Las Vegas shooter to be titled as terrorist or a demented man?

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Massacring about 59 people while injuring another 527, at a Music festival at Las Vegas, 64 year old Stephen Paddock remains a mystery as the police desperately tries to know the motive behind the open fire.

Classified as the deadliest shooting in the modern US history, the killing sent more than 22,000 country music fans scrambling for their lives. Authorities said the suspected gunman — 64-year-old Mesquite, Nevada resident Stephen Paddock — checked into the Mandalay Bay hotel Thursday and brought the numerous firearms found in his room himself. He carried out the killing spree form the room window as the recent reports claimed.

However, being the deadliest event so far in the US history, does the act classify as ‘terrorism’ and should Stephan Paddock be titled as a ‘terrorist’? While much will hinge on the motives of a white gunman attacking a mostly-white country music crowd, that uncomfortable question also hits at some of America’s most divisive issues: race, religion and politics.

While the FBI identified Paddock as a US resident, who had no links to international terrorist group, ISIS claimed the responsibility saying that he was a recent convert. However, there was no further proof to the claim and hence was dropped.

This ultimately brings us to the nagging notion that once confirmed the religion as Islam, label the person as a terrorist, otherwise run a thorough investigation, which like never ends with the person being declared a terrorist!

The aforementioned claim is supported by several examples from the history. The Orlando shooting for example, carried out by a 29-year-old US citizen, Omar Mateen who claimed allegiance to ISIS and was killed by the police. The shooting resulted in 49 people being killed and act was labeled as a terror act, by none other than the President of the US itself, Obama in 2016.

Other acts branded as terror acts include the 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris killing a total of 130 people. But the carnage carried out in Oklahoma in 1995, killing 168 people by Timothy McVeigh was not considered a terror act. McVeigh was convicted not of terrorism, but of using a weapon of mass destruction and of murder for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers who died in the blast.

What we need here is ‘a’ definition for the term ‘Terrorism’, but what we get is a number of different views on the term, from different segments in society consequently we do not end up with a standard definition for the term. By the segments here I generally refer to the politicians, analysts and the law enforcement agencies. For all three of them the definition varies, making it controversial at the same time, very important.

According to the analysts, terrorism is defined as a tactic, used by a person or a group to accomplish specific goals. Like demanding animal rights, claim to represent territorial independence and what not. What varies among these groups is the type of tactic they follow, whether it be military (ISIS), a protest (Earth Liberation Front), or can be a political tactic, in case of territorial independence. Therefore you might not agree with the analyst claiming certain act as not terrorism, while to you it seems the very case, because for the analyst the act does not fulfill his or her definition of terrorism.

For law enforcement bodies and the politicians the definition again varies. In case of law enforcing bodies the definition usually revolves around the idea of violent acts harmful to human life that violates the state law. Whereas the political version of the definition goes about trying to label the opponents of one political group as terrorists, to garner support to promote us-versus-them theory.

After reflecting upon this it seems that the Las Vegas case falls under the law enforcement authorities, which are to decide whether to label Paddock as a terrorist or not. Therefore the statements given by the president labeling paddock as a ‘Sick and Demented man’ do not really hold ground.

For the Nevada law has a clear definition of terrorism: “The use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.” (source: abc News).

In the light of the above statement the massacre inarguably falls under the category of terrorist act, yet the mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman, made no reference to that on Monday, simply describing the shooter as “a crazed lunatic, full of hate.” With this we let you be the judge, ending with Shadi Hamid’s (a fellow at the Brookings Institute think tank and author of “Islamic Exceptionalism,”) on spot tweet:

“Just because we rush to ascribe motive when the shooter is Muslim doesn’t mean we should rush to ascribe motive when the shooter is white.”

– Op-ed

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