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Readers React: Why isn’t it ‘terrorism’ when states kill innocent civilians?

People gather in the Place de la Bourse to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks in Brussels, Belgium, on March 27.

People gather in the Place de la Bourse to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks in Brussels, Belgium, on March 27.

(Sylvain Lefevre / AFP/Getty Images)

To the editor: Political science professor Max Abrahms tells us that his exhaustive research proves that “terror doesn’t work” and that “killing civilians is a surprisingly ineffective political instrument.” (“Does terrorism work as a political strategy? The evidence says no,” Opinion, April 1)

Why, then, do the United States, Israel, Russia, Britain, Saudi Arabia and other states persist in this ineffective approach? Oh, I see: By (Abrahms’) definition, “terrorism” is only committed by nongovernmental groups, never by states. That’s odd, because the word “terrorism” entered our language in the 1790s to refer specifically to state actions, and indeed specifically to a form of government.

Time for another lit review, professor?

Saree Makdisi, Los Angeles

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The writer, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, is the author of “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”

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To the editor: I agree with Abrahms that terrorism as a political goal leads to failure. I also think that since we defeated fascism, Nazism and communism, which were much more serious threats, we’ll also defeat terrorism.

To do so, we must not give into fear and fall for the demagogues du jour such as Donald Trump. Instead, we must continue to isolate terrorists and show that their methods will not have a major impact on our civilization.

Sadly, though, terrorists’ impact will continue to linger. We’ll probably keep on taking off our shoes before boarding an airplane — a small infringement to our liberty though not the only one.

Domenico Maceri, San Luis Obispo

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To the editor: If terrorist recruits are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, as Abrahms writes, their leaders are either criminally insane or simply evil. Osama bin Laden’s “strategy” could count as a partial success as we traded butter for guns, drifting closer toward drowning the federal government in a bathtub.

Conservative economist Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate, warned early in the Iraq war that President Bush could kill the goose laying golden eggs with war spending. Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard public policy professor Linda J. Bilmes calculated the total cost of the war to be $3 trillion.

We should think carefully about expending the lives of our splendid young soldiers in such reckless endeavors. America cannot afford to tell parents that their children became sunk costs. Worried citizens should realize the foolishness of infinite spending to address ongoing finite risks.

There will always be risk in civilized life, and neither mean-faced celebrity candidates nor their nervous supporters can change that.

Randy Bednorz, Riverside

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