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
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
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
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