No True Scotsman

It was not surprising that the group recently arrested and charged with plotting to kill police officers, then those mourning at their funeral using IEDs have nowhere in the mainstream media been referred to as “terrorists” or even “terror suspects”. After all, they aren’t Muslims. But, that’s not enough for the political right. Apparently, on the “No True Scotsman” principle, it’s also unfair to refer them as “Christians“.

93 thoughts on “No True Scotsman

  1. Why not refer to them as “Terror suspects claiming to be Christian” and then we could have “Terror suspects claiming to be Muslims” .

    That gets the reality of what they are doing or planning to do up front – and leaves the question of the authenticity of their claim to a particular faith community up for debate within that community.

    My contribution to that in-house debate would be that according to the New Testament accounts it is pretty clear that Jesus rejected the Zealot political option and was executed for political activity of a non-violent character that was subversive of the Roman empire. It is a big stretch to claim alignment with the way of Jesus as the basis for the reported planned acts of violence.

  2. By the same logic it is also unfair to refer to Stalin Mao and Pol Pot as “Communists”, but I don’t see the political right following the logic through this far.

  3. @Doug

    That argument inevitably opens a can of worms. Any movement with a body of doctrine can claim exclusive right to interpret the doctrine in the current world. Fundamentalists assert that the words mean what they mean, and if there is any ambiguity alleged, then they mean what they say we mean. Very Humpty Dumpty …

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.
    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

    It is the case that in some situations, it is difficult and probably a waste of time to try unpicking which parts of a given movement derive from ethnic subjectivity, religious conviction, ethical belief, or whatever. The term “Islamist” has been coined to refer to what is known as “political Islam”, but the problem here is that in popular discourse and popular journalism, people tend towards simplification and ellipsis and this blurs the distinctions.

    Pretty soon, everyone identified with a particular body of theory gets held accountable for everyone else who can be identified with it. As someone who sees marxism as an important tool for examining public policy, I shudder at the frequency with which conservative and reactionary and even liberal commentators throw around terms like “socialist”, “communist” and “Marxist”. Apparently, everyone from Kim Jong Il through Kevin Rudd to Clive Hamilton and Phil Jones is in the same camp. Bizarre.

    Perhaps, like the jihadists this particular group could be described as religious fundamentalists. If something more specific was needed to characterise them, they could be called Jesu-oids as distinct from Muslim-oids. I’ve seen the term “marxoid” so this might work. The prefix “neo-” might also work. Neo-Muslim, Neo-Christian, neo-Marxist etc

  4. Heh, heh!
    I wondered what the Herald Sun would have to say on the matter (‘cos the words mean what the Herald Sun says they mean), but the website is blocked by my employer’s internet filter/firewall because it contains malware. Justice at last?
    So endeth my teabreak!

  5. But John, the article you link to calls them both terrorists and christians….. not sure what your beef is here.

    “In April 2009, the Department of Homeland Security produced a report warning of a rising threat of right-wing terrorism, citing factors like economic troubles, the election of a black president and perceived threats to United States sovereignty.”

    “In an indictment against the nine unsealed on Monday, the Justice Department said they were part of a group of apocalyptic Christian militants”

  6. Pr Q said:

    nowhere in the mainstream media been referred to as “terrorists” or even “terror suspects”. After all, they aren’t Muslims. But, that’s not enough for the political right.

    I guess when US Christian militias finally get around to actually blowing something up, rather than just dressing up, then the “mainstream media” and the “political right” will start to refer to them as terrorists. Meanwhile we will have to make do with common-or-garden terrorists of the kind found in New York, Madrid, Bali, London, Moscow et al.

    Pr Q’s peevish post reminds me of Tom Wolfe’s crack about Lefty intellectuals never-ending dire predictions on the impending doom of freedom in the US:

    He sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.

  7. @Jack Strocchi
    Good old Tom Wolfe and his merciless derision of US East Coast liberals, I wonder if he now feels vindicated for his support of George W. Bush.

  8. PrQ,
    If you were correct then Timothy McVeigh would not be referred to as a terrorist in the mainstream press. He was routinely referred to as such (and, I might add, IMHO correctly so).
    As Andrew points out above, they are referred to (in quoted material) as being “Christians”. A link to “related searches” at the bottom of the page also includes “Terrorism” as the most relevant search.
    I therefore cannot see that you are correct.

  9. Fran

    Interesting comment – Christianity was initially a movement but whether it can adequately be characterised as “having a body of doctrine” is itself a matter of deep dispute between those wanting to claim ownership of the tradition.

    Bodies of doctrine tend to arise when a movement becomes institutionalised – in relation to christianity historically this really took hold when it was taken over by the empire.

