, if I am pissed off with the IRS (I am not) and go and kill 40 accountants, in an IRS building, that is not terrorism?
B. Yep I’d say it definitely is terrorism.
A. So, if I am pissed off with girls because I cannot get a date, and I go and kill 10 girls is that terorism?
B. Refer to my initial statement about Muslim v Christian: If he’s Muslim it’s terrorism. If he’s Christian it’s mental illness.
C. Why is it terrorism?
A. That is my question, why is it not? Students in Santa Barbara are scared to go back to college.
A. And clearly there was an audience, and he even has a crappy manifesto.
C. Finals exams are due to start soon.
B. This is nature’s terrorism…now I’m afraid of the sky
A. Suicide: I jump from the golden gate. Got it. Terrorism: I kill 3000 to send a political message .
C. Was he trying to change the policies of the country or simply exacting revenge for a perceived wrong?
A.Who says that terrorism is about changing policies? That is, I think, the core of the divergence. Not all political acts are about changing policies.
B. Political or social change influence …
B. Not necessarily policies.
A. To produce fear among those I despise.
B. Or just a broader audience beyond those directly impacted by the violence.
C. Correct. Just as not all mass killings are terrorism.
A. Fear, audience, death. I can agree with those.
B. But I believe there is state terror too. Not just sponsorship terror
C. So there must be death for it to be deemed an act of terrorism?
B. David Claridge made a great argument for this (even though I’m not a fan, he was right about this).
C. What about maiming or the threat of death?
B. No, threat is ok too.
A. Pain and suffering work too. Torture.
A. Ok. if we cannot agree on a definition, I’ll take the “keywords” we did agree on as a common denominator.
C. Okay, let me get this straight. We are fighting alongside Iran in Iraq, fighting against Iran (proxy) in Yemen, and negotiating with them regarding acceptable nuclear capabilities?
A. I don’t know anymore against who we are fighting in the middle east. :)
C. Everyone is the correct answer
A. I think this answers your question about who are we fighting in the middle east :) http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/1xg427/wait–whose-side-are-we-on-again-?xrs=synd_facebook_032715_tds_2
[The link connects to a Daily Show episode whose conclusion is the US has finally found a way to fight a proxy war against itself. But back to the other topic.]
Person D. [joining the conversation] Terrorism = violence or the threat of violence that is perceived as undermining state sovereignty or the ability of the economy and/or society to function. I.e., Germanwings was not terrorism but rather an act of mass murder and a terrible tragedy.
A. Another definition throws its hat to the ring! :) Only a credible challenge to the state sovereignty?
D. Why can’t these guys who want to off themselves just do it without murdering innocents in the process?
A. Given the fact that my mother in law is terrorized to fly right now, I will still call Germanwings a case of terror.
D. It doesn’t have to actually be credible, just perceived as such. Terrorism produces exaggerated fear.
A. So, is Aurora or Sandy Hook not terror?
D. Not perceived as a threat to sovereignty, society, and the economy. Now a wave of mass shootings at movie theaters or schools could then be perceived as such. But it would also need to be seen as non-random.
A. I see in our future a post where [everyone who works here] answers the question: what is terrorism? I know we will get as many answers as we have [people who think about this], and that will add to the concert of others who have also answered the question. Still…..
D. Ok by me as long as you all agree in the end that I am right!
A. We are not aiming for consensus, but to look for the edges of the debate. That said, once we have X definitions, we may want to see if they can be “merged” in a lower common denominator, ala wikipedia, or if they can’t, to see where the deal breakers are. Could be a nice exercise. And it does not need to be permanent. We could update every time our thoughts on the topic evolve. I know that what I think terror and terrorism is today is different to what I used to think about the topic a few years ago.
A. I’m also having a similar conversation with [other people on a different social network platform]. We came to a conclusion…. :) instead of ruling out terrorism, as this seems to be a point of debate, we could agree (if that is the case): “at this point, the attack does not seem to have a political or religious motif.”
C. Agreed. All signs point to the co-pilot having diagnosed emotional issues. So how many other post 9/11 security fixes can or could lead to unintended consequences? http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/andreas-lubitz-kneejerk-reaction-to-911-enabled-mass-murder-10137173.html
[This link leads to a story that starts with: "A leading aviation security expert has condemned the rules on cockpit access as a “knee-jerk reaction to the events of 9/11” – which, he says, enabled the Germanwings co-pilot to commit the mass murder of the 149 other people on Flight 4U 9525.]
A. It is terrorism, right? :-) http://speisa.com/modules/articles/index.php/item.1086/the-co-pilot-of-the-germanwings-airbus-was-a-convert-to-islam.html
You can’t make this stuff up.
[This link -- from one of the wondrous universes that inhabit the Internet - says (in an English translation of German), "All evidence indicates that the copilot of Airbus machine in his six-months break during his training as a pilot in Germanwings, converted to Islam and subsequently either by the order of "radical", ie. devout Muslims , or received the order from the book of terror, the Quran, on his own accord decided to carry out this mass murder. As a radical mosque in Bremen is in the center of the investigation, in which the convert was staying often, it can be assumed that he - as Mohammed Atta, in the attack against New York - received his instructions directly from the immediate vicinity of the mosque."]
C. He was converted posthumously.
A. So, is it terrorism now? http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2015/03/27/crash-a320-le-copilote-voulait-que-tout-le-monde-connaisse-son-nom_1230090
“One day everybody will know my name, I am going to change the system and everybody will remember me?” the pilot said to his girlfriend.
Is he trying to build a caliphate? No. But as we discussed before, killing 150 is hardly a suicide. He knew he was broadcasting to an audience, and he wants to make his mark in history books.
This is a powerful motivator…. A huge one actually among hackers, for example. A 17 year old who can hack a nuclear reactor will do it to prove he can….and kill somebody in the process.