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The Bringer of Chaos

by John O'Sullivan

Whether or not Senator Ted Cruz is a “political terrorist” (or simply a terrorist), as alleged by Chris Matthews, first carefully and second carelessly, but denied by several NRO contributors is, as it happens, a matter of which I write with unexpected authority. Some years ago I wrote an article on the definition of terrorism for UPI and NRO. My definition of terrorism was subsequently adopted by Canada’s Court of Appeals (with acknowledgments). Hence my authority. And since it may help to settle this latest brouhaha, here’s the definition: 

A terrorist is a man who murders indiscriminately, distinguishing neither between innocent and guilty nor between soldier and civilian. He may employ terrorism – planting bombs in restaurants, or hijacking planes and aiming them at office towers – in a bad cause or in a good one. . . . For his methods, however, the terrorist is always to be condemned. Indeed, to describe him objectively is to condemn him – even if his cause is genuinely a fight for freedom with which we sympathize.

There’s more, but that’s the gist or nub.

The first point to note is that Senator Cruz has murdered no one — neither a single person in a discriminating fashion nor a random section of people “indiscriminately.” If any of you know otherwise, please inform the authorities. 

The second point to note is that the definition does not include the word “political” which was Mr. Matthews’ initial attempt to protect his slander of the senator against criticism. The reason is that it would have been a redundancy. In 99.9 percent of cases the terrorist is “political.” He murders people indisciminately in pursuit of some political objective. In a handful of cases someone has randomely murdered people without such a political motive, but that is usually the result of his going mad, running amok, or being under the influence of drugs. Such a murderer is to be condemned, but he is not a terrorist. Almost always a terrorist is “political,” and so Mr. Matthews, in ascribing political terrorism to the senator, is accusing him of terrorism pure and simple. To be fair to him, however, he probably didn’t realise that.

Third, a terrorist is not someone who causes chaos or who sets out to do so, as Mr. Mattherws argues, though the terrorist may sometimes cause chaos as a result of his indiscriminate killings or as a means of putting pressure on governments to grant his objectives. Causing chaos is in general undesirable, but there are extreme circumstances where it is prefereable to maintaining an unjust stability. And besides, Senator Cruz is not seeking to cause chaos, or anything like it; he is attempting to change government policy. Since he is not murdering people indiscrimnately in pursuit of this aim, he is guilty not of terrorism but of democracy. 

It is Mr. Matthews who is seeking to cause chaos, in particular linguistic chaos, by his muddled accusation and even more muddled definition in defense of his accusation.

A moment’s thought might have saved Mr. Matthews from this catalogue of errors, but as Housman remarked, thought is a painful process and a moment is a long time.



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