Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Terrorism is What That Is (2018-05-19)
Clip from photo most reproduced after the 23 April 2018. Specific source of this clip is Feminist Current
Many readers may recognize the source of the cropped image illustrating this thoughtpiece. I have cropped it for several specific reasons, including the fact that murderers, whether officially accused or finally convicted, should not be glorified by having their images reproduced as if they are some sort of celebrity. The attempt to frame the suspect in this case as a "nice guy" who was "socially awkward" and "nothing to do with terrorism" in literally the first twenty-four hours after his rampage has probably not turned out as originally intended. Usually this becomes part fo the process of normalizing and minimizing the behaviour of a "troubled young man" who will either be declared "mentally ill" and therefore not responsible for his actions, or else "truly sorry for what he has done" preparing the way for a minimal sentence should he be convicted. I spent some time trying to locate original photo credits for this picture rather than falling back on the secondary source, only to find that the way in which articles are relabelled on most websites seems calculated to make them difficult to find again once they are no longer on the front page, and that among the first ten search results are shrieking right wing extremist blogs. The attempted early framing has certainly not gone as planned. Instead, for a change even men are admitting that this event was a terrorist act, perpetrated against women.
That this realization is belatedly hitting at least some writers in the mainstream is a little encouraging. Read David M. Perry at pacific standard on how white american terrorists are radicalized. This is relatively mainstream coverage that actually acknowledges the racism and sexism inherent in the usual uses of the term "terrorism" which is usually deployed only against non-white men of religions other than christianity, and then only expanded to cover violence against women when those same men can be accused and convicted of it. But "terrorism" is a term that in its dictionary definition is very broad. My OED states simply that it is "the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims." No reference to race, sex, or anything else. That doesn't make it simple and clearcut for the people desperate to exclude certain categories of violence and intimidation from the meanings of those words. If that means they have to destroy the meanings of the words so that they can claim that threatening someone with a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat is not intimidation, the act of causing fear in someone else, or that disagreeing with them is "literal violence" as opposed to what violence actually is, behaviour involving physical force used to cause bodily harm, then that suits them fine. People engaged in such convenient recategorizations and redefinitions so that they can claim a free license for their own terrorism are certainly not happy to see what they are up to labelled for what it is. Attempting to use intimidation and violence to force women out of public life and life itself is most emphatically a pursuit of political aims. Politics are about power, who holds it, who doesn't, who is able to hold it. Even Perry doesn't pull any punches about the accuracy of terrorism as a label here. "This latest mass murder was perpetrated by a self-declared member of an international radical group of violent ideologues. By committing murder, he sought not just to harm others but also to sow fear and spread his ideology, ideally sparking others to take similar actions. If he's not a terrorist, no one is."
Radical Feminists have been pointing out, with reams of evidence, for years, that men engaged in terrorism against women are not isolated. They are not lone wolves. Perry is among those who finally couldn't deny the truth of this anymore due to the ways in which extremist groups of all types, but now especially right wing groups with their myriad sympathies with fascism and authoritarianism, use social media. The individual men may be "lone wolves" and "socially isolated" in firmspace, but they are anything but on "social media." However, this does not depend on social media at all. The great philosopher Hannah Arendt recognized and wrote about this very type of man in The Origins of Totalitarianism. These men never actually stay alone. One way or the other, they find ways to join up together and egg each other on. Today that may mean primarily joining and participating in social media, or pursuing a career in computer science while male. In the early and mid twentieth century, it often meant joining a local militia or "men's group" of some kind, many of which were relatively informal until they could put together enough money to have uniforms and standardized weapons. All of which is in no way to deny that social media makes this sort of gathering, echo chambering, and incitement to violence far easier.
It is reasonable to ask what has led to this particular story escaping the cone of silence around systemic violence against women when women in general and Radical Feminists in particular identify and challenge it. In this case, that there have been several "van attacks" in other major cities that could be tied in some way to terrorism rationalized on a religious basis, especially because the religion in question was islam. Which turns us back to the underlying racism and sexism of the usual ways in which mainstream media deploys the terms "terrorist" and "terrorism." So the original expectation was that this was an atypical instance of a "typical" terrorist attack by somebody who must "hate our freedoms" that is becoming typical as their ability to use guns and bombs falls due to "better security." Except the suspect in this case turned out to be practically irreligious in those terms, but firmly entrenched in right wing male extremism and whose victims were primarily women.