Since When Has “Terrorism” Been Limited to Islamic Attacks?

On Saturday, a man drove a van into pedestrians in Muenster, Germany, killing 2 people and injuring 20. The driver of the van was a German citizen, and Herbert Reul, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state insisted that “nothing speaks for there being any Islamic background”. Headlines have stated that the man had a history of psychological problems. Regardless of stated psychological problems, the question is- why is an “Islamic background” being treated as a yardstick for which to measure whether a horrific event was an act of terrorism or not? According to the dictionary terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. Meanwhile, according to Reuters, police were searching the driver’s apartment and found that he had contact with far-right extremists. So why are we so quick to label this attack as being committed by a “lone German”? (

"[T]he decision to call someone or label some organization ‘terrorist’ becomes almost unavoidably subjective, depending largely on whether one sympathizes with or opposes the person/group/cause concerned. If one identifies with the victim of the violence, for example, then the act is terrorism. If, however, one identifies with the perpetrator, the violent act is regarded in a more sympathetic, if not positive (or, at the worst, ambivalent) light, and it is not terrorism.”- Bruce Hoffman

This isn’t to say that we should apply the term “terrorism” to any attack upon civilians, but maybe we should start thinking more carefully about the cases where we do choose to avoid using the word.