Who Are We to Call Terrorists “Cowards”?

We were all shocked, saddened and even angered by the recent news of a militant Islamic group based in Somalia killing 74 people in Uganda and injuring many more. Stripped bare, these are criminal acts punishable both under Uganda’s domestic laws as well as under international law, committed against unarmed civilians of a sovereign state.
But let us not sheepishly follow those who insist on condemning these acts of terror as “cowardly”.

This fairly ubiquitous categorization of suicide bombings and other acts of terror as cowardly is a glaring misnomer. Politicians in particular are fond of this description because of its populist effect. Such rhetoric galvanizes the shell-shocked, distraught and mourning masses against a common enemy (how else do you think leaders like Former President Bush stayed in office beyond one term?) without them having to openly admit that, as leaders, they failed to adequately use all the resources at their disposal to secure their own citizens.

Furthermore, terming acts of terror as cowardly appears to be a mere expression of frustration rather than an expression of fact or truth. The suicide bomber’s greatest edge is the element of surprise: walking into a crowded gathering strapped with explosives and successfully detonating them. This element of surprise exploits any existing weaknesses in the security measures in place and ensures that the act will have the maximum number of casualties. Therefore it is almost understandable why government leaders would feel the need to retaliate verbally when caught flat-footed and vulnerable.

Finally and most importantly, calling a terrorist a coward is specifically intended by politicians to intimidate or provoke the so-called enemy by publicly challenging them to justify their acts of terror even though in most cases governments have been known to receive intelligence beforehand relating to possible terror threats and simply choose to ignore them until the inevitable finally happens. Then, in almost knee-jerk fashion, the term “cowardly attacks” is suddenly thrown around to discredit what in most cases are well-orchestrated and well-executed mass killings that could’ve been prevented.

All bombing is terrorism

I say all that to say this, let those who have mileage to gain (namely the media and politicians) from calling terrorists cowards to continue to do so. But the rest of us need to understand why this “coward” label is so often invoked in order to not get sucked into the superficial attention-seeking and ephemeral tough-talking especially coming from politicians.
In fact, everytime I am almost inclined to call such terrorists cowards, I pause and think: Hey, this is not cowardly. Do you know how much courage it takes to hijack an airplane and then willingly fly into a building at hundred of miles per hour or strap oneself with explosives, go to a designated site and detonate? Do any of us believe in anything remotely enough to give us the courage to do that? I know I don’t. Call these men terrorists. Call them despicable. Call them evil. But, call them what they are; they’re not cowards.

So, even when President Obama, in reference to the breaking news coming out of Uganda, says he is “deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks,” he’s merely spewing the same populist rhetoric we heard from Former President Clinton during the August 7th 1998 Bomb blasts that rocked Kenya and Tanzania.

Yes, all these acts are deplorable, absolutely. Cowardly? Not a chance.

24 thoughts on “Who Are We to Call Terrorists “Cowards”?

  1. Thank you for another well thought out piece. I just made a comment on a news article about the exact same point.

    The term ‘coward’ is so juvenile sometimes it’s almost funny to hear- except that lots of people have lost their lives. It takes courage, conviction and a dose of foolishness to do the things they do, but cowardice is hardly a part of the equation.

  2. Thanks to MisterNV for alerting me about this piece.

    Well thought out piece but it addresses THE WRONG POINT. I will agree that walking into a shopping mall and blowing yourself up is called brave. Walk among people and kill them is brave. But it all depends on the course of action that you are taking with you. You just killed innocent people who may not, most likely they will, have a clue as to why you did it. But they will be dead or in anguish to care. That is not bravery at all.

    Bravery is suffering alone for the consequences no matter what they may be. A person on hunger strike is one who is brave. I will point out Guillermo Farinas as one who is brave. All these Al Shaabab and Al Qaeda and other Al what-nots out there are not brave. They are just capitalizing on the fears of the whole world; DEATH.

    • To some degree, I agree with you.

      Alas, one thing that I think you may have missed in the text is that the people who call these terrorists cowards are really playing the same game the terrorists are. You see, when Bush goes out there and says these guys are a bunch of pussies, than the American people rally behind him; he too was “just capitalizing on the fears.” The truth of the matter is that the children’s idyll about Sticks and Stones holds truer in politics than anything. And if only on the basis of who actually put action behind their words, one must say that those screaming “Coward” have done less to abate the terrorist threat than the terrorists themselves have done to further their cause in silence. Both however, have been grossly misguided in my humble opinion.

