The XX Factor

The Terrorism Taboo

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I’m unclear on why the word “terrorism” continues to be taboo in articles such as this one by A.G. Sulzberger in the New York Times.  The article is a profile of Dr. Mila Means, a doctor who has—somewhat incorrectly—been identified as stepping up to fill the hole left by the assassination of Dr. George Tiller by abortion opponent Scott Roeder.  “Somewhat incorrectly” because Dr. Means is only going to provide abortions up to 15 weeks, and while that was a large chunk of what Dr. Tiller did, what made him so prominent a figure was that his clinic served women almost no one else could, women whose pregnancies had gone terribly wrong much later in the pregnancy and who needed to have therapeutic abortions.  But while the loss of Dr. Tiller is still strongly felt in the world of gynecology, the larger concern with this article and articles like it is the unwillingness to describe domestic terrorism as terrorism.  

The words “terrorism”, “terrorist” or even the grating term “terror” never crop up once in this article, even though it’s a story about a woman facing down threats of domestic terrorism from the same community that produced a man who walked into a church and shot a man in the head in order to stop him from performing legal abortions.  By any reasonable measure, the assassination of Dr. Tiller was an act of domestic terrorism, defined here and pretty much anywhere else as acts of violence committed to intimidate a civilian population or a government into changing policy.  Both are true in the case of Dr. Tiller’s murder.  And as Sulzberger makes incredibly clear in this piece, the anti-choice community of Wichita is eager to frame the murder as sending a signal to other providers that they, too, risk their lives if they dare perform abortions in Wichita. There are some official, half-hearted denunciations of Roeder’s actual crime, but then those denunciations are framed in this way:

Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, based in Wichita, said that abortion opponents were committed to blocking another clinic here, and that the level of protest facing anyone who participated in such an efforts [sic] would be “beyond anything anyone could imagine.” He spoke with particular disdain for Dr. Means. “We will ensure that this community remains abortion free,” he said.

I’m trying to imagine what would happen if a Muslim terrorist killed a specific target, and a local Muslim group said, “While we don’t think he should have shot the target, we’re glad the target is dead and hope that anyone else who intends to do the work the target was doing thinks twice about it.  If they persist, we will ensure they are unable to continue in this work.”  Not only would they be called, bare minimum, “terrorist sympathizers,” the FBI would be all over them and there would probably be some arrests made in short order.  Especially if, as has happened in the case of Dr. Means, the members of the group started showing up at the second target’s house, researching and publicizing her movements amongst the group, and sending death threats to the second target.  If the government shrugged its shoulders and said there was nothing it could do about this, the country would be in uproar.

But if our radical fundamentalists who embrace violence and threats in order to get their way make sure to call themselves “Christian,” I guess all bets are off.