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.
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.