But there has never been a good definition of “terrorism.” Millions of words have been expended on this question, with little success. At a bare minimum, many feel that its victims must be be civilians, and that its perpetrators must generally be “non-state actors,” not armies or governments; and that its primary motive must be some sort of mass horror.
Yet the word always seems to obscure more than it reveals. There is not much to unite a domestic terrorist such as Timothy McVeigh, determined to change the structure and operation of his own country by attacking its people and offices (this remains by far the most common form of terrorism in North America) with Eric Rudolph, who bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics out of anger at birth control, and Mohamed Atta, a foreigner hoping to humiliate an abstract “West” out of engagement with his imaginary spiritual kingdom. The two brothers assumed to have attacked Boston this week appear to be something else altogether – yet to have enough in common with those forebears to share the same label.Something else altogether, eh? Let's see: Atta was waging jihad. Ditto the two brothers. Seems to me those three are altogether the same, while Rudolph, the only non-holy warrior in the bunch, is the odd terrorist out.