What exactly is terrorism? People around the world instantly recognised it when two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring numerous others. But the Obama administration had to mull it over for a day before classifying the attack as terrorism. To me, terrorism is when a religious fanatic, a lunatic or a crazy youth terrorises people with bombs or assault weapons.
When 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a shooting spree last December at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 26 people, including 20 children, it was not terrorism. But when a bomber blew up people at the Boston Marathon, it was. Were the children at the Newtown school less terrorised than the people at the marathon?
We refer to the massacre of eight Hongkongers by disgruntled former Filipino police officer Rolando Mendoza in 2010 as the Manila hostage crisis. Were the Hong Kong hostages held at gunpoint in a tour bus less terrorised than the people at a Norwegian summer camp when right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik massacred 69 of them in 2011? Why was one a hostage crisis and the other a terrorist attack?
You could argue that the motive determines how we classify an attack. And you could argue that Lanza, who massacred children and Mendoza, who killed Hongkongers, were mentally disturbed whereas terrorists are not. Go on, tell me that a religious kook who crashes a hijacked plane into a building in a suicide attack is totally sane. The motive of the September 11 nutjobs was to make a statement for their cause by indiscriminately killing people. The motives of Lanza, Mendoza, and all those kids who went on shooting sprees in US schools, were likewise to make a statement by indiscriminately killing people. Where is the difference?
We want to take bombs away from terrorists. The US even launched a "war on terror" under president George W. Bush. You must take off your shoes and belt, and empty your pockets before undergoing an intrusive X-ray body scan during security clearance at US airports. The vast majority of passengers are not killers yet they must undergo such checks.
But the US has a problem conducting even basic background checks on people who want to buy firearms. Just this week, lawmakers kowtowed yet again to America's powerful gun lobby, which argued that the vast majority of gun buyers are not killers. So, you must be X-rayed to make sure you can't kill people on a plane but you are free to buy assault rifles at your friendly neighbourhood gun shop to massacre children in a school. Go figure.
Guns don't kill people, people do - that's the inane argument against restricting the sale of firearms. Well, bombs don't kill people, people do. So why can't we buy bombs? Why are US-bound planes required to provide passenger lists for background checks to stop bombers but gun shops are not required to do even basic background checks on buyers to stop shooting sprees? The nutcase who massacres schoolchildren with an assault rifle is as much a terrorist as the nutcase who blows up people with bombs.
Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. firstname.lastname@example.org