WAS THE MURDER OF GEORGE TILLER TERRORISM?

Despite the fact that American politics has been fixated on terrorism for almost a decade, we've failed to establish a clear and concise definition for terrorism. I don't think it's because terrorism is so amorphous that it requires the pornography standard ("I know it when I see it"), but rather because any proper definition might implicate us as a nation in having participated in terrorism in the past. Ann has described the murder of Tiller as terrorism, and I think she's right.

My working definition of terrorism is pretty simple: Terrorism is the deliberate murder of civilians or destruction of property in order to achieve a political objective. I think this definition works because it covers everything from cross-burnings and lynchings to the Weathermen bombings to the attack on the World Trade Center.

Viewed in this light, the murder of George Tiller is undoubtedly terrorism. It was done with an audience, as Tiller was in church with his wife in the room at the time -- in other words, with the exact kind of theatricality terrorists require to achieve their objectives. The point was not simply to murder a man who performs abortions, it was to dissuade any one else from providing similar services. As Matthew Yglesias points out, this has been remarkably successful at dissuading potential abortion providers from providing this kind of care -- in other words, the murder of Tiller is likely to achieve the political outcome that was sought.

Andrew Sullivan has also pointed out that Tiller was a frequent target of Bill O'Reilly, who referred to Tiller as a "baby killer" and his practice as a "death mill." He also compared Tiller to Nazis and warned of "judgment day." Interestingly enough, O'Reilly, who has a degree in journalism but no understanding of libel law to speak of, seemed confused on a recent program as two lawyers explained to him that his rights are not actually being violated when people single him out for harsh criticism. O'Reilly furiously disagreed.

O'Reilly thinks his own rights are being violated when people criticize him in ways he disagrees with. I wonder if yesterday he thought Mr. Tiller's civil rights were violated.

-- A. Serwer

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