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Calling the Las Vegas shooting 'terrorism' does nobody any favours


The Sydney Morning Herald

by Julie Szego

Alas, there's no gentle way into this discussion: a mass murderer with an enhanced semi-automatic weapon does not automatically equal a "terrorist".

No matter how much partisan warriors and even governments try to squeeze the Las Vegas tragedy into the post-9/11 template, the facts simply don't fit. At the time of writing, everything we know — as in, don't know — about the shooter, Stephen Paddock, suggests that noun has no place in this atrocity, even if the verb is horrifically apt, as the 64-year-old professional gambler terrorised, with chilling method, 22,000 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Paddock was not a terrorist, even if we acknowledge that to those left injured and grieving after the worst mass shooting in modern US history this parsing of definitions might seem an insensitive parlour game.

The distinction matters because defeating terrorism, an inherently political act, requires a different strategy to combating psychopathic killers with their idiosyncratic motivations. If we cannot distinguish terrorist from psychopath, then we'll struggle to combat mass casualty attacks full stop. And the more clouded our thinking, the more we remain vulnerable to groups and institutions that seek to exploit tragedies such as Vegas for their own political ends, the more our civil liberties and public discourse will keep taking a hit.

Days after Vegas, we're no wiser about what made Paddock snap. The Islamic State group claimed him as one of theirs, but they claimed hurricanes Harvey and Irma too. Joseph Lombardo, the sheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, described the shooter as "a lone-wolf-type actor". It's perhaps a sign of how terrorism has warped our language that the sheriff's words still imply Paddock belongs in a pack. Likewise, experts on lone-wolf terrorism have been in high demand this week. "Troubled loner" might be more accurate, the type we know from Port Arthur, Dunblane, Sandy Hook.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/calling-the-las-vegas-shooting-terrorism-does-nobody-any-favours-20171005-gyuo9i.html