I don’t really want to talk about gun control. It’s complicated, constitutionally tricky, and no one can really be sure exactly what would have prevented an attack like this. While one argues that stricter laws would have prevented weapons from getting into the assailant’s hands, another could say that looser laws could have allowed a movie patron to defend themselves and prevent the full extent of the violence. I don’t want to go into the merits of each argument, simply because I can never fully know how each policy would have changed the outcome of this tragedy.
Instead I want to talk about terrorism.
Was this an act of terrorism?
While it is not the first thing that comes to mind when many think of similar mass shootings, some are claiming that this was an act of terrorism. I’ve heard many people say things to the extent of.
“Of course he is a terrorist and its racist to think otherwise. If he was a Muslim, everyone would call him a terrorist.”
Maybe so, but would it be correct to do so?
I don’t think so.
Yes, the actions of the shooter did inflict terror, but not in the same way as “traditional” terrorists intend.
One should think of terrorism not simply as actions intended to scare, but as an attempt to coerce through terror. It is not simply an action, but a strategy.
Muslim terrorist who associate themselves with regional or international Islamic groups turn to terror tactics not simply because of a desire to inflict violence, but out of a desire to wage warfare without the means to do it conventionally.
Just like a conventional army, they have a goal – while many do not think of it this way, the stated goal of Al-Qaeda is to rid the Ummah, the pan-national Muslim nation, from oppression and western influence. Because they do not have the necessary organization, pan-regional cohesion, or aboveground resources, they must conduct their war through unconventional means. They cannot face an army head on, so to accomplish their political goals through direct force (as many countries do), they must do it through fear- and in many cases this is achieved through attacks on civilians.
The point here is not that terrorism is justified, but that is a tactic used to achieve political goals.
And in the case of the Colorado shooting, there were no political goals, but rather delusional self-glorification. The shooter did not seem to have any goals, except for the infliction of violence for his own self-fulfillment.
However, this is not to say that terrorism can only be committed by Islamic groups.
In 2010, an act of terrorism was carried out by a U.S civilian against our country that had clear political intentions. In February of 2010, Andrew Joseph Stack crashed his personal airplane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, killing an IRS employee and inuring 13 others. A note left behind by Stack clearly indicated malice towards the IRS, illustrating his clear intention to make a political statement through violence.
One should not assume that only a single ethnic or religious group could engage in terrorism. But one must also recognize that unprovoked violence alone does not signify terrorism.
Tragedies like this provide us with the sometimes unexplainable question as to why someone would commit such as act. But the way we respond to it must reflect the nature of the act committed. Although tragic, we must recognize that this is an isolated incident motivated by delusion, and to assume greater intentions would only justify the egocentric crime that was committed.