Martyrology 101—an elective course

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Aug. 14 2006 3:15 AM

Martyrology 101

It's an elective course.

In her latest column, "Teen Terror," Dahlia Lithwick ponders the similarities between a teenager and a terrorist. While noting many commonalities—or, perhaps, overlaps—between the two categories, Lithwick believes that, "because teenage boys with grudges are fundamentally different from adult men with liquid explosives, we should resist the lure of using terror laws to prosecute them."

Several readers disagree that American high-schoolers with dreams of mass homicide are different in nature from Islamic terrorists bent on mayhem and destruction. HLS2003 doesn't think Lithwick's case adds up:

The only analysis she does offer contradicts her assertion. After all, what is the difference between Timothy McVeigh and Mohammed Atta, other than one's motivation by Nazi fascism and one's motivation by a form of religious fascism? They were both terrorists and they both wanted to kill a lot of people. And how old do you think many of these terrorists are, Dahlia? Are they all thirty-somethings who have gotten past the pimply stage? Or are many young and impressionable teens just like your alleged victims here?

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Another practicing attorney, carolfb, explains the legal doctrine of "terroristic threat":

While modern "terrorism as a political weapon" has changed our use of words, people have been terrorizing other people for millenia. "Terroristic threat" is not a new idea springing from the world-wide-war-on-terror, but an old concept in criminal law. While I would agree the teens you discuss are not "terrorists" as the word is used today, their actions (if proven) do indeed constitute "terroristic threats".

A terroristic threat is any credible threat that terrorizes another. [...] Depending on where you live, there are historical artifacts in these statutes. In Georgia, a terroristic act includes burning a cross or other symbol with the intent to terrorize another or another's household. Depending on the seriousness of the threat, the charge can be a misdemeanor or felony. [...]

My experience with terroristic threats comes primarily from representing women in domestic violence cases. [...] The goal in these crimes is the same goal as international terrorism, writ small. The abuser wants to control "his" woman. She won't challenge him so long as she is afraid of him. Usually VERY afraid of him. [...]

The teens you describe are also seeking to control those around them -- perhaps for different reasons but with the same tool -- terror. I agree that these kids are not international terrorists a la Osama Bin Laden. They are, however, mixed up adolescents who are INTENDING to scare the pants off other folks. That is the whole point of these activities: hurt or kill some folks, TERRORIZE lots more. The criminal code does and should address not only the physical assault, but the "terroristic threat".

Clown_Nose agrees there's a difference between American teenagers and Islamic terrorists but wants to close the gap as quickly as possible:

Why doesn't the United States take advantage of the teen angst like the Islamists do?

It seems to me that we know that suicide is a leading cause of death for teens. Islamists take advantage of this by telling these teens that it is God calling them to kill infidels.
Instead of using psychologists to try (and fail) to fix this defect, why don't we seize the opportunity and send these people over seas to blow up terrorist cells? They are going to die anyway, we might as well get some value out of it. [...] Lets jump on the bandwagon and use some losers too.

Dayenu not only believes we should treat murderous students as terrorists, she's prepared to take out the stateside sponsors who harbor them:

It does seem that one element is missing from this equation. It would probably be a good idea to prosecute and lock up parents who exist in such a moral vacuum that they could watch their kids assemble arsenals and do nothing.

As long as we're talking categorically, FoxyGoth notes that homicidal kids draped in black aren't really Goth.

Several posters write in to help explain the difference between the Columbine shooters and international terrorists. Eigenvector argues for an intuitive approach: "Yeah the line is grey, faintly grey, but don't we have enough definitions of killer so that we don't have to pile on to the latest fad in bloodshed?" Angharad fingers ideology as the relevant factor.

There are also some interesting variants on the theme of blaming society for homegrown child terrorists. Luchese puts the prosecutors of seriously wayward youth into the docket:

Children and adolescents are not adults. They should never even be considered such in a court. But this society has become punitive, vengeful and rigid in its own obsession to achieve "justice" through the courts. Trying American children or adolescents as terrorist is barbaric, abominable and counter productive to what the real issues are; human understanding, compassion and prevention. But when the adults who promulgate this form of retribution it indicates they are still attempting to resolve their own childhood and adolescent anger, fear and depression and have given up. It is therefore projected onto the victim and then it is simple human sacrifice to bring, in the long run, a short term solution.

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