    The movement element has been trying to get out from under that particular disaster ever since it happened.

  10. @Doug

    Well most of the groups of Christians recognised as mainstream, and which encompass the bulk of professing christians refer to “the bible” as their body of doctrine, much as Muslims refer to “the recital” (aka the Qu’ran) as theirs. The Catholic church has its canon law as well, while the hadiths concern the Muslim faith.

  11. Terrorism is, of course, also “un-Australian” (unless you’re a true blue Australian like Ned Kelly).

  12. @Andrew Reynolds
    “If you were correct then Timothy McVeigh would not be referred to as a terrorist in the mainstream press. ”

    That only shows that in 1995, the press was more consistent in the way this term was used than it is today.

  13. The post is a bit ambiguous. Are you implying that the US mainstream media are all on the political right? Maybe compared to you! 😉

  14. Pr Q said:

    nowhere in the mainstream media been referred to as “terrorists” or even “terror suspects”. After all, they aren’t Muslims.

    Surely this gets the debate about the lingo framing the “War on Terrorism” exactly back-to-front? One can criticize the Bush- & McCain-REPS and their dutiful scribes in the MSM for any number of sins but definitely NOT for the crime of whipping up “Islamaphobia” over terrorism. Race-card playing was John Howard’s strong suit.

    By contrast Bush and the media bent over back-wards to avoid giving offence to diverse peoples or “people of difference” or whatever they call them now. In fact just prior to 911 Bush took extraordinary steps to put out the welcome mat to visiting Muslims by ruling out any ethnic profiling at airports. Made a point of emphasizing it in the Presidential debates with Gore. And we all know that there were never any problems from that quarter ever again.

    The MSM went along with this part of Bush’s agenda. So that for most the past decade we have been waging a war against an abstract noun – terrorism – with no recognizable referents. I hope I am not the only person who thinks this is passingly strange in war-time.

    I suppose I can see the civic point of this. We don’t want to give unnecessary offence to perfectly decent citizens just because they share a religion with some wild-eyed zealot with a bomb strapped to his chest. Most Muslims are just trying to get by and they should not be hounded for adhering to a religion that, on balance, does more good than harm.

    But perhaps the same consideration can be extended to Christian sensibilities whose particular species of militants have not yet gone through the formality of actually blowing people up.

  15. @Joseph Clark

    To be clear:

    The MSM has declined to use the term “terrorist” here, even while using it in cases where its applicability is far less clear, such as the Fort Hood shootings, and wrt attacks on military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The political right not only wants to avoid calling these guys terrorists, but objects to the MSM calling them “Christian”.

  16. But Jack the point is since the ‘war on terrorism’ officially started it’s a given that Terrorist and Islamic go together. By not explicitly stating Muslim they remove the opportunity to challenge the linkage. That’s what dog whistle politics is.

    I suppose when ‘radical and extremist fringe groups … can be found throughout our society’ labelling them as terrorist may be bad for social cohesion (even though they share the same racial group and tradition)?

  17. Christians ought to be keen to disown those that commit terrorism. In fact a key criticism (valid or otherwise) of Muslims has been that they have been two slow to disown those that commit terrorism in the name of Islam. Christian critics of the Muslim community would be hypocrites if they did not disown those that undertake terrorist acts in the name of Christianity.

  18. People are finally waking up to the liberal, progressive media. It is no coincidence that Fox News has significantly increased its share of the ratings. They are clearly the only objective news network. Fantastic news that Glen Beck’s ratings are up 50% on the previous year. He will go a long way to removing the communist in chief.

    EMH, I banned you a while back. I’m leaving this comment up, only to show how moronic the Republican base is, and how foolish anyone, regardless of their philosophical views, would be who let people like you anywhere near political power.

  19. @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    In your high and mighty approach TerjeP – you forget something very basic – the reason Christians dont undtertake terrorist acts is because they have access to military hardware that does it for them. Muslim warfare isnt based on access to the resources of Lockheed Martin or the government money to buy it with. Who is the bigger terrorist? The predominantly Christian country with a so called christian government who organises and despatched a massive aerial bobing on a country “pre-emptively” because of incorrect information on weapons of mass destruction and media disinformation or the poverty stricken country that objects to being pillaged who fights with whhat t can afford to fight with?

    Terrorism – if I had to be scared of terrorism – Id be more scared of what resources Bush came armed with.

    Im sick of the moral high ground people push re “supposed” christian views on warfare. True christians would never have sanctioned the merciless bombing of Iraq. Moral attitudes to warfare doesnt exist anymore TerjeP (they were lost with Guernica depicted by Picasso) and christians have proved no more moral than any other group when it comes to war.

