by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal

the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
–The Free Dictionary

The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
–Oxford Dictionary

* * *
The most obvious thing about almost all of the above definitions is that they’re too narrow. Under all but the 2nd definition, the mass murder, rape, enslavement, and beheadings carried out by ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Al Nusra, and Al Qaeda, all of which have carried out their violent, coercive activities expressly in the name of Islam, would not be terrorist activities, except insofar as one can qualify imposing theocracy and Sharia law “political”

Nor would the bombings of abortion clinics and the stalking, death threats, and assassination of abortion providers in the U.S. by Christian fanatics be considered terrorism under the restrictive “political” definition.

So, let’s add “religious goals” to “political goals.” But why restrict the definition to these two specific types of goal? There’s no logical reason to do so, which brings us back to’s second definition.

Which in turn brings us to invisible terrorism, terrorism that very much exists, but is so much a part of day-to-day life that very few notice it.

The first and most obvious example of this is government. Clarence Darrow put it like this in Resist Not Evil:

How is the authority of the state maintained? In whatever guise, or however far removed from the rudest savage tribe to the most modern democratic state, this autocratic power rests on violence and force alone.”

If that’s not true, why does anyone pay taxes? It’s blindingly obvious that a great deal of tax money is simply wasted, a great deal of it produces social harm, and that virtually all of us–left, right, or center–disapprove of how much of it is spent. So, why do we pay? Why do most of us work the equivalent of several months every year just to pay taxes? We’re intimidated into doing so, we’re coerced into doing it by the threats of imprisonment and loss of property.

All twaddle about “social contracts” no living person has ever signed aside, we’re terrorized into it. The same holds for obeying idiotic, invasive, worse-than-useless laws.

At this point many will object that government is necessary, which is to say that they favor coercion and violence (that is, terrorism) in pursuit of ends which they approve of.

Tolstoy exposes the absurdity and hypocrisy of this position:

Men, oppressing others, assure them that the compulsion is necessary in the interest of the government, while the government is indispensable to the liberty and welfare of men — according to this, the oppressors compel men for their own freedom and do them wrong for their own good.” (The Slavery of Our Times)

There are still other types of invisible terrorism. One is the economic terrorization of working people. At present, the official unemployment rate is about 6%, the real unemployment rate is about twice that, and there are masses of “discouraged workers” who have given up on even looking for a job, let alone finding one. This is a very powerful inducement to put up with low wages, lousy working conditions, and jobs we hate simply for fear of being unable to find another job and ending up on the street. (Until very recently, many, many people with “pre-existing conditions” were terrorized into staying at jobs they loathed by the very real threat of losing health insurance coverage.)

You can argue that an economic system and government policies that ensure widespread unemployment aren’t a type of terrorism, because the threat is merely economic ruin and homelessness rather than violence and imprisonment; but the prospect of economic ruin and homelessness produce very real terror. If you doubt this, ask anyone who’s ever worried about losing a job or has been unemployed for even a short time about how it feels.

There are degrees of terrorism; no one would argue that there aren’t. But let’s stop pretending that institutional terrorism doesn’t exist. Let’s try to recognize terrorism in all of its forms and do what we can to eliminate it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.