Was the London killing of a British solider ‘terrorism’?
“Two men yesterday engaged in a horrific act of violence on the streets of London by using what appeared to be a meat cleaver to hack to death a British soldier. In the wake of claims that the assailants shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the killing, and a video showing one of the assailants citing Islam as well as a desire to avenge and stop continuous UK violence against Muslims, media outlets (including the Guardian) and British politicians instantly characterized the attack as “terrorism”.
That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without saying, but given the legal, military, cultural and political significance of the term “terrorism”, it is vital to ask: is that term really applicable to this act of violence? To begin with, in order for an act of violence to be “terrorism”, many argue that it must deliberately target civilians. That’s the most common means used by those who try to distinguish the violence engaged in by western nations from that used by the “terrorists”: sure, we kill civilians sometimes, but we don’t deliberately target them the way the “terrorists” do.
But here, just as was true for Nidal Hasan’s attack on a Fort Hood military base, the victim of the violence was a soldier of a nation at war, not a civilian. He was stationed at an army barracks quite close to the attack. The killer made clear that he knew he had attacked a soldier when he said afterward: “this British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
The US, the UK and its allies have repeatedly killed Muslim civilians over the past decade (and before that), but defenders of those governments insist that this cannot be “terrorism” because it is combatants, not civilians, who are the targets. Can it really be the case that when western nations continuously kill Muslim civilians, that’s not “terrorism”, but when Muslims kill western soldiers, that is terrorism? Amazingly, the US has even imprisoned people at Guantanamo and elsewhere on accusations of “terrorism” who are accused of nothing more than engaging in violence against US soldiers who invaded their country.
It’s true that the soldier who was killed yesterday was out of uniform and not engaged in combat at the time he was attacked. But the same is true for the vast bulk of killings carried out by the US and its allies over the last decade, where people are killed in their homes, in their cars, at work, while asleep (in fact, the US has re-defined “militant” to mean “any military-aged male in a strike zone”). Indeed, at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on drone killings, Gen. James Cartwright and Sen. Lindsey Graham both agreed that the US has the right to kill its enemies even while they are “asleep”, that you don’t “have to wake them up before you shoot them” and “make it a fair fight”. Once you declare that the “entire globe is a battlefield” (which includes London) and that any “combatant” (defined as broadly as possible) is fair game to be killed - as the US has done - then how can the killing of a solider of a nation engaged in that war, horrific though it is, possibly be “terrorism”?…”