When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

The Boston Globe’s ombudsman raises the old relativistic canard that “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” This comes in context of some readers’ complaints that the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas is not called a terrorist group by the newspaper.

There’s a lot of dancing around journalistic integrity and objectivity and even a slam on Israel—“they kill civilians, too”—but in the end it boils down to relativism.

To tag Hamas, for example, as a terrorist organization is to ignore its far more complex role in the Middle East drama. The word reflects not only a simplification, but a bias that runs counter to good journalism. To label any group in the Middle East as terrorist is to take sides, or at least appear to, and that is not acceptable.

What is terrorism? According to Webster, it is “the systematic use of terror, especially as a mean of coercion.” And what is terror? That is “violence (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands.” Well, by that definition, the Founding Fathers were terrorists.

Yet, even the Globe doesn’t use that broad a definition of terrorism. For them, terrorism includes the deliberate targeting of civilians. And I agree with that, emphasis on “deliberate.” That’s why it’s a straw man argument so say that if we call Hamas a terrorist organization, we must call Israel a terrorist state. Israel does not deliberately target civilians. (There is room to debate whether the firing missiles into crowded streets to attack terrorists without concern for innocent bystanders is moral or just, but let’s just stick with defining terrorism for now.)

The amazing thing is that the Globe makes further distinctions based on whether the group in question also performs “social service functions,” whether it has a “clearly identifiable or explicitly articulated political objective,” and whether they attacked the US on 9/11.

For one thing, what “social service function” does Hamas provide other than teaching Palestinian children to hate Jewish kids, advocating the murder of every last Jew, and lying about Jewish history, and then convincing gullible fanatics to blow themselves up on buses full of children?

And just why does having a political objective make a difference? If al Qaeda said tomorrow that they are attacking the US because they are opposed to tax cuts would that legitimize their evil?

This is what happens when there is no moral compass to guide you, when your ethics and professional practice are based on changing and ever-shifting cultural standards rather than bedrock, unchanging, objective principles.

It’s just another reminder that you can’t always trust what you read in today’s newspaper; that you must have a critical mind always asking questions and challenging the prevailing post-modern assumptions.