The Americans are currently wrestling with two very rubbery words, extremism and terrorism. Each apparently is a word that means what you want it to mean, and nothing else.
For reasons I can understand, some people are tired of hearing Muslems dismiss violent Moslems as extremists. How far off centre do you have to go before you qualify as an extremist? And what happens to you if you qualify?
For reasons I can also understand, people are tired of hearing Muslems say that the extremists are bad, but… Then follows some excusing or softening factor. The extremists are bad, but they have in part become bad because other people were bad to them – or us.
The American Republicans are now going through the same process with one of their number. Donald Trump might fairly be described as an extremist, not to mention the best friend that IS has ever had. Other Republicans say that, yes, Trump is an extremist, but – a lot of people have been driven to extremes by the weakness of President Obama. It is not pretty to watch.
What is even less pretty is the confusion over terrorism. Mass shootings occur on an almost daily basis in the U S. More than 80 people are shot and killed every day there. The nation is used to it, even though people still claim to be shocked when each fresh incident arises. The FBI waited for some time before declaring the most recent mass shooting in California was an act of terrorism.
What distinguishes this mass shooting from the others that happen so regularly? These mass killers had some kind of religious training and motivation, and they had been ‘radicalised’, which apparently puts them beyond extremists.
To qualify as a terrorist, you need to be putting people in fear by killing people or by threatening to kill them, but for some ultimate political or religious end. While the presence of politics or religion might indicate that the source of the evil may be more widespread, it is hard to see any basis for moral discrimination between the perpetrators of the various kinds of mass shooting and killing.
It is impossible to see any such discrimination in the US. There people are constitutionally encouraged to bear arms, and that is interpreted to mean that they can buy and have and be able to use any kind of firearm they want to have. People are solemnly told, and by the highest judges in the land, that this is a constitutional right of US citizens. Why do they have this right? It is given to them so that they can protect themselves from tyranny.
It is hard to recall a more noxious form of bullshit. What people are being told is that they should be able to remain armed in case they think that the government is becoming oppressive. In that case, they can use their guns to change the government. One of the difficulties is that no one will ever be able to judge when that right may arise. Because when he does claim to exercise the right, not just to bear arms but to use them, the person using the gun will be, by definition, a terrorist – they will be killing or threatening to kill for a political purpose.
Terrorists either win or lose. If they win, they get into power. If they lose, they get killed. Nelson Mandela was in the first category; John Wilkes Booth, the second. In truth, the best example of someone exercising the right to bear arms to remove a tyrant was the man called John Wilkes Booth. He assassinated Abraham Lincoln. He did so expressly on the basis that Lincoln was a terrorist. Booth is the quintessential American terrorist or extremist.
Now, there are arguments about this – that prevail by a majority of one in the Supreme Court. A right to bear arms does not entail a right to use them. This kind of silliness is not what the authors of this clause had in mind in England in 1689 – where the use of handguns in London had long been illegal – but a sensible historical meaning does suit the Court. And Americans have been let down by their legislators as well as their judges. Most of them want to stop this killing, but they are too scared to do so. That is not terrorism, or extremism. That is just cowardice. They are victims of people using fear to achieve political ends. So are all Americans.
So, become a U S citizen, and you too can be a terrorist. The whole bloody joint is crawling with extremists and terrorists.
Poet of the month: Robert Burns
I have always wondered what the fuss was about Burns. That wonderment has not ceased on my reading of his treatment of the downstairs staff. But here is a poem for the Sisters. I can guarantee that the next one will not be so well received.
How cruel are the parents
How cruel are the Parents
Who riches only prize,
And to the wealthy booby
Poor Woman sacrifice:
Meanwhile the hapless Daughter
Has the choice of strife;
To shun a tyrant Father’s hate
Become a wretched Wife.
The ravening hawk pursuing,
The trembling day thus flies,
To shun the impending ruin
While her pinion tries
Till of escape despairing
No shelter or retreat
She trusts the ruthless Falconer
And drops beneath his feet.