  20. Alice – I’m not being high and mighty. And I have not forgotten what you claim I have forgotten. I’m not claiming any moral superiority on the part of Christians. I have routinely denounced Americas pre-emotive war and nothing I have said above contradicts that. Can you please cease your persistant pre-emptive war against my every utterance. You are all together too emotive and you routinely infer opinions that I do not hold.

  21. p.s. For what it is worth I’ve been a devout atheist for over 20 years. Even an evangelical atheist at times.

  22. @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Terje you state this comment
    “Christian critics of the Muslim community would be hypocrites if they did not disown those that undertake terrorist acts in the name of Christianity.”

    You dont even see the hypocrisy in it. Bush and the republican conservatives in the US did the very thing you are stating Christains shouldnt do.

    Would you mind agreeing with the fact that the push for the war on Iraq was a terrorist act and came from and was supported by so called Christian right wingers in the US? Id consider that a reasonable acknowledgement that Christians are not superior in any way, shape or form to muslims when it comes to war.

  23. Ill also qualify my above comment – by superior – I mean moral superiority. The Christians are practically superior in terms of access to the resources of war – artillery and weapons. They dont tend to emply suicide bombers but only because they dont need to.

    Morally – no different to Muslims at all.

  24. Fran – it’s my iPhone spell checker. It does some silly things some times.

  25. The irony is that the terrorist aren’t just in places like in Iraq (which they weren’t) and Afghanistan. Instead the threat is home grown.

    The common thread to all this? Individuals convinced their view of god/religion is the right one, and they can justify violence with religion.

    Now, what was that saying? For good people to do bad things, it takes religion.

  26. BTW – the UK Parliamentary inquiry into the CRU email hack was released today. Very good news for science. Jones et.al exonerated, science declared solid 🙂

  27. @Mike
    Very good news Mike – but I dont even want to congratulate the announcement.

    The delusionists will attack the parliamentary inquiry as being an organ of the “dreaded government conspiracy against mankind”…lets not give them any more fanciful conspiracy theories than they already carry around so close to their black hearts….

  28. Would you mind agreeing with the fact that the push for the war on Iraq was a terrorist act and came from and was supported by so called Christian right wingers in the US?

    Within the lexicon of the Christian right it wasn’t terrorism and as such it isn’t relevant to my point.

    In terms of my own view I think the war was wrong but it wasn’t technically terrorism. The intent wasn’t to advance political goals by scaring civilians with acts of violence. The intent was to use violence to directly remove a government. Civilian casualties and fear were incidental to the process not material. At the end of the day terrorism is a tactic not an outcome. One outcome of the war was no doubt wide spread civilian terror but that wasn’t the tactic. The UN economic sanctions that existed prior to the war were in tactical terms more akin to terrorism.

  29. p.s. I think the war was championed by the Christian right but I think it was initiated by the neo-conservatives. There is certainly a big overlap between those two groups but they are not the same thing.

  30. @sdfc
    Quote Unquote George Bush’s speech pushing for the Iraq war

    “The terrorists’ directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children. This group and its leader, a person named Osama bin Laden, are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

    There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries.”

    http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/

    So sdfc – this was just one speech. Where were you when the religious pro Iraq war rants were happening in the United states? Asleep? And you are trying to tell me religion wasnt used to gather support for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq for all the wrong reasons?

    Tell me what you want to deny next and Ill take a note (of the fact that you will have absolutely no credibility on that subject either).

    Do you want more?

  31. @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Terje
    You say “In terms of my own view I think the war was wrong but it wasn’t technically terrorism. The intent wasn’t to advance political goals by scaring civilians with acts of violence. ”

    Is this a soft focus lens you look through? Scaring civilians?? How about killing and maiming and blasting the limbs off civilians (no matter their age). You obviously didnt see the pics from operation massbomb Iraq (or whatever the idiots called it) Terje.

    Maybe you were just reading Murdoch at the time.

  32. Terje Says:

    The intent was to use violence to directly remove a government.

    Um, why was that a valid thing to do?

    The UN economic sanctions that existed prior to the war were in tactical terms more akin to terrorism.

    This is a bit of a giveaway that Australian “libertarians” are just brainless flunkies for the US Republicans.

  33. Alice :
    @Mike
    Very good news Mike – but I dont even want to congratulate the announcement.
    The delusionists will attack the parliamentary inquiry as being an organ of the “dreaded government conspiracy against mankind”…lets not give them any more fanciful conspiracy theories than they already carry around so close to their black hearts….

    True, but victory is not achieved in a single charge. It comes by making a thousand advances on a broad front.

