How to spot terrorism

ter·ror·ism noun: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Yesterday, when asked whether he viewed the Paris attack as an act of terrorism, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told ABC News: “Based on what we know right now it does seem like that is what we are confronting here, and this is an act of violence that we certainly do condemn and if based on this investigation, it turns out to be an act of terrorism, we would condemn it with the strongest possible terms.”

I’m all in favor of avoiding rushing to judgement, but by the time Earnest spoke, as much of the world had already seen video footage of the gunmen conducting their operation and the target of their attack was known, it didn’t require the conclusion of an investigation to establish that this was an act of terrorism. Part of the purpose of the ongoing investigation must be to establish the motives of the suspects and what kind of organizational support they had, but I don’t think anyone in France is trying to figure out whether this was terrorism.

Not long after Earnest was hesitant about using the word “terrorism,” President Obama used it himself — not because of significant advances in the investigation, but most likely because he realized he’d sound like an idiot if he refused to use the expression.

It’s one thing to argue that terrorism is a term too imprecise to be clearly defined in law, yet in everyday language — even that used by a White House press secretary — there should be neither confusion nor controversy in calling yesterday’s bloodbath an act of terrorism.

Moreover, a White House that only two weeks ago exercised very little caution when concluding that North Korea instigated the Sony hacking — even though no hard evidence has been made public to back up this claim and an FBI investigation is still ongoing — seems to attach little value to its own credibility. Either that, or it sees value in confusion.

Lastly, here’s a nitpicky note for Earnest and the many others who believe that religions and other belief systems have tenants. What would those be? The occupants of a belief system?

The correct term is tenetnoun: a principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy.

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