This morning as I drove to work, I heard that a man (one or more) had taken as many as 50 hostages in a cafe in Sydney, Australia. The newscaster spoke to an Israeli in Sydney and asked if the authorities were treating it as a terrorist situation, given the fact that the perpetrator had hostages waving a black flag declaring the allah is great and Mohammed is his messenger.
The Israeli in Australia explained that Australians don't like to use that term for anyone. They are, she explained, very separate from all of this and in fact have never had something like this happen before.
Throughout the day, people came forward announcing that they would not let this incident change Australia and Australians. They were, we heard many times, people who love peace, seek peace, honor peace and this act today was very much a violation of what their society represents...a violation, but not necessarily terror.
Jewish synagogues were being guarded, the Jewish museum and community centers were closed. The American and Israeli embassies were evacuated or put on alert; the large menorah lighting ceremony in the public square...right where the cafe is located. Oh God, I thought to myself...they were probably targeting Jews.
The Israeli in Australia thought it was strange that it took the authorities many hours to establish connections with the terrorist; this would have been done right away, she added. Further, communication with the outside world was not stopped, that too was strange.
Ultimately, two young people were killed and four injured in the gun battled that led to the end of the siege. Australian politicians were quick to assure everyone that the man was crazy...not a terrorist. Maybe he was, who knows. He'd been arrested for sex offenses, for collaboration in either attempted murder or murder of his ex-wife, and other crimes. Clearly, he was, as the Prime Minister pointed out, deranged...but why does that make him less of a terrorist?
A day after, we are left with questions...what is a terrorist? That's one question but the bigger question is why the world is so reluctant to use that word? Why do so many hesitate to call this and so many other attacks what they are?
A terrorist is someone who inflicts terror - as much, and sometimes even more than the desire to hurt or kill. A terrorist is someone who acts for political purposes, not monetary gain, one who acts in the name of a cause, a religion, a goal.
And perhaps most of all, the terrorist targets the innocent. There is no bravery involved, no great martyrdom. The greatest victory of the terrorist is the suffering of the innocent.
This man, who has a history of harming children and women...he was crazy, he was a coward...he was also a terrorist who raised the flag of jihad and wanted to die for allah.