[ by Charles Cameron — these things are multi-factorial, and can’t truthfully be shoehorned to fit two categories — “terrorist” or “deranged” — as realtors might say, it’s nuance, nuance, nuance ]
Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt have an interesting piece in the NYT today, titled In the Age of ISIS, Who’s a Terrorist, and Who’s Simply Deranged? It hinges on a comparison of two similar events in France, two years apart, in Dijon and Nice.
Here, I’ve presented them as a DoubleQuote. The Dijon article (upper panel, below) comes from an NYT report dated December 23, 2014:
The Nice report (lower panel, above) comes from Mazzetti and Schmitt’s piece today.
Mazzetti and Schmitt point out that shortly before the Dijon attack,
In September 2014, the spokesman for the Islamic State put out a call for the group’s followers to attack Westerners by any means possible, and to do so without awaiting further instructions from the group’s leaders.
“Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him,” the spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, said during a 42-minute recorded statement.
The whole Mazzetti and Schmitt piece is worth your reading. Categorization, as they explain, is changing —
“A lot of this stuff is at the fringes of what we would historically think of as terrorism,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism and a professor at Dartmouth College. But, he said, “the Islamic State and jihadism has become a kind of refuge for some unstable people who are at the end of their rope and decide they can redeem their screwed-up lives” by dying in the name of a cause.
Mr. Benjamin said this also led the news media and government officials to treat violence like the Nice attack differently from other mass attacks, like shootings at schools and churches that have been carried out by non-Muslims.
“If there is a mass killing and there is a Muslim involved, all of a sudden it is by definition terrorism,” he said
— and this has impacts far beyond the horrific crimes themselves.
For instance, here’s one conclusion with significant foreign policy implications:
But terrorism experts caution that because the Islamic State seems to have broad appeal to the mentally unbalanced, the displaced and others on the fringes of society, there are limits to how much any military campaign in Syria and Iraq can reduce violence carried out in other countries on the group’s behalf.
As Will McCants puts it in a Time piece titled The Difference Between ISIS and ISIS-ish:
The pattern is tragically familiar: a troubled youth with a criminal past attacks in the name of ISIS. Charlie Hebdo, Orlando, San Bernardino and perhaps now Nice. They are not ISIS, exactly, but ISISish men and women who have no organizational ties to ISIS but murder in its name.
No man ever steps in the same river twice.
Soundbites and hasty headlines don’t chew what they bite. Each case is its own case — sui generis. Classical philosophy used to posit four types of cause: formal and material, efficient and final. In terms of acts of sudden violence, we may want to consider a variety of contextual influences, subconscious drives (James Gilligan‘s work on violnce and shame is deeply relevant here), overt signalling by perps including claims of bayat, methods employed and their history in previous actions and inspoirational or technical literature, and post-action claims by known terrorist groups
Life does not pretend to be simple. Convenience is no substitute for careful analysis.