The media’s ‘hide the terrorism’ game has real consequences for your safety

by: Nate Madden

In the wake of the Chelsea and Seaside Park bombings in New York and New Jersey, mainstream media outlets are trying to explain away the persistent refusal to acknowledge apparent jihadist terror as such. Once again, obvious acts of terrorism happened, and once again public officials and mainstream sources did near everything they could to divert attention from the T-word, even to the point of resorting to pro-obfuscation apologetics in the aftermath.

Immediately following a string of terror incidents over the weekend, public officials from Minnesota to New York refused to call terrorism “terrorism.” That drew fire from those like Conservative Review’s Michelle Malkin, who took issue with the “terror whitewashing, jihad coddlers” who only speak in sterilized language about the bombings.

In response to criticism of officials like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who failed to address the clear nature of the attacks, ran an explainer entitled “Chelsea bombing: Why did the mayor wait to call it terrorism?” in which the outlet’s security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, says, “When investigators and politicians are unwilling to say it’s terrorism, it’s not because they’re ‘PC’ or anything like that, it’s just that the investigation has to unfold naturally.”

And, as such, according to Kayyem, public officials should wait to use the T-word until the investigation reveals that the incident meets its specific definition: the purposeful attack on a civilian population for political or ideological means.

Likewise, another story at The Washington Post published Monday accused politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) of “guessing” the nature of the attacks.

In order to get the full story on when to call an obvious act of terrorism by name, the paper interviewed Daniel Serwer, a conflict management and counterterrorism expert at Johns Hopkins, who even agreed that the Chelsea and Seaside bombings (and other attempted bombings) were obvious acts of terror.
 “Here you have a case where there’s no indication that the targets were chosen for personal reasons, or any other reasons than to create fear,” he told the Post’s Amber Phillips. “When you’re distributing bombs in public places, I don’t think it’s a crazy assumption to make that there’s a political purpose.”

Contrary to CNN’s piece, however, Serwer claims, “There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism, but most would accept the notion that it is the use of violence for political or ideological ends by a non-state actor, or someone pretending to be a non-state actor even if it is state-sponsored.”

What Serwer has outlined here is just basic common sense. In immediately pointing out the obvious, Gov. Cuomo hit the nail on the head, using his basic reasoning to determine that a bomb going off in Manhattan the same day a bomb goes off at a military 5k race in Jersey is probably an act of terrorism. Either way, for the sake of safety and justice — like eventually dragging the jihadist coward off in handcuffs — it’s probably best to treat likely terror attacks as terror attacks until we know otherwise.

Anyone with basic powers of perception can tell a likely terror attack when they see it, and attempts to cast doubt on those rational assumptions is a disservice to public safety and, really, an insult to the average citizen’s ability to reason. But, the experts tell us, we need to wait for their go-ahead before we publicly acknowledge the blatantly obvious.

But even addressing this is only half the battle, and ultimately the never-ending debate over the T-word only serves to further distract from the real problem. Terrorism is a tactic, just like any other tactic used in any other battle. America doesn’t face an existential threat from terrorism itself any more than it faces one from any other specific tactic. We can argue about when there’s enough evidence of a tactic to call it by its proper name; or, we can focus on what spurs the use of the tactic in the first place.

Ideology drives tactics. Terrorism as a tactic can be used by any non-state actor to drive its agenda. Before Islamists, eco-terrorists, Bolsheviks, and radical abolitionists, the Klan and others all made use of it in America, albeit to no avail. However, the vast, vast majority of terror attacks that we now experience in the United States are motivated by jihadism — or, as some prefer, radical Islam. America doesn’t face an existential threat from terrorism writ large any more than we face one from any other generic guerilla or conventional strategy.

But, as long as our national security and public safety focus remain honed on a tactic, rather than a prevailing ideology — that is, the longer that we are forced to confront the first layer of bewilderment over and over — we’re going to continue to see innocent people get stabbed and more things get blown up.

Nate Madden is a Staff Writer for Conservative Review, focusing on religious freedom, jihadism, and the judiciary. He previously served as the Director of Policy Relations for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. A Publius Fellow, John Jay Fellow, Citadel Parliamentary Fellow and National Journalism Center alumnus, Nate’s writing has previously appeared in several religious and news publications. Follow him @NateMadden_IV.

Originally published at