After the attempted Pioneer Square bombing, I wrote about the striking similarities between Mohamed Mohamud's case and the Turnidge's case (the father and son who bombed a Woodburn bank)... both were politically-motivated attacks, but no one was using the word "terrorist" in the case against the white, Christian extremists.
Now it's a new week, a new act of violence, and a new debate over using the word "terrorist."
Over at GOOD, Cord Jefferson has a punchy post contrasting coverage of Jared Loughner's attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with the coverage of Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan, who is Muslim. The Wall Street Journal, Jefferson notes, quickly published two stories suggesting Hassan was a terrorist after his rampage, whereas WSJ (and ever other mainstream news source I've seen) has not raised the question of whether Loughner could be a terrorist.
Personally, I think it's too soon to judge. But from what I've read, I don't think Loughner is a terrorist. To qualify as terrorism, the act has to be "politically motivated violence" and I'm not convinced that Loughner was actually motivated by politics. It seems more like the political rambling was just something he glommed on to in his mental breakdown. Loughner's target was a politician, but that doesn't necessarily mean he meant to send a political message. In news reports, he comes off as more of an obsessive nutbag than someone with a distinct political axe to grind. From the New York Times:
The exact role of politics in Mr. Loughner’s life — or whether he had a specific political perspective at all — is harder to pin down. Investigators will have to wrestle with the difficult question of whether Mr. Loughner’s parroting the views of extremist groups was somehow more a cause of the shootings or simply a symptom of a troubled life.
This reminds me of a comment someone left on Blogtown last week: 'Someone died! Let's argue semantics!" But with the case of "terrorism", whether media outlets use the word will shape how people see the attack and maybe even affect Loughner's charges and the verdict in his case.
It's obvious looking at the media coverage that Loughner is being given much for space for doubt and questioning of his intent than I think he would receive if he were brown and Muslim. That doesn't mean we should immediately jump to calling him a "terrorist", though, is shows that such a serious word should not be attached to someone until we're certain of their motivations.