Parsing to death. If it’s causing terror, it’s a terrorist act

Boston Marathon

A sepia shot of the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon, 13 years after it began. It started in 1897, a year after the first modern-day marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics

“The latest,” as Foreign Policy’s inimitable Situation Report says of the explosions at the Boston marathon, “is…not much.”

FP is, as always, right on the button.

That was some hours ago but the situation continues much the same at the time of writing, nearly 24 hours after the twin blasts.

More puzzling than almost anything else is the authorities’ almost complete refusal to admit to any knowledge at all, including whether or not it was a terrorist act. Late yesterday, President Obama merely described it as a “heinous act”. Today, he has unwillingly allowed the attack to be called a “cowardly act of terror”. That is, of course, restating the blinking obvious in the blandest way possible.

So let’s bring on the most platitudinous phrase of all: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck. Ergo, if it looks like an explosion, sounds like an explosion, has the effect of an explosion (three dead, more than 100 injured), it’s obviously an explosion.

And if it looks as if it’s terrorising people, it’s a terrorist act. Q.E.D.

Why the delay in calling a spade a spade? Or a terrorist act by its true name? A terrorist act is something that causes terror; it’s not reserved for those waging ‘war’ on grounds to do with ethnicity, faith, ideology or political belief.

One has to wonder if it’s because of what the Aussie columnist Sam de Brito once lamented as “the damage to our collective wisdom” by advertising, the self-help industry and cynical politicians.  Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, he complained that they “turn great and terrible truths into Kumbaya platitudes that revolt many of us because they’ve been so smothered in cheese.”

Too true. Often, we cannot see the facts for the cheese.

Or the reality of what happened (in Boston) without the add-on, undefined meaning attached to the word “terror”. The Boston explosions caused terror – and the pall of not knowing if it were legitimate to describe it as a terrorist act – is feeding the fear.

Who did it and why, well those are different questions altogether. In time, the authorities will know enough to be able to tell us if it were a domestic or foreign operator; a group or just a lone, grudge-filled neo-Luddite like the Unabomber.

But it was terrorism plain and simple.