I wrote this for my friends on Facebook. And then people kept asking me if they could share it. I am honored.
Also, I am grateful to my professors in Third World Politics at UMBC for helping me to learn to think critically about these issues, and to Professor Clark R. McCauley at BMC for the opportunity I had to do research under his guidance into the development and prevention of violence in political movements.
When you find yourself wanting to use the word "terrorist" right now in the wake of the explosions at the Boston Marathon, I invite you to think first.
"Terrorism" is political violence, whether it's violence from below (guerrilla groups) or violence from above (governments). "Terrorism" is not actually a catch-all term for senseless, deliberate violence inflicted by people on other people, though that's how we've come to use it.
What happens if, instead of using the word "terrorism," you use the phrase "political violence"? What does that do to the ways you think about and understand the situation, whether it's what happened in Boston, or another situation?
Contrary to popular belief, we cannot read the minds of those who perpetrate violence, though it's very tempting, because it allows us to make them "other" -- Not Like Us -- and easier for us to think we would never do such a thing.
But that is dangerous, for several reasons. One is that incorrect assumptions make it harder, not easier, to prevent future violence, and when we pretend we can read minds and therefore know motivations, we are making incorrect assumptions.
But one of the most important ways this is dangerous is that the primary thing which makes such violence possible is Other-ing. Specifically, seeing people as Other to the point where they are no longer considered fully human. Where we might not commit violence against other human beings, it's easier to commit violence against pigs.
Language choice is an essential step in this process towards violence.
I am not making this up. Decades of research into political violence, some of which I have been part of, bear this out.
So in the midst of this hurt and shock, I invite you to think. And I invite you to refuse to perpetuate the cycle of violence in the language you use.
Love and blessings,
(c) 2013 Stasa Morgan-Appel. Permission to reprint with attribution.
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