I just read two interesting articles from two different sides of the political spectrum, surprisingly both in agreement, on why the Fort Hood shooting was not, by definition, terrorism.
Terrorism is, by conventional definition, an attack on civilians intended to strike fear in the non-military population in order to advance a political or ideological agenda. Hasan didn’t attack civilians, he attacked uniformed members of the U.S. Army in advance of their deployment to the frontlines. It was an evil act, but was it an act of terrorism?
The progressive Glenn Greenwald explains the problem with using a more expansive definition of terrorism:
But if one accepts that broadened definition of “terrorism” — that it includes violence that targets not only civilians but also combatants who are unarmed or not engaged in combat at the time of the attack — it seems impossible to exclude from that term many of the acts in which the U.S. and our allies routinely engage. Indeed, a large part of our “war” strategy is to kill people we deem to be “terrorists” or “combatants” without regard to whether they’re armed or engaged in hostilities at the moment we kill them. Isn’t that exactly what we do when we use drone attacks in Pakistan? Indeed, we currently have a “hit list” of individuals we intend to murder in Afghanistan on sight based on our suspicion that they’re involved in the drug trade and thus help fund the Taliban. During its war in Gaza, Israel targeted police stations and, with one strike, killed 40 police trainees while in a parade, and then justified that by claiming police recruits were legitimate targets — even though they weren’t engaged in hostilities at the time — because of their nexus to Hamas (even though the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the targeted recruits “were being trained in first aid, human rights and maintaining public order”).
And on this point, incredibly, Goldberg agrees:
In Pakistan, we launch missiles at people’s homes with civilians in or around them to take out al-Qaeda leadership. The attacks are — hopefully — always intended to be something of a surprise. But I wouldn’t call that terrorism. I’m just uncomfortable with the word terrorism metastasizing into “anything the bad guys do to us.” Why not call what Hasan did a war crime? Terrorism is a war crime but not all war crimes are terrorism.
On another note, during World War II, we interned Japanese Americans because their ethnicity alone made them suspicious. It will be interesting to see how the U.S. deals with Hispanic Americans (now roughly fifteen percent of the population) if we someday invade a Latin American country. When will Hispanic Americans disagreeing with U.S. policy be considered sympathetic towards or suspicious of terrorism? With such a large portion of our military personnel being Hispanic, that’s a lot of screening.