David B.




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June 11, 2009

Terrorism: White Christian American Style


What do you call it when an armed gunman walks up to a law-abiding citizen and shoots him dead for nakedly political purposes? Evidently, it all depends where you do it.


If, say, the shooter and shootee are Afghani, Iraqi, Indonesian or Irish, the answer is simple: It’s terrorism. If they’re American, on the other hand, it is evidently something else altogether – especially if the political agenda being pursued dovetails with that of the Republican Party or the evangelical right.


Dr. George Tiller, a law-abiding provider of medical services to women, was shot dead on his way to church by an anti-abortion zealot. Apart from a few left-leaning blogs and possibly the odd MSNBC commentator, however, no one seems quite ready to label his assassin a terrorist – even when said assassin subsequently dubs the closure of Tiller’s clinic a “victory.”


Webster’s dictionary doesn’t say as much, but evidently the word “terrorist” is only applicable to those who fail to fit the predominant American white/Christian demographic. Memberships in either of the exclusive Caucasian or Christian clubs, while not a get-out-of-jail-free card, seems to exempt one from being tarred with that most reviled of pejoratives. Evidently, sending a bullet through a previously-living body is somehow less onerous an offense, the damage somehow mitigated, the motive somehow more benign than is the case when furriners do it. When white American Christians kill, it’s just somehow nicer.


Presumably, this means that Dr. George Tiller is somewhat less dead than bomb victims in Karachi or IED targets in Iraq. His family suffers proportionally less. It was, after all, a white Christian American bullet that took him down. Which is somehow purer.


It all sounds absurd. But if these aren’t the belief systems at work in the minds of those who choose to diminish Tiller’s murder or the evil of his murderer, what do they believe? This sort of making of allowances for Americans’ behavior is, after all, a time-honored American tradition: We’ll allow at least partial forgiveness for barbaric acts based upon the purity of the actor’s motive. Should the motive in turn be impure, we’ll figure out a way to overlook that as well.


It is honesty that is in question. Culturally, we have always been loathe to face up to precisely who and what we are. From the time the first terrorists, the first alien invaders, landed at Plymouth Rock and commenced a war of genocide that drove the indigenous peoples of the North American continent nearly into the Pacific Ocean, we’ve been in denial. When we distributed smallpox-tainted blankets to the plains Indians, God was on our side. When we interned Japanese-Americans during World War II, we were keeping the country safe. And when we are confronted with a manifestation of the putrescent, fanatical evil such as that which led to the death of George Tiller, we can’t bear to look that squarely in the face and call it what it is, either.


The murder of George Tiller was an act of terrorism. His assassin’s enablers in Operation Rescue and the fundamentalist pulpits were the aiders and abettors of terror, the moral equivalent of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. And if America wants to get serious about waging a war on terror, it will forget about far-flung corners of the globe and start cleaning house here at home, not stopping until the threat posed by these hollow-souled fanatics is thoroughly vanquished.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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