The author of this article is Timothy Kelly. Kelly argues that the White House evades from giving a concise definition of the term “terrorism.” He reviews several exchanges between two secretaries to the White House and different reporters to show how the White House evades using this term. Hence, the purpose of Kelly’s document is to show how Obama’s government refrains from using the term “terrorism” and possible reasons that promote this behaviour.
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Since Obama became president in 2009, his government has refrained from using the term “terrorism” (Kelly par. 1). This is in the belief that failing to acknowledge terrorism will lessen cases of terror taking place in their state. Besides, using the term terrorism may create anxiety among people, and thus place the burden of duty on the government, an obligation that they are not ready to accept.
The earliest case that showed Obama’s government refrained from using the term terrorism was during a 2009 press conference with Robert Gibbs, the former Press Secretary to Obama’s White House (Kelly par. 2). The conference took place after killings that occurred at Fort Hood in Memphis. Jennifer, who is a reporter, interviewed Gibbs to find out whether Obama’s government categorized the Fort Hood tragedy as an act of terrorism.
From the interview, it is clear Obama’s government avoids using the word terrorism or groups that relate to terrorists such as al Qaeda. Rather than answering questions posed by Jennifer, Gibbs says that the issues are still under Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI). For instance, Jennifer asks, “Has there been a determination about whether it was terrorist — an act of terrorism?” Gibbs replies “I think the FBI is the best place to discuss that” (Kelly par. 3).
Some moments later, another reporter interviews Gibbs to find out whether Obama’s government regards the suspect as a terrorism suspect. Similar to how Gibbs answers Jennifer, he says that the FBI should answer that question.
Another reporter called Mara asks Gibbs to explain how Obama’s administration defines an act of terrorism. Gibbs avoids this question by saying that the question can get a right answer from a law enforcement official. However, Mara insists that he only wants to know whether there is a definition for the phrase. This time, Gibbs becomes furious and talks rudely.
The last reporter interviews Gibbs on how Obama’s administration defines terror. He first provides him with probes on the definition of terror. He describes terror as an act of an organized group that instills deep fear and may involve force or violence. He then asks Gibbs whether he can define terror in this way since the people at Fort Hood experienced all these feelings. Still, Gibbs says that he cannot answer that question since he is not a law enforcement official.
He evades this question by expressing his shock and sending condolence to the victims of the incident and their relatives. From the exchanges between the four reporters and Gibbs, it is clear that Obama’s administration tries to evade the term “terrorism” in all aspects of their communication.
According to FBI’s Code of Federal Regulations, terrorism is “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment, in advancing political or social objectives” (Nia 149). The FBI also classifies terrorism as either international or domestic.
FBI defines domestic terrorism as the illegitimate use of violence by a person or a group that has businesses in the United States. Another definition of domestic terrorism includes Puerto Rico devoid of foreign direction devoted, against persons or possessions, to threaten the government or the national population (Kelly par. 9). Conversely, the FBI defines international terrorism as acts that endanger human life, or violent acts that contravene criminal rules of the United States and other nations.
Thus, FBI gives clear descriptions of the word terrorism. The cause and goals of the terrorist groups are some aspects that influence these definitions. Nevertheless, the White House Press Secretary cannot describe the term terrorism, sufficiently. This means that Obama’s government refuses to define the word deliberately because there is no way that government officials could be unaware of the meaning of such a word. Therefore, I support Kelly’s argument that Gibbs is not willing to define this term due to strange reasons.
In October 2012, Jay Carner, who is the current Press Secretary to the White House, became interviewed by Jack Tapper, a reporter at ABC. The interview sought to find whether Obama’s administration described the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi as an act of terror. Although Carner tried to describe the act as terrorism during the interview, his descriptions seemed imprecise and incoherent since they did not get support from the rhetoric that the phrase encompassed.
For instance, he explains that basing on the assessments the incident had some extreme elements. He also reported that the President described the event as an act of terror two days later. When asked whether the President believed that the event could be described as terrorism, he first said that President only believed that it was an act of terror. However, he later agreed that the incident could be defined as terrorism since it involves the assault of a diplomat.
Similar to the views of Kelly, it is clear that Obama’s administration refuses to define the word terrorism. Rather, this government plays a game of interchanging words like “act of terror” and “terror acts” (Kelly par. 11). Numerous efforts by the press to get the administration define this word have borne no fruits.
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While describing the attacks on Benghazi Mission, during a presidential debate, many people expected that Obama would give a concise definition to this term. However, the President just played with words and refused to give a technical meaning to the word “terrorism.”
Although, on one side, I acknowledge the benefits that may arise from failing to define or use this term, on the other side I feel that this may create tension, suspension and mistrust in Obama’s government. I suggest that Obama’s government should not evade using the term “terrorism”, but should give a concise definition of the term, which corresponds to the defini
tion by FBI. Besides, the government must prepare to handle any consequences, or expectations that may arise due to use of this term. This case demonstrates how some politicians and people fail to give technical meanings of words for the sake of some benefits. Obama’s administration expects that failure to use the word “terrorism” will lessen cases of terror taking place in the United States, and preventing feelings of anxiety and concerns about terrorism among citizens.
Kelly, Timothy. “What is the Definition of Terrorism? And why is the White House Afraid of Using the Term?” ForexTV.com. N.p., n.d. Web.
Nia, Mahdi. “From Old to New Terrorism: The Changing Nature of International Security.” Globality Studies Journal 18 (2010): 149-165. Print.