The New York Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, points up an interesting problem. His column today begins: When 10 young men in an inflatable lifeboat came ashore in Mumbai last month and went on a rampage with machine guns and grenades, taking hostages, setting fires, and murdering men, women, and children, they were initially described by The Times by many labels.
“They were ‘militants,’ ‘gunmen,’ ‘attackers,’ and assailants.’ Their actions … were described as ‘coordinated terrorist attacks.’ But the men themselves were not called terrorists.’
Many Times readers wrote in, puzzled and angry, to ask why the word “terrorists” was not used, feeling it was the appropriate and stronger word.
The Times, Clark wrote, faced and faces “what to call people who pursue political, religious, territorial, or unidentifiable goals through violence on civilians.”
This dilemma occurs especially in reporting from Jerusalem, he continued, where “there has been a lot of soul-searching about the terminology of terrorism.”
He concluded, “If it looks as if it was intended to sow terror and it shocks the conscience, whether it is planes flying into the World Trade Center, gunmen shooting up Mumbai, or a political killer in a little girl’s bedroom, I’d call it terrorism – by terrorists.”
I have a different take on this. For me, murder is the worst crime humans commit, a vile, dirty crime, and one who commits murder is appropriately called a murderer. One who kills many is a mass murderer. I think the designation “terrorist” is worn as a kind of badge by those who would terrorize. By calling someone who kills for “political, religious, territorial, or unidentifiable goals” a “terrorist” one acknowledge that his (or her) goal was indeed accomplished. It gives the thugs and murderers a victory.
What do readers think?