Take physic, pomp

Defining terrorism

Associated Press in Peru has set off “social media drama” this week via its report of Lori Berenson, the US national person/woman/activist/terrorist* who was convicted and sent to jail for 20 years by a Peru court for being part of the Tupac Amaru rebels/terrorist/macrameweekendgathering* group in the 1990s. And the main reason for all the hoo-hah is in the first sentence of the note, penned by AP’s regional head honcho Frank Bajak:
“LIMA, Peru (AP) — American activist Lori Berenson is finally heading home to New York, two decades after being found guilty of aiding leftist rebels in Peru.”
He called her an “activist”, rather than a terrorist. And Peruvians have decided they don’t like that. You can read the AP report on this link and as for reaction, check out any number of Spanish language editorials in Spanish at El Comercio, La Republica, the drama on Twitter or perhaps this English language open letter to the head of AP worldwide by a Peruvian journalist who sums up the “she’s a terrorist so she has to be called a terrorist otherwise you hate Peru” attitude that’s so prevalent around the airwaves right now.
Which has got me wondering just what a terrorist is.
Let’s start with a fact: Berenson was convicted first of treason, but then later in a civilian court of “collaborating with terrorism”. That’s what she did time for in Peru, she wasn’t convicted of terrorism. Semantics perhaps, but when it comes to writing a factual report you can’t call her a terrorist and have that word backed up by the official judiciary, the law, the government. Collaborating with terrorism is obviously a step away from terrorism because if not, she would have been convicted under just one of those three words, not all three. Osama Bin Laden a terrorist? Undoubtedly. FARC-EP? Yes. Guzman of Sendero? Not a shadow of a doubt. ISIS? Sign me up. But Lori Berenson, who was obviously up to no good in Peru in the 90s but never fired a gun, ordered a killing or did anything more than rent a house where other ne’erdowells lived? Your call, but mine is that at some point the word terrorist needs to be dropped because that person did not comply with the spirit of the word and did not instill terror in anyone.
However the court of public opinion won’t let facts get away that easily and so AP via Frank Bajak, who had the temerity to omit the word “terrorist” when talking about Peru’s least favourite US citizen, gets lambasted from all sides due to sticking with the facts, rather than going with the flow and telling people what they want to hear. “The terrorist Lori Berenson” is what you read all the time in the Peruvian press, but according to the law that is not so. 
So what makes a terrorist? Back in my mis-spent youth it was easy, you had Carlos the Jackal and you had nasty people hijacking Israeli planes. Terrorists, pure and simple. And you had Nelson Mande…oh, wait. Sorry, how does this work again? Or how about Luis Posada Carriles, CIA operative and the man behind the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people?
Giving it the 30,000 feet overview, it seems to me that the terrorist goalposts have been moved since then and probably since Berenson was jailed. These days the knee-jerk is quicker, the term is looser, governments are more ready to apply the epithet when it suits. It’s lucky that the people who make mistakes with drones aren’t classed in the same breath, though. After all, that wouldn’t be democratic.

*dilute to taste

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