  34. Although Eric Rudolph was considered a terrorist by the FBI, he was never labelled one by the MSM back when he was caught in 2003 at the height of terror-mania. IIRC, Sarah “pallin’ around” Palin was even asked if she considered abortion clinic bombing to be terrorism, and said she didn’t know!

    There was also the case in Texas in 2003 of that white-supremacist group caught with a huge arsenal of bombs, including all the components for a cyanide chemical weapon, just in the middle of the Iraq WMD-bullsh*t blizzard. It was never mentioned in the press!

    Strangely enough, despite the deep vein of violence running through the extreme Right, John Ashcroft declared that the biggest domestic terrorism front came from environmentalists and animal-liberation activists.

    See also:Southern Poverty Law Centre: Terror from the Right 1995-2009

  35. gerard :
    Although Eric Rudolph was considered a terrorist by the FBI, he was never labelled one by the MSM back when he was caught in 2003 at the height of terror-mania. IIRC, Sarah “pallin’ around” Palin was even asked if she considered abortion clinic bombing to be terrorism, and said she didn’t know!
    There was also the case in Texas in 2003 of that white-supremacist group caught with a huge arsenal of bombs, including all the components for a cyanide chemical weapon, just in the middle of the Iraq WMD-bullsh*t blizzard. It was never mentioned in the press!
    Strangely enough, despite the deep vein of violence running through the extreme Right, John Ashcroft declared that the biggest domestic terrorism front came from environmentalists and animal-liberation activists.
    See also:Southern Poverty Law Centre: Terror from the Right 1995-2009

    One mans terrorist is another mans core constituency.

  36. They aren’t terrorists, they are our votin’ base!

    More seriously, I expect soon enough someone will refer to them as “domestic terrorists”, if they haven’t already, in the MSM. It’s just that it will be on page 23, or wherever they bury the obligatory odd-ball journalist who does actually think about these things. Mind you, at this stage it is merely alleged, so perhaps it is premature to bung a label as stringent as “domestic terrorist”. Perhaps we could just call them “open carry” tea-party militia…

    It amazes me how many groups of any-government-paranoid citizens (aka first amenders?) there are in the USA. They seem to pop up like weeds. The government paranoia of Timothy McVeigh’s mob was a driving factor behind their vile act, and so it would seem for the most recent suspects. The only question is whether their government paranoia is less than their desire to see some Christian apocalyptic End of Days scenario play out. Either way, the outcome is largely the same – arrest.

    BTW, does anyone else share the view that Christianity is receiving a lot of press coverage lately, in Murdoch’s Australian?

  37. I am happy to have deviant criminal behaviour labelled as such. However the Soviet attack has been labelled terrorism although at this stage appears not to have been linked to religion rather emanating from the Caucasus region. Perhaps the difference is that the crazed Americans ( who look rather dim in their mug shots) didn’t get around to perpetrating their crimes.

  38. Um, why was that a valid thing to do?

    I don’t think it was a valid thing to do. Why do you ask when I’ve made this plain multiple times?

  39. Is this a soft focus lens you look through? Scaring civilians?? How about killing and maiming and blasting the limbs off civilians (no matter their age). You obviously didnt see the pics from operation massbomb Iraq (or whatever the idiots called it) Terje.

    Alice – just because something kills mains and terrorises, and is wrong and evil, doesn’t mean it is necessarily terrorism. Terrorism is a particular tactic. Gasing Jews in secret death camps is terrible but isn’t terrorism. Mowing down enemy soldiers who have surrendered with a machine gun is terrible but isn’t terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. We have other words to say something is wrong, immoral, evil, nasty, inhuman, selfish or whatever.

  40. has been labelled terrorism although at this stage appears not to have been linked to religion

    Religion may motivate terrorism but it does not define it.

  41. @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    Technically you are right that not all things that are “terrible” (unfortunate choice of word but anyway) are terrorism. The broader point which Chomsky makes though is that a focus on terrorist acts fails to acknowledge the far greater scale of atrocities that states can deploy.

  42. Fran – I agree. The fear of terrorism is out of proportion to the real risk. If it wasn’t then terrorism would be far less effective as a tactic. We have not seen a statistically significant increase in death rates attributable to terrorism for decades. It is a low level problem less threatening than the flu.

    However the invasion of Iraq was not sold primarily using a fear of terrorism but the more dire suggestion that Iraq had the will and capability to launch an imminent attack on the west using weapons of mass destruction. This really was a case of extreme propoganda and word play. Techically (ie according to international treaties) tear gas is a WMD. The whole case for invasion was built on emotive hoopla and hysteria.

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