When Is A Beheading An Act Of Terrorism?

Last week, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a woman working at a food distribution center was beheaded by a former co-worker.  Witnesses said that the killer had been trying to convert other employees to Islam, and his Facebook page included a photo of Osama bin Laden and a picture of a beheading.

And now the media is engaged in a debate:  should the killing be described as an act of terrorism, or as the deranged action of a disturbed guy who just went “postal” after his firing?  An interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor poses that question and wonders just how terrorism should be defined.  Is premeditation required?  Does a terrorist act have to be part of achieving some larger terrorist goal?

In some respects, this seems like a debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  After all, it’s not as if all terrorist acts are carefully calibrated to achieve some larger and rational geopolitical objective.  The Boston Marathon bombings, for example, weren’t designed to take out American leaders or discourage American actions in some faraway land, they were simply designed to terrify random people — which seems like a pretty good definition of terrorism to me.

By that definition, a beheading of an innocent former co-worker by an Islamic man who has tried to convert co-workers and apparently follows the teachings of terrorists falls comfortably within the ambit of terrorism.  The depredations of ISIS and other Islamic terrorists have made beheadings — as opposed to other methods of killing — a form of terrorist political statement, and I don’t think it’s far-fetched to conclude that the Oklahoma City killer chose his approach with that understanding in mind.

If we can’t recognize terrorism for what it is, how can we hope to defeat it?

Death And Disaster In Tornado Alley

If you live in Oklahoma or other states in the Tornado Alley region of the United States, you learn to live with terrible storms that occasionally sweep through the region.  But sometimes you can’t live with those storms.

Yesterday was one of those days in the Oklahoma City region, and the devastation — emotional and physical — is horrific.  A series of tornadoes hit the area, and one of them tore through Moore, Oklahoma, leveling the Plaza Towers Elementary School, ripping off the roof, toppling walls, and killing a number of schoolchildren.  The current death toll stands at 91 people, with hundreds more injured, but that number is expected to rise as search and rescue teams comb through the debris.

The storms were unbelievably powerful, with winds reaching up to 200 miles per hour.  I’ve seen the tree-toppling punch of storms where winds reach 70 and 80 miles per hour, but I can’t imagine the strength of 200 m.p.h. winds that can shred sturdy buildings like humans can shred tissue paper.

I also can’t imagine the anguish of parents whose little children were taken from them by a storm.  Our hearts go out to the battered residents of Oklahoma City as they search for survivors and struggle to deal with this extraordinary tragedy.