What Is A Terrorist?


My son learned a new word. He found it in a book he is reading about the Navy SEALs.


He’s the inquisitive type so his question came as no surprise.

“Dad, what is a terrorist?”

Although I could sense the question coming, I still struggled with the answer. The first definition that came to my mind was bad guys. Terrorists are bad guys. With bombs.

But that’s not always true. Patrick Henry and his kind were considered terrorists because of their preference of death over a life without liberty. I’m sure that there were a few people in Montgomery, Alabama who considered Rosa Parks a terrorist because she decided to have a seat at the front of the bus. Simply put, sometimes you can be classified as a terrorist just for doing the right thing. Even more so if your side happens to be in the minority while doing the right thing.

I didn’t go into all of that with my son. Not yet at least. I gave him some standard answer about terrorists operating in cells rather than a traditional army. Pretty soon I’ll have to give him the more detailed answer. I’ll tell him about Patrick Henry and Rosa Parks.

And I’ll have to tell him about Overactive Bladder.

That’s the disease, stemming from prostate cancer and its treatment, that made it necessary for a man to wear a diaper to the airport. He’s wasn’t trying to make some kind of a statement. Cancer has ravaged his body to the point that he no long has control over when he goes to the bathroom. When he explained his condition to TSA agents, they laughed at him, informed everyone else in line that he was wearing a diaper and later forced him to remove his pants and his wet diaper. All in the name of security. And at the expense of freedom.

If he wants to know about terrorism, I’ll also have to tell my son about Nathan Kemnitz.

He too ran into some problems at the airport. Last summer he was flying to California where he was to be honored with an award for the sacrifices he made as a Marine. In a 2004 roadside bombing, Kemnitz lost one arm and severely wounded the other. Back home, in a California airport, he was told that his uniform contained too much metal. Heroes tend to have that problem. Too much metal on their uniforms. Agents then checked under his medals, ran their hands under his waistband and swabbed his shoes for explosives. Our country awarded Nathan Kemnitz with a Purple Heart. The TSA wouldn’t let him get on a commercial airplane without being humiliated. But don’t worry, it was all in the name of security.

When the time is right, in order to give my son a proper grasp of the term terrorist, I’ll have to tell him about Jason Harrington.

Harrington worked for the TSA for six years. The description of his work environment sounds something like that of a drunken fraternity party. Harrington informs us that attractive females were often targeted for pat downs as their body scans were gawked at by other agents. All in the name of security.

Soon, I’ll have to finish my answer to my son’s question. I’ll remind him that sometimes terrorists are men with bombs who want to take away the freedoms we enjoy in this country. And I’ll have to tell him that sometimes terrorists don’t need bombs. Sometimes their badge is the only weapon they need. But, just like the other terrorists, they still want to take away the freedoms we enjoy in this country.

There may not be a lot that the average citizen can do to stop the terrorists who use bombs. But there is plenty that we can do to stop the ones who use a badge. We, like Henry and Parks before us, just have to be willing to be called terrorists. Remember, that’s the name that often gets tagged on you when you do the right thing. Especially if you’re in the minority.

Sometimes a terrorist is just a girl with a camera who is sick of seeing her war hero friend treated like an enemy of the state.

Sometimes a terrorist is a wife with a blog who refuses to stay quiet about the humiliation of her sick husband.

History will remember two kinds of terrorists. There are those who stop at nothing to destroy. Some worked their way through airports so that they could board planes and turn them into missiles. Others work in airports to keep peaceful citizens from boarding a plane without what would otherwise be categorized as a sexual assault.

And then there are those who took a stand in order to stop such destruction. These usually seem like simple acts. Like refusing to give up a seat at the front of the bus. Or hitting the record button on a camera phone.

Remember, not all terrorists are bad guys.

If we really want to stop the terrorists who are bent on destruction, we need more of the terrorists who will not settle for injustice.

Because apathy in the face of injustice is often the most destructive form of terrorism.