As news broke of the shooting in Tennessee on Thursday, multiple news outlets came forward calling the event “an act of terrorism” Government agents were also quoted as saying they were investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism. As the President of the United States would say, “Let me be very clear.” This is NOT an act of terrorism.
Dictionary.com defines terrorism in three ways:
- the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
- the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
- a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
The FBI has a more complicated set of definitions, which generally involve acts which violate state or federal law, and explicitly involve threats against a civilian population. (The stipulation that it must violate state or federal law excuses a lot of government activity which would otherwise be considered terrorism, more on that later.)
The case I will make here is that the actions of Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez were neither intended to achieve a political goal, nor directed against a civilian population, but were instead a legitimate act of war against military targets.
The men killed by Abdulazeez were wearing United States military uniforms. The recruiting station and the naval reserve facility were military facilities. It could not be more clear that they represented the United States military. According to the Red Cross (emphasis mine):
The military uniform distinguishes the members of armed forces from the rest of the population. In international armed conflicts, members of the armed forces can lawfully take part in combat on the battlefield. Inversely, they can be lawfully attacked. The absence of a military uniform usually indicates that a person is a civilian, is therefore not allowed to perform military functions and must not be attacked.
Thus, according to the customs of war, Abdulazeez’s crime was not that he attacked men in military uniform, but rather that he himself was an “unlawful combatant”, because he was not (so far as we know) state-sponsored.
It is true that those who died were not engaged in combat at the time they were killed. Then again, neither were the Iraqis retreating from Kuwait during the first Gulf War. The recruiters and marines were not expecting to be attacked at their jobs in their home country. Of course, neither were the families targeted by a drone strike in the midst of a wedding procession in Yemen. The Chattanooga attack was a logistical one. Consider that the recruiter is part of the supply chain: His job is to ensure a steady stream of able-bodied warriors. Others may have been targets of opportunity, but were still part of the United States war machine.
At least one civilian was injured during the shootings. He was a police officer resisting the attack. In terms of a military confrontation, this person would also be considered a “nonuniformed combatant.” Consider the contrast between this attack and when the United States military harms civilians. Abdulazeez killed 5 targets and wounded one target and one person who resisted him, with no “collateral damage”. Compare this to the estimated 50 civilians killed for every person successfully targeted in drone strikes. If not for the fact that it is completely legal under United States law, drone strikes would be considered “International Terrorism” under the definition given by the FBI.
The war on terror has been going on for nearly 14 years and has claimed over a million lives, almost none of whom had anything to do with attacks on the United States. With this level of civilian casualties, violent frustration is understandable, regardless of one’s religious persuasion. Thus, those who debate whether or not the shooter was radicalized overseas or online are missing the point. When you fight a war on an idea, you shouldn’t be surprised when occasionally, that idea bites back.
Written by Cairn Freeman, contributor for TruthVoice