Terrorism

By now you would think there would be some pause in the grisly ceremony: a killing in Europe or the United States has barely hit the news before it is being claimed as an act of terror. The disturbed young men in Germany, France and the United Kingdom who have meted out death in recent weeks and months have one thing in common. After the initial rush to judgement and the suggestion of a well-organised "lone wolf", the layers peel away, and a more complex truth is revealed: a young man, of Arab or African heritage but Western upbringing and citizenship, has gone berserk on a train station or street and killed two or three or four, and injured more.

These killings, similar in form, initially constructed as terrorism pure and simple, were soon hedged by right-wing commentators. Though it was not terrorism in the strictest sense, they said, this was still part of the wave of violent Islamism spreading across the world and deserved to be known as such. Anything less would be to let this new form of terror off the hook. This move has been followed by a counter move among those who see the focus on Islamist terrorism as distorting the real character of violence in Western societies: to define other forms of violence as "terror", initially violence against women, and then violence against indigenous people.