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A Pope in sheep’s clothing…

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 18, 2014

Pope Francis or maybe I should say Pope Atheist the first.

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Well, maybe he is only an agnostic, but some the things being said by Pope Francis…well, he sure as hell isn’t Catholic, if you forgive the word choice.

As an evangelical atheist, I must also declare this Pope the most dangerous person to atheism. Perhaps for too many years the atheist community as relied too much on the religious leaders to also be villain types such as Pope Benedict, or if they were charismatic they were also crazy and hate filled.

What we must now face in Pope Francis, a likeable religious figure who speaks to the people…and worst of all, on many of the most important issues facing humanity…well, he has abandoned doctrine in favor of reasonable good solutions.

Francis was Time’s ‘Person of the Year’…one of only three popes who have received such distinction. The others where Pope John 23, who received for his efforts to mediate the Cuban Missile crisis just before his death, and John Paul the second for his wish was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada”…after 15 plus years as Pope. Francis got the title just 9 months into the gig.

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As a side note, only one person was named Person of the Year 3 times, FRD, and a lot have been there twice, about 13, notably Stalin 1939 and 1942. For reference, there have been 101 persons of the year, 12 groups and 3 things.

A number of atheist, secular, LGBT groups…I should note that the gay magazine icon The Advocate also selected the Pope as man of the year…as well as these progressive, socialist and even communist groups…poverty advocates and many others have praised Pope Francis for his conciliatory words. The open hand that he is presenting to groups and causes that were seen as taboo in previous papacies.

In September I think, he came out and in commenting on Jesus said that some in the church say “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good”. He then commented that the church “were a little intolerant”. Then capped it with “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! Even the atheists. Everyone!” exclamation point.

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He then followed that up with “if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge” and just a few weeks ago he said “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently…the church cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods”.

He also announced at the end of the Third Vatican Council that, and I quote here…“modern and reasonable religion, which has undergone evolutionary changes. The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone. Even atheists acknowledge the divine. Through acts of love and charity the atheist acknowledges God as well, and redeems his own soul, becoming an active participant in the redemption of humanity.”

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“Through…prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God”

Okay…there is a lot there but is it me or is he trying to redefine Catholicism?

As a philosophy, I cannot help but see that what he is doing is saying God…the concept…has evolved…that it’s not necessarily a white wrathful guy in the sky but a concept that evolves over time.

To embrace god is not to worship but to not be alone…so god is the community?

Also note how he solves the problem of evil

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This reminds me of many a conversation I have had with friends religious and not. When asked “how can you be an atheist, when you cannot state with absolute certainty that there is no God”. I respond that first, the Abrahamic concept of god is logically contradictory…so, although spiritual ideas like “god is love” are possible but meaningless, the god of the bible IS impossible by its own definition.

What Francis is seeming to say, whether this is rhetoric or not, is that god is love…and it is no longer the god of the bible…that the bible itself is metaphor…and by doing so, to the unenlightened he makes god far more palatable is no less implausible.

The Pope claimed “Whether we worship at a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a mandir, it does not matter. Whether we call God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah or Krishna, we all worship the same God of love. This truth is self-evident to all who have love and humility in their hearts!”… All religions are true because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

Small note, the NAMES of god, are actually all Judeo-Christian names of god…not sure if that is an oversight or a weasel sentence…I think weasel.

“God is changing and evolving as we are, For God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it. The Bible is a beautiful holy book, but like all great and ancient works, some passages are outdated. The time has come to see these verses as later interpolations, contrary to the message of love and truth, which otherwise radiates through scripture. In accordance with our new understanding, we will begin to ordain women as cardinals, bishops and priests. In the future, it is my hope that we will have a woman pope one day. Let no door be closed to women that is open to men!”

Well, that’s a lot. Let’s take it apart and see what he says and what it might mean.

The first comments were about opening the doors to the church. Let everyone in…even the gays. He says the church should not judge them, but then again he did not say that it was okay to be gay or an atheist…just don’t turn them away. And this is the rhetoric that is garnering him the headlines. But is it all talk?

