The use of the word “terrorism” has become highly political, the Los Angeles Times reports. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the bombing in Manhattan on Saturday night as “obviously an act of terrorism” even without evidence of the attacker’s motive.
Mayor Bill de Blasio hesitated at first to use that label. With the perpetrator still on the loose, he called the bombing “an intentional act” and “a very bad incident” but said there was no evidence of a connection to a terrorist group.
“To understand any specific motivation, political motivations, any connection to an organization, that’s what we don’t know,” he said.
His reluctance to use the word “terrorism” became fodder for Donald Trump supporters to criticize Democrats for political correctness and weakness. The Republican presidential nominee has criticized President Obama for avoiding the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” arguing that acknowledging the problem is the first step to combating it. Determining whether an attack is terrorism can be far from simple. Federal law defines terrorism as an intentional act that endangers life and is designed to coerce or intimidate the population, influence government policy or affect the conduct of the government. In other words, for an attack to qualify as terrorism, it has to be more than just terrifying. It requires a broader political motive.
By that definition, De Blasio had a point. “How is someone rational supposed to call it ‘terrorism’ without knowing who did it, let alone their motive???” tweeted Glenn Greenwald, the journalist and lawyer who has reported extensively on U.S. and British surveillance.