Much of the chatter over the weekend was whether or not the Fort Hood shooting can be classified a “terrorist attack.” It seems to me this reveals one of the shortcomings of the language of the war on terror. I know there are all sorts of legalistic definitions about what constitutes terrorism and what doesn’t. But it seems to me a case could be made that this was, variously, an act of war, an act of treason, or a war crime, but not an act of terrorism.
Terrorism is, by conventional definition, an attack on civilians intended to strike fear in the non-military population in order to advance a political or ideological agenda. Hasan didn’t attack civilians, he attacked uniformed members of the U.S. Army in advance of their deployment to the frontlines. It was an evil act, but was it an act of terrorism?
Ultimately, if we’re going to call the violent acts of Jihadis “terrorism” wherever and whenever they occur, then I guess I’m fine with calling it terrorism. But I can’t help but think this illuminates some blind spots in the way we think about these questions.