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September 14, 2008 | by  | in Online Only |
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Terrorist n. ?

For the past ten years we have lived in fear. In fear of dark skinned, Arabic looking, bearded men. In fear of our own shadows. In fear of things that go bang in the night. The word “terrorist” has been the blanket that we have thrown over our fears.

So what does “terrorist” actually mean?

The word is associated with the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror. The first recorded usage in English of the word was in 1798 and was defined as the “systematic use of terror as a policy.”

More recently the UN Larger Freedom report defined terrorism as:

“[any action] intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.”

Our own Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 has a ponderous definition of the term “terrorist act”:

(2) An act falls within this subsection if it is intended to cause, in
any 1 or more countries, 1 or more of the outcomes specified
in subsection (3), and is carried out for the purpose of advanc­ing
an ideological, political, or religious cause, and with the
following intention:
(a) to induce terror in a civilian population; or
(b) to unduly compel or to force a government or an inter­
national organisation to do or abstain from doing any
(3) The outcomes referred to in subsection (2) are—
(a) the death of, or other serious bodily injury to, 1 or more
persons (other than a person carrying out the act):
(b) a serious risk to the health or safety of a population:
(c) destruction of, or serious damage to, property of great
value or importance, or major economic loss, or major
environmental damage, if likely to result in 1 or more
outcomes specified in paragraphs (a), (b), and (d):
(d) serious interference with, or serious disruption to, an
infrastructure facility, if likely to endanger human life:
(e) introduction or release of a disease­bearing organism, if
likely to devastate the national economy of a country.
(4) However, an act does not fall within subsection (2) if it occurs
in a situation of armed conflict and is, at the time and in the
place that it occurs, in accordance with rules of international
law applicable to the conflict.
(5) To avoid doubt, the fact that a person engages in any protest,
advocacy, or dissent, or engages in any strike, lockout, or other
industrial action, is not, by itself, a sufficient basis for inferring
that the person—
(a) is carrying out an act for a purpose, or with an intention,
specified in subsection (2); or
(b) intends to cause an outcome specified in subsection (3).

But I put to you that the word terrorism has lost its meaning, and we’re so affraid of the word itself we tack it on to anything and everything remotely bad. Cue historical example:

“…the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else… almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’.”

George Orwell 1944

Much of the same can be said about this new buzzword: Terrorism. In todays paper Manukau City’s acting mayor Gary Troup said the people who “make, distribute and consume P and similar drugs” are terrorists.

So far in New Zealand, we’ve tried to label a bunch of crazy Maoris and Pakeha running around in the bush as terrorists, Ahmed Zaoui and anyone foreign looking with a beard and beady eyes.

Gary Troup then went on to say in his speech that “New Zealand has to have a war on terror targeting this terrible industry.”

Good one buddy. I’d just like to point out here that the original ‘War on Terror’ of the George Bush/Tony Blair kind hasn’t worked, in fact it has made things worse. The problems run deeper and will not be solved by coming out with harsher penalties, tactical units and bigger guns. The problems will be solved when someone is government actually sits back and says: “Wait a minute, why are they manufacturing drugs in the first place? Why do we have this massive social problem that continually makes headlines and makes New Zealand an unsafe place to live? Maybe I’ll try and find out why these people are forced into lives of crime and cycles of addiction, rather than just locking them up and forgetting about them… yeah that’s an idea.”

I’m pretty sure that with my High School chemistry knowledge and internet access I could figure out how to manufacture P. Does this make me a terrorist?

Coming back to Mr. Troups comments, I’m pretty sure that these people are just criminals. They’re not terrorists. They (hopefully) have no political motive for making and dealing P, they have no explicit policy to manufacture P to further a point.

The blurring of the meaning of the word terrorism and criminal, and the implications associated with such a confusion are to me, more scary than the actual prospect of Terrorism here in New Zealand. We simply cannot resort to pulling out the Terrorist card every time a police officer dies, no matter how aggrieved or angry we feel.

We live in a land where we love our freedom. John Key’s backing of Mr. Troup and with the promise of a “crack down” on P makers and dealers I am left to wonder about the erosion of ordinary New Zealanders civil liberties. Once the line is blurred between drug makers and people who blow themselves up for a political reasons, how easy is it for people to go to jail on trumped up charges. Luckily our court system has protected the first people accused of being terrorists in a court. But what happens when the word terrorist becomes totally interchangeable with criminal?

Fuck it, I’m off to smoke a bulb.

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About the Author ()

The editor of this fine rag for 2009.

Comments (8)

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  1. Umberto Eco AKA Ron Marx says:

    Who smokes the bulbs, We smoke the bulbs.

  2. Michael Oliver says:

    I smoke the bulbs!

  3. Michael Oliver says:


  4. “Good one buddy. I’d just like to point out here that the original ‘War on Terror’ of the George Bush/Tony Blair kind hasn’t worked”

    Fun Fact: The original War On Terror was actually declared by the Reagan administration during the 1980s. Guess what happened there?

  5. Jackson Wood says:

    And before that the “War on Drugs” first used by Richard Nixon, and before that the “War on Poverty” by LBJ. When will people learn that wars don’t change anything. In fact the use of the word ‘war’ in all three cases is somewhat disturbing, because it makes us think war is a good thing to be be waging against bad things…


  6. Mr. Magoop says:

    Terrorism is very serious.

  7. It would be nice to declare an end to Wars on Abstract Nouns, but alas, the practise goes back to the Crusades (War on Non-Christian Religious Beliefs) and earlier. So.

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