Why would he want sinners…and he still thinks they are sinners. In a recent report the Pope expressed that same-sex marriage and I quote here “anthropological regression” and that in 2010 he said that same-sex marriage is a weakening of the institution of marriage, an institution that has existed for thousands of years and is “forged according to nature and anthropology.” The Pope was “shocked” by the Civil Unions Bill, “which will allow gay couples to adopt children” and encouraged the local bishop to denounce the law.

Now his stance on women is not a rosy as the one line “my hope that we will have a woman pope one day”…He stated in an interview that…

“It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.”

So, women who wish to be treated equal are being machismo…in this context I think he is referring to overly aggressive…i.e. women acting like men…implicitly he is saying women are not equal to men…they are a different species, or something. He followed that up with…

“Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.”

So, he is saying women deserve respect…but that has nothing to do with their role or function in the church…there they can be treated…if I may quote civil rights jargon…separate but equal, they get equal dignity but not equal roles. So, a woman cannot be pope…a contradiction. So, much for papal infallibility.

He goes on…“We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

So, he does acknowledge the church must be more inclusive of women, but that in the eyes of God, they are not religiously equal to men…interesting.

He even makes an attempt to quote ‘reach immigrants’…this is a major issue not so much in the USA, where the only good illegal immigrant is a dead one, but in Europe the issue is more complex if not any less deadly.

He said on the topic…“Racism today is the ultimate evil in the world. When Italians, Spanish or French turn back the boats of African migrants seeking a better life, are they not like the inn keeper who told Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them and the infant Christ? These migrants are children of God and we are commanded to love them! Those who would dare to turn immigrants away, be they legal or undocumented, turn their backs on Christ himself! A racist is not a true Christian. He is the embodiment and personification of evil, a Satan!”

Pope Francis stated “because Muslims, Hindus and African Animists are also made in the very likeness and image of God, to hate them is to hate God! To reject them to is to reject God.”

And if that was not plain enough, he doubled down with the big excommunication, saying…“those who seek to deny a home to the migrant risk their membership in the church. We will consider excommunication for those whose souls willingly dwell in the darkness and evil of intolerance and racism. Satan himself is a metaphor or a personification, for the collective evils of mankind. Today, these evils manifest foremost as racism, intolerance, religious persecution and bigotries of all kinds.”

Soo, it looks like the entire Tea Party Caucus et al in the US and like many in Harper’s cabinet are at risk of damnation of their imaginary souls.

It’s funny in a not ‘really funny’ way, that there is push back on the Popes stated stance from some prominent…self-loathing maybe…Cardinals.

Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria asked, “What do we stand for if we declare that truth is relative? On the contrary, truth exists independently of our personal feelings. All of this talk of love and tolerance is hollow if we have no identity of our own, if we stand for nothing. I charge that Francis has become a heretic, and that he is not a valid Pope. Indeed, Francis is no longer even a Catholic. The seat of Saint Peter is vacant. The Vatican has embraced moral relativism on abortion and homosexuality. At the same time it is embracing moral absolutism in favour of illegal immigration and cultural genocide against Europe.”

Cardinal Arinze said “Francis is a fool if he thinks that his liberal immigration policy will end well. He has betrayed western civilization. Vatican City will one day become a giant mosque if things continue in Europe along their present course. Those in the West who ignore this truth, do so at their own peril.”

Now, on this issue, I will give him props. Moving on.

That said, Pope Francis has emphasized in his charm offensive, not acceptance of non-believers…sinners…women…but a quote ‘inclusiveness’.

He stated many times that the church needs to be less exclusive and more inclusive. He stated that “Jesus didn’t tell the apostles or us to form an exclusive group, a group of the elite” The pope says he said “Go and make disciples of all nations… welcoming others as true brothers and sisters…”

Now, it is when he starts to preach against exclusiveness that he starts to sound like a communist…well a strong socialist at least.

