In a little research prior to a possible paper on terrorism, I was looking at the history of terror in the United States. Technically, it goes all the way back to our beginnings, when "radicals" belonging to the Sons of Liberty tossed 45 tons of tea into the harbor. As you can quickly see in that one single case, "terrorism" is defined differently. I guess it just depends on whose point of view you happen to take.
I doubt anyone, however, equates terrorism as we know it today with an act of throwing goods into the harbor. Things have escalated considerably in 200+ years and now in 21st century Boston we have this reprehensible act of violence. We don't know the specific issue that sparked this act, but this defines "terror". Terror, in that these bombs were not just intended to get someone's attention about the unfairness of a point of view. No, this act included what were certainly anti-personnel devices, placed in a concentrated area of non-combatants, and positioned for maximum effect. This act was a cowardly act, striking at defenseless civilians in order to make some kind of a point.
I believe in peace and I believe in perspectives, but I'm afraid I'm not a pacifist. I personally believe we should seek who it is who chooses to harm the innocent and root them out. Suffice it to say, if someone were to hurt my loved ones, I would pursue them to the ends of the earth. While I earnestly strive to maintain peace and open-mindedness, and I profess an extraordinary amount of tolerance for other people's viewpoints, that all ends when you choose to escalate with force against me.
I struggle with my innermost being when I advocate for a return to civility and understanding, then see zealots deciding that whatever it is they stand for is more important than peaceful co-existence. I, like most Americans, stand for justice. We believe in equality. And we may have our own closed-minded radicals, but the majority of Americans abhor those extremes. When a certain group of individuals decides to plant a bomb among us, they have declared war against us and everything we stand for.
As I mentioned my research, I find that there is evidence of violent or extreme action being taken by almost every faction and belief. As I mentioned the actions taken in defense of independence, there are also many cases of "terrorism" documented for all kinds of causes. To the Left, before you talk about right-wing extremism, let's discuss the 1920 Wall Street bombing or the Black Panthers or the SLA. On the Right, don't leave the discussion without consideration of the white supremacy movement and of course, Oklahoma City and abortion clinic shootings. But I wanted to address a differently handled case of civil disobedience.
When I was learning to drive years ago, I practiced in the parking lot of the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, PA, so this event is very near to me. Those of you who are my age may remember that this is where the "Plowshares Eight" took non-violent action, broke into the facility, damaged missile nose cones, and poured blood onto documents and files. This is an act these days probably considered terrorism.
The big difference here, and something maybe people should understand, is that these individuals had a tremendous passion for what they considered to be a crime against humanity. But instead of bombing something or shooting at someone, they took action against inanimate objects. They made a point without hurting people, at least not physically.
For those who proclaim they are indeed "peaceful", this is a lesson in real peaceful protest. Likewise, there are many cases in history. Gandhi staged sit-down strikes. Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. Lech Walesa led the Solidarity movement. These were all effective means of protest without killing others. Strapping a bomb to your body and walking into a marketplace doesn't say "peaceful" religion to me. It says intolerance. It says the ends justify the means. It says that you aren't interested in living respectfully of one another.
Let's look at the Amish, for an example. The most traditional of their beliefs maintain community with a separation from secular society, yet they maintain a peaceful coexistence with others. If one participates at its most fundamental teachings, they have very strict rules but function (relatively) without interference from the rest of us. I would bet that there is a certain amount of frustration on certain aspects of the interface between their "world" and "ours", but while that may be so, I could be wrong, but I don't recall any outbreaks of terrorism on their behalf. They genuinely believe in peace and non-resistance.
I don't believe for a moment that Islam in and of itself is a violent religion. I read The Koran and I don't find it any more violent than The Bible. But I don't hold up The Bible and proclaim literal interpretation anymore than the parts of The Koran that extremists say defend their actions. I'm not a religious scholar, and I might even come across as slightly heretical, but I believe on a planet as small as this one, in order to survive, we have to learn to live together.
I don't feel like you have to agree with me, but I ask you to respect my beliefs, just as I may not agree with you, but I respect yours. As I said before, if you choose to ramp up your insistence that I listen to you at the point of a gun, I insist that I have the right to defend myself. And if you screw with me, don't expect that I'm going to take it lying down. If you choose to engage in warfare against me, you have to understand that your choice has consequences. In the United States of America, we proudly allow anyone to live within their beliefs and that we have the right to express ourselves in a manner of our choosing. If you want to live like a radical, then go somewhere where you can live like that and let the rest of us live our own lives. But while I choose to be respectful of your choices, and am happy to leave you alone, I will be civil with you. And yet, if you shove me, I WILL shove back.
If people really believe they belong to a peaceful gathering of individuals, then they need to be prepared to defend that with their actions. Failing to do that doesn't, in my opinion, buy you any credibility. Any religious institution that fails to push their extremists into the street and expose them when they preach annihilation of "non-believers" is, as far as I am concerned, culpable. That goes for any religion, any cult, any group. Silence is not an acceptable means of solving this problem. Exposing the intolerant and the extreme to the rest of the world is.
As Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." If you believe in peace, then let's see it. Put your money where your mouth is. If you are in an institution that advocates violence against non-combatants, then you have a responsibility to notify the authorities. And don't cry persecution when, avoiding that responsibility, we have to come looking in order to protect our way of life.