In certain corners of the blogosphere--as well as the mainstream media--there has been some consternation over how to designate the IRS suicide pilot, Joseph Stack. Is he a terrorist or just a criminal? Are there degrees of “terrorism”?

The answer that I settled on was this: Yes, he obviously meets the definitional standard of a terrorist, i.e., someone who commits an act of violence with the hope of achieving a political end, but no, he’s not involved in terrorism the same way that al Qaeda is.

The point here is a relatively simple one: Stack acted alone, and though he did commit an an act of terrorism, it’s one that failed to promote a long-term objective. People aren’t going to stop paying their taxes or wage violence against the Internal Revenue Service. The taxman isn’t going to stop going door-to-door to collect back taxes out of fear of the consequences. He has failed to inspire terror.

That’s a stark contrast to organized Islamic terror. Consider the Madrid train bombings in 2004, in which a cell of Islamic radicals blew up a series of commuter trains right before an election, swinging the results in favor of a candidate who favored pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq. That’s terrorism.

Or consider the Danish cartoon crisis: After threats of violence and actual riots, news outlets across the world refused to reprint the cartoons out of fear. As South Park creator Matt Stone recently told the Huffington Post about Comedy Central’s refusal to air an image of Muhammad out of fear of Islamic violence:

“That was one of my most disappointing moments as an American--the American press's reaction to the Muhammad cartoons. It was completely wimpy. … Cartoonists, people who do satire--we're not in the army, we're never going to be f--ing drafted and this is our time to stand up and do the right thing. And to watch the New York Times, Comedy Central, everybody just go 'No, we're not going to do it because basically we're afraid of getting bombed' sucked. I was so disappointed.”

That is terrorism at work, ladies and gentlemen. Inspiring fear so as to silence your critics and inspire political change. It’s several orders of magnitude different from what Joseph Stack did, and it makes no real sense to think of the actions of Islamic fundamentalist terror in the same category, even if they’re semantically similar.

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