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Here he states that…“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills….As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems”

He really offended American conservatives when he stated that…“The succession of economic crises should lead to a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles,”

Reiteration words you have heard here on Radio Free Thinker, the Pope said…. Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

He condemned “Rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fuelling that ‘throw away’ mentality which leads to a contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest,” he said.

So, the pope is not a free market capitalist, or one could get that impression. However, what does he propose to do about it…

“Effective policies are needed to promote the principle of fraternity, securing for people… access to capital, services, educational resources, healthcare and technology,” and that the Governments have a “duty of solidarity” towards poorer nations and a “duty of social justice” towards their citizens, while individuals should also practice fraternity by “sharing their wealth”, he said.

Well that’s nice, but not too different than previous popes saying we need to help the poor and starving. Francis says that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.

Sounds like he wants the rich to help not by making a more socialistic economy and even creating a more egalitarian workplace but by charity.

Pope Benedict XVI certainly sang a different tune, denouncing Marxism as one of the great scourges of the modern age. But wait, so did Francis, he said “the ideology of Marxism is wrong.”. He softened his comments by adding “But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people”.

There is a theme emerging. Francis is not so much changing church doctrine, again everything he has DONE has reinforced it, but he is soft peddling the rhetoric with the obvious aim of getting people into the church, once there, believe or not, the clergy has the opportunity to convert. You cannot convert an empty pew.

Pope Francis’s home region of Latin America. This is insightful because it is where the modern version of Liberation Theology arose. Liberation Theology, a Catholic phenomenon centered on actively fighting economic and social oppression, is the fascinating place where Karl Marx and the Catholic Church meet.

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Though Marx was certainly an atheist, Catholics who support liberation theology understand that his attitude toward religion was nuanced. He saw it as a coin with two sides: a conservative force that could block positive changes as well as a reservoir of energy that could resist and challenge injustice.

Now, for those who are not aware, Liberation Theology can, in some ways, lay its origin to Jesus who, beyond the slavish worship of a deity, he also promote social equality…in economic equality and the value of people. The modern version of Liberation theology arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in the American ‘banana republics’ created in Central America. The Catholic Church was one of the only institutions that could stand in opposition to the various dictatorships that plagued Central and South America.

Among the ethical clergy, the socio-economic inequality and the horrors that followed suit were intolerable and to local priests something they decided to use their position of privilege to resist. The most famous was Bishop Óscar Romero who was assassinated for his support of the poor and opposition to El Salvatore dictatorship.

Liberation Theology never truly condemned liberal capitalism, this push for socio-economic equality was in places where the distance between elite and the poor were extreme…this was the case where ethical good people who happened to be priests, used what tools they had to help the most destitute…the most repressed. That is why Liberation Theology never really took off anywhere else.

Liberation Theology is the Roman Catholic theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. Now this was condemned by traditional Catholics such as Pope Benedict and others. It was always a sect of Catholicism that was tolerated but never accepted in the Vatican…that is until Pope Francis. Or so it seems.

He also stated that “the process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal.” And here we may see the true message of Pope Francis and why the atheist movement should be afraid…very afraid of Pope Frankie.

If you wonder why I am using the more pejorative name Frankie over Francis…well it’s to emphases the duplicity of the pope. He has created this progressive, inclusive, modern image called Pope Francis…man of the year, while really his policies and actions are little changed from the offensive repressive policies of the past…the real pope a crude Frankie.

When we look at the doctrinal stance of the pope, we see no movement, the only change is how the church appears to the masses.

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In a time that has seen increasing loss of practitioners from Catholic churches across the globe…Francis may be trying to open the doors to people who were overtly excluded by paying lip service to openness while still maintaining the moral condemnation of these people.

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How can you convert a sinner if they are not willing to cross your threshold? Frankie has, perhaps cynically or from real conviction, proposed that you get them in the church…sinner, abomination or other…once in the church you can convert them…that is the danger to atheism.