      PS: @misterNV Putting a piece criticizing known Terrorists in a category called “Shoot the Messsenger” is really not the smartest thing to do….lol

    • @Maina: I have not said or implied that terrorist acts are brave.
      I am simply questioning the aptness of using the word “cowardly” to describe an act which involves sacrificing your life for a cause or belief.
      Furthermore, I think its important for us to consider this: who is calling who a “coward”? Acts of terror are not only committed by turban wearing long bearded men but also by governments like the US and others. Are the latter (the US, for instance) called cowards when they level an entire country (Iraq comes to mind) killing innocent civilians in villages, hospitals and schools?

      The clear answer is: No.

      The term ‘coward’ seems to be reserved only when acts of terror are committed by “radical islamists” and other “religious fundamentalist groups”. The blame for this falls squarely on Western political ideologies and widespread media propaganda.

      • When the USA and its allies calls people cowards and especially the Muslim extremists yet it does the same thing that they are doing then we clearly have a problem on our hands.

    • The target of terrorists is not the people that they kill, it’s the people that witness the carnage i.e. the wananchi and the leaders. Thay are the ones the terrorists expect a reaction from. The dead and injured are just a tool.

  3. To be honest, I think the word “coward” is bandied about so much only because men are largely involved in these American vs al Qaeda politics. It’s sort of a say-it-to-my-face reaction… or something… 🙂

    Even if al Shabaab’s actions can be called brave, it’s a foolish bravery. Killing others and yourself in the name of a God who may/may not exist just to spread the reach of a barbaric form of Islam is senseless and will never achieve anything. Suicide bombers may die ‘bravely’ but it’s in vain.

  4. They might not be cowards but i bet they piss on themselves before they blow up. and I’m sure they to talk to themselves too. You have to talk to yourself into blowing yourself.
    But they are not cowards

    • Ok.., your comment is just funny. (Shit! I shouldn’t be laughing NV just posted a serious piece).., but this comment is funny 😀

  5. Funny, whenever I hear that phrase on TV I retort, idiotically at it; “Cowardly as opposed to?”
    If anything, killing Iraqi women and children is just as cowardly. And Israel too, blockading aid from reaching Palestine. Namby-pamby!

  6. ALL TERRORISTS AND THOSE WHO COERCE TERRORISTS TO ACT ARE COWARDS AND BULLIES. There should be ZERO world tolerance to any people or persons who believe or tolerate otherwise.

  7. Not cowards? Then why is it that when the USMC aproaches, they lob a few rounds at us then run like a bunch of little girls? Or place IED’s and then run and hide like rats? How about using (on purpose) explosives against innocent people? If they want to impress me, let them stand toe to toe like real men. If they want to die for their faith, then stand up man to man to the Marine Corps and we will oblige. Yes, they truly are cowards and they are a disgrace to their own race.

  8. They are cowards because they hide behind anonymity of millions of their fellow people in order to strike with the most effect.

    I’ve seen where people like you try to compare this to the US Air Force bombing from an F-16. Dude, it just isn’t the same thing. Look, we sanction every f***ing bomb we drop. We aren’t hiding, we are intelligent, supported and contrary to what Al Jezira reports, our strikes are very well planned and have very little collateral.

    What else do you call an anonymous, non combatant, with 40 pounds of explosive strapped to his chest so that nobody can spot him, but a “coward”.

    There is no bravery in this. The nations of the middle east are a victim of their own oppression and overpopulation. Instead of solving their own problems in their own countries they instead target innocent civilians, like their mothers and sisters, to make a vague political point.

    How is this brave?

    • LOL…. Thank you Canadian, anonymity is exactly how these people stand (or don’t) Come out and wear your war colors if it is a war you are declaring.

  9. Pingback: Was The Bus Bombing Avoidable? « Diasporadical

  10. Well they don’t fight by the rules of war and they do care who gets in their way they use civilians as human shields because they know that the UN condemns civilian deaths. So they tend to operate near schools, hospitals, and religious buildings i.e. a mosque. They don’t wear uniforms at all so it is hard to tell whether that man in the corner is carrying an AK 47 or a basket of fruit. Allot of you people most likely never served in the military so who are you to talk down to anyone and those that have served? I am tire of hearing that the USA targets civilians we have not done that since the Indian Wars and WWII.

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