The Buzz

Defining Terrorism Down

Daniel Pipes is a man of strong opinions. But the ones he shares in his latest National Review Online piece are more than strong. They’re potentially dangerous.

Pipes accuses Western authorities of “[conjuring] up . . . lame excuses for Islamist terrorism.” He sees a “recurring problem of politicians, law enforcement, and the press with Islamist terrorism: their unwillingness to stare it in the face and ascribe murder to it.”

Pipes recounts a 1994 incident in which Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli doctor, slaughtered twenty-nine Muslims in a mosque. Pipes calls it a “massacre” but, notably, not an act of terrorism. Instead, he decries the fact that, four days later, when a young New Yorker of Lebanese origins named Rashid Baz (Pipes does not specify whether Baz was Muslim), murdered a Jewish yeshiva student, authorities failed to see the “obvious connection” between the two occurrences. They dubbed the murder an act of “road rage,” not terrorism.

Baz was convicted of murder and sentenced to 141 years in prison. In 2000, the victim’s mother convinced the FBI to classify the attack as an act of terrorism. Recently, Baz “acknowledged the impact of the Goldstein atrocity on him [and] admitted having specifically targeted Jews.”

Baz’s actions were inexcusable and appalling. But the conclusions Pipes draws from them are disturbing.

Pipes likens the Baz case to one in France in which “the establishment’s immediate impulse was to assume the murderer of three soldiers and four Jews was a non-Muslim.” (The murderer, caught after boasting of his crime to police, turned out to be Muslim.) The implications of Pipes’s accusations are monumental: Should authorities assume that whenever a Jew is murdered—or a soldier, apparently—the killer was a Muslim? And that any Muslim convicted of killing a Jew is committing an act of terrorism?

Pipes seems to disregard the presumption of innocence and to glorify the very culture of suspicion and hatred that breeds terrorism in the first place. This howler is fundamentally irresponsible.