Wars are no longer fought by soldiers, they are fought by people. People like you and I who are on a mission, whatever that mission might be. It may be religion or it may be murder, but in the end it is about harming people.
So where do we draw the line between terrorism and mass murder?
In the Oxford dictionary terrorism means “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. It originated in the late 18th century in reference to the rule of the Jacobin faction in France. This particular period of the French Revolution is known as the Terror.
A mass murder in the Oxford dictionary means “the murder of a large number of people”. The difference between mass murder and terrorism therefore lies in the aim to harm civilians and pursue political aims.
According to the organisation ‘Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund‘, there have been over 200 school shootings since 2013 in the US. Almost an average of one shooting a week.
Since the 1999 Columbine school shooting, also in the US, there have been another 50 mass murders or attempted mass murders at a school. That includes 141 deaths (counted up until 2016). On average in 2015 only, there was one shooting per week in a school or college campus.
But the aim of the shooters is not understood as political or religious. It does not create laws banning guns or schools. It is treated as a terrible incident in a place where children and adults should feel safe.
In light of the third terrorist attack in the UK within three months, one has to stop and question what a terrorist attack really means. Is it a terrible incident like any other mass shooting or is it different?
Is it different because it is religious and easy to isolate or ‘ban’?
Crimes are part of human nature. It can be scary and it can be brutal, but it can happen anytime. Being stabbed and robbed on the street is a possibility, but it does not create a ban on knifes or late night walks.
We cannot ban people and Muslims on the basis of probable terrorism. It is not how it works.
Terrorist attacks are in the rise everywhere, including the Middle East region. In Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Kenya and so on. Terrorism is not a Western ‘problem’. Recently during Ramadan, a Kuwaiti telecom company launched a TV ad to counter terrorism. It shows how people all over the world are affected by these acts of terror, just like an American community would suffer if a mass school shooting happened.
So while Trumps response to the latest attack in the UK is predictable, using it to his advantage and claiming that a Muslim ban is inevitable for future safety, he is not willing to ban guns to ‘end’ school massacres. Sure, these rights are due to the second amendment in the constitution, but Muslims are protected under the first amendment and the free exercise of religion too.
Yes – terrorism is tragic. Yes – when it happened in Stockholm I felt very bad and concerned for my friends and family. But if I feel that way about a random attack that killed four innocent people I had no connection to, imagine what a lady my age feels like in Afghanistan after an attack killing 90 people. An attack in a country that is already ruined by bombs and where people live in terror every single day. Her whole society is ruined and she did not choose to be part of it.
Our context is relatable, but fighting terrorism requires a different approach. I am not suggesting that this is not a problem. It certainly is. But people and politicians must try to understand that we cannot treat terrorism as an isolated issue. If the US president is willing to ban Muslims, then he should be willing to ban weapons on the basis of school shootings. Responsibility does not seem to be Trump’s strong suit, but we should never stop requesting it.