He is using the makeup of populist rhetoric to hide the ugly truth that homosexuality is still a sin, abortion is still a sin, that contraception, condoms to prevent aids is frowned upon, the women are not the equal of men…he welcomes the body…to him perhaps the soul, but with the aim not to embrace but convert the person.

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Even on poverty, there is much talk but as the head of the richest institution in the world…the Vatican controls billions worldwide…how little he has done.

It’s great theater to wash the feet of a poor woman, to kiss a deformed man but to the millions starving in Africa…what does that matter.

Pope Francis has made the Catholic Church sexy again…more acceptable, and in doing so he has created the opportunity for the clergy to infect the mind of the vulnerable. In the same way that Christian soup kitchens…the Salvation Army… provide a valuable social good but with the implicate advertisement that if you partake in our charity, you should join our church.

Atheist should be afraid because our job has become harder. We perhaps had become lazy or complacent. The previous popes’ rhetoric emphases much of the social divide, especially on topics that society has been more accepting such as homosexuality, abortion, women’s equality, AIDS and a number of other issues.

The past popes were resisting the trend not only in actions but in words, the new pope seems to have taken a lesson from his new former Fox news reporter now Vatican PR head. FOX news is infamous for saying one thing “fair and balance” while actually doing the opposite.

It seems the new atheist movement has elevated the battle for the hearts and minds of the world…and now the church is launching a counter offensive.

This could be a very interesting and rough year for atheism around the globe. I hope that actions speak louder than words…if so, the church will ultimately be weaker next year than this.

Well, i could go on and on…and i will likely do so in the New Year.

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Double standards of terrorism – Chapter 2

Posted by Don McLenaghen on August 5, 2011

The de-contextualization of terrorism?

Okay, in part one we seem to find that to call our Norwegian a “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” is valid at least in the common understanding of the idea but let’s look at what the term Terrorism has come to mean. The term itself is a relatively new one. We have always had terrorist, but they were often referred to as political or religious terrorist with membership to a particular group. This was important because it created a ‘context’ for the act.

For example, Anarchist terrorists were understood to be an Anarchist who was a “political terrorist”…when we apply it to ‘Muslim terrorist’ we do not get that context. “Political terrorists, who were anarchist, did their terrorism for political reasons…it provided not only a description of the act but also the reason for it.  Since 9/11 it has become fashionable to just label anyone who does violence and is Muslim as an ‘Islamist terrorist’ or Jihadi.

The modern term “Muslim terrorist” does not translate into ‘religious terrorist’ if it did there would not be the reticence to apply it to the IRA or our Norwegian. No, “Muslim terrorist”, in fact the term “terrorist” itself, now has the understanding as ‘Islamist terrorist…no context only a label to be applied to something we are to interpret as less than civilized…less than human; why else do we with little more than a moment’s hesitation allow those accused of terrorism (again a term that only seems to apply to those of the ‘brown’ skin) to be treated like animals by this I am referring to torture.

This de-contextualization of the term “terrorism” has allowed us to ignore the underlying cause of the act (and often such actors have legitimate grievances even if we still deplore these acts). The separation of actor and context allows us to create a scapegoat for all the ills in our society…a new link is created by this amorphous threat and the current problems in the country – “why can’t I find a job? It must be those ‘terrorist’ who are either taking my job or ruining the economy!”

This re-definition allowed us to ignore the underling context for violence and see it all as one big all-encompassing conspiracy against us…or more exactly the USA and western civilization. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of terrorist attacks by Muslims are not religious acts but political.  It ignores the fact that the vast majority of ‘terrorist acts’ (traditional definition) are committed not by Islamist but the ‘traditional’ population.

