What a summer. Terrorism in Britain, a terrorist getting a government settlement, and white terrorists south of the border. Two years ago it felt like conversations between we the whites were a race to call out one another for being privileged. Now, the finish line is reached when one can prove the others rhetoric as encouraging terrorism amongst the fringes. Left leaning folk blame the emboldening of white nationalism on the presence of white nationalists in positions of power. Those on the right blame divisive identity politics for pushing people who were misogynistic on reddit to being racist on 4chan. Both sides should hesitate to make political victory synonymous with equating political movements to terrorism, regardless of how terrible Nazis and White Supremacists with Mask Off playing on repeat are.
The phrase terrorism in the 20th century has been indispensable to those in power. The label of terrorist was used by the American government to delegitimize protests ecological protests throughout the 60s and 70s. The effect of this was to continue scarring the planet with energy projects. At one point the number one threat to America in regards to domestic terrorism according to the FBI was “ecological terrorists.” Those were the days, when the existential threat to America’s interests was white people blocking roads and not white people driving down them.
This history of classifying ecological activists as terrorists is not unique to the USA, Canada did the same shit, but more politely. As recently as 2013, Bill S-7 made amendments to the criminal code that facilitated detaining suspects of terrorism without evidence, and compelling testimony from those detained. This has the result of giving suspected terrorists less rights than every other citizen in Canada. Governments use the word terrorism as a loophole to this whole concept of universal rights.
The debate around Omar Khadr shows that the public feels the same way the government does if groupthink dictates a person a terrorist. According to many in the identity politics driven conservative movement, not only was Omar Khadr not deserving of a settlement from the Canadian government, he was never deserving of a fair trial in the first place. This was because this portion of the public had decided that Omar Khadr was a terrorist, and therefore undeserving of the right rights afforded to him as a Canadian citizen.
One must consider the consequences of revoking or denying citizenship that lessons from history show us. To vastly differing degrees the relationship between states and their citizens is awful when they aren’t considered legitimate members of that society. Case studies like Canada and the Indigenous Peoples, the Ottoman Empire and Armenians, and Israel and Palestinians all show what happens when rights aren’t in place to protect citizens from the government.
Of course it is not just people who are deemed as terrorists who have something to lose. According to the Cost of War project, 90,000 people have lost their lives in the Afghanistan war since it was deemed necessary to invade the country due to terrorism. The word terrorism is fucking powerful, and evokes visceral emotional reaction in the citizenry when deployed.
This is why using the dark spectre of terrorism to sway public opinion is at best reckless, and at worse, insidious. The right wing is frantically trying to categorize as Antifa, an anti-fascist political movement as a terrorist group in order to delegitimize their voice. The left wing is trying to categorize white nationalists, a political movement that decided that they didn’t get enough face time with the Klan, as terrorists in order to get America to realize that racism is still a huge problem. Both sides are wrong for taking the easy way out in order to achieve their political goals.
This is not to draw some twisted false moral equivalency between Antifa and White Supremacists, or Shaun King and Mark Dice. That is nowhere near the goal of this article. The anti-fascists also happen to be against white supremacy, and Nazism, is the side that you should take. That being said, one can still be a part of the movement while disagreeing with the methods used.
Using terrorism as a rhetorical tool has always been a weapon in the arsenal of those in power in order to maintain that power. The right wing perfected the use of terrorism in the post 9/11 era, the results were Guantanamo Bay, The Patriot Act, and two atrocious wars. The left using terrorism as a rhetorical tool, whether intended or not, is an embrace of Machiavellian tactics. Fighting fire with fire may drum up support for fighting racism and white supremacy in the short term, but will delegitimize the movement in the long term.