Stop crying "terrorism" every time we're attacked.

Science, technology, and life.
Jan. 11 2010 11:53 PM

Traitor, Bomber, Soldier, Spy

Stop crying "terrorism" every time we're attacked.

(Continued from Page 1)

Therefore? You mean, anybody who kills anybody in the name of Islamic extremism is a terrorist? If that's all we mean by terrorism, then our enemies are right: It's just a code word for people whose religion we don't like.

This isn't what we meant by terrorism when we went to war against it. But one of war's perils is forgetting your principles. You torture, you lie, you change the meaning of your commitments. You win the war by losing your bearings.


Al-Balawi's father understands what terrorism means. Two days ago, he said of his dead son, "Had he killed innocent civilians I would have denounced him." But his son hadn't done that. He had killed intelligence agents.  And the fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the father argued, was "a war of intelligence agencies."

He's right about that. In the skies over Pakistan, our agents have the means to incinerate al-Balawi's masters. And I hope they succeed.

But imagine the reverse scenario: an armada of Afghan drones hunting American militia leaders in the United States. Would you retaliate by slaughtering Afghan civilians? Or would you identify the drone masters, infiltrate their intelligence network, and kill them? Does it matter which path you choose?

It certainly does. And if we can't tell the difference anymore—if we need lessons in the meaning of terrorism from the father of a suicide bomber—then it's time to remind ourselves what we're fighting for.

Human Nature's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter:

Latest Twitter Updates
    Follow William Saletan on Twitter.