But you may say that 9-11 was an attack on the west. This too was not an attack to destroy the USA but a political message intended to have the Americans remove their troops from Saudi Arabia. 7/7 and the Madrid Bombing were likewise driven not by a desire to conquer Europe but to have the ‘western forces’ withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast number of attacks on US individuals occurs in countries they are either occupying or engaged in military operations…one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

If we turn an eye to the terrorist threats that intend to ‘destroy’ or ‘fundamentally change’ Europe or the USA, we find “Jihadist” very low on the list. In fact, the USA far more groups exist on the extreme (and often racist) right than ‘Islamist’. The largest sources of ‘terror’ attacks in the US arise from three main groups – Anti-abortionist, white supremacist and sovereign citizens groups. The number of attacks since 9/11 on USA soil includes the Anthrax Mailer, Austin IRS building plane attack, almost a dozen attacks on Abortion clinics by groups like Army of God and let’s not forget the Holocaust museum attack by a neo-Nazi.

So in an odd way, our Norwegian qualifies as a terrorist in the modern context because like the imaginary enemy he hoped to attack his own actions lack a real context. He has created in his own mind this ‘conspiracy’ of ‘social Marxism’ to create a fictional state of ‘Eruabia’…in this line of thinking there is no context only dogma, ideology and sedition.

But was our terrorist a lone wolf or part of some large organization? What does his manifesto…his actions say about those who inspired him? We are often quick to point out links, when the actor is ‘brown’, to the Middle East, Islamic websites, Imams sermons and the polemics of Muslim nationalist. Yet, when that same analysis is applied to our Norwegian perpetrator, the xenophobic extreme right is quick to proclaim loudly their disavowing of the actor and apologetics for their role. Who should be held culpable for the creation of our Norwegian terrorist shall be the topic of the next chapter of discussion.

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Double standards of terrorism – Chapter 1

Posted by Don McLenaghen on August 4, 2011

When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

As most of our listeners should know there was a horrific act of terrorism in Norway that has left over 70 dead and almost 100 injured. We have talked before about the growing sense of xenophobia that has gripped Europe. Those who thought this ‘traditionalism’ would lead mainly to increased racism and discrimination may feel shocked and the overt violence to which this line of thinking inevitably leads.

There has been a lot said about the incident and we will attempt to avoid repetition, ourselves. That said there are a few points that should be clarified and some interesting observations that can be made.

First, is he a ‘Christian fundamentalist terrorist’? To answer this we must look at the three claims made, is he a terrorist, is he a Christian and is he a fundamentalist.

According to the dictionary, terrorism is defined as

“Seriously intimidating a population; or unduly compelling a Government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; or seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.”

It is important to note that it is not the number of deaths nor the method of execution that is important but the stated aim of the perpetrator.

According to the perpetrator the intent of his actions were to “bring down the Marxist order”, by that, he hoped that with this act he would garner enough press to both disseminate his manifesto as well as inspire others to join his war on Islam. The main purpose was to compel the government to expel all Muslims and return to a culturally pure Europe. In my books this definitely qualified him as a terrorist.

Was he a Christian? According to his blog, he posted”I wasn’t particularly religious. Then I sort of glommed onto Christianity, and I realized I had to have a Christian identity”. It is true in his blog he criticizes Protestantism, not as a criticism of Christianity but because he saw it as part of the ‘cultural Marxism’ that has allowed the ‘purity of Europe to be thinned’. That a return to a more catholic type church…he even states that he had high hopes for the current Pope with what he saw as an initial hardline against Islam but was later disappointed by the consolatory attitude the Pope later took. Again by his own words he claims to be Christian, has a personal relationship with god and wishes to reinstate the Christian crusade to drive back the ‘Muslims scourge’ from Europe.

Is he a fundamentalist? This one gets more complicated. We, in North America, tend to think of fundamentalist as evangelical bible-literalist. This is not what he appears to be, there is no mention of creationism, however he does qualify I think as a fundamentalist on two grounds. Firstly, he does seem to think the current churches have lost their way and need to return to a more authoritarian and traditional role. It is the creed of tolerance and multiculturalism that he blames on the new church…creeds that are on the precipice of ‘destroying Europe’ and turning it into a ‘fundamentalist Muslim caliphate’. A fundamentalist is technically defined as someone wishing to return to ideological fundamentals…in this case a return to a medieval crusader religion.

Secondly, we think of fundamentalist as someone