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Criminals or Terrorists - spurious nelogism — LiveJournal
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Criminals or Terrorists
Haven't posted anything by Bruce Schneier for a while, so here's a quote from the latest CRYPTO-GRAM for consideration:

"On the face of it, Joseph Stack flying a private plane into the Austin, TX IRS office is no different than Nidal Hasan shooting up Ft. Hood: a lone extremist nutcase. If one is a terrorist and the other is a criminal, the difference is more political or religious than anything else.

Personally, I wouldn't call either a terrorist. Nor would I call Amy Bishop, who opened fire on her department after she was denied tenure, a terrorist.

I consider both Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber) and Bruce Ivins (the anthrax mailer) to be terrorists, but John Muhammad and Lee Malvo (the DC snipers) to be criminals. Clearly there is a grey area.

Muhammad and Malvo are an interesting case. By my understanding of the term, I would say that they were terrorists in that they were seeking to cause terror (and did so fairly effectively, you must say). Perhaps they were purer terrorists than the WTC and Pentagon attackers who, to some extent, saw their victims as a legitimate enemy and who believed there was some greater justification for their attacks. Despite the definition, I think Muhammad and Malvo were also criminals, and dealing with them in the criminal justice system was entirely appropriate.

More than anything, I think this presents a good example of a "boundary maintenance" issue as described in catastrophe theory (Catastrophe is not necessarily bad in this case; I think the indication is more toward sudden and unexpected or unpredictable). As people struggle to define things as part of one category or the other, things eventually reach a point of collapse, or catastrophe, where the whole system breaks down. At that point, perhaps a new category arises, or an entirely new system replaces the old one.

What we're calling terrorist most of the time is something that falls outside the older definitions of criminal or military, though it has feet in both camps. Rather than trying to force it into an old classification, we ought to be developing new modes and new approaches to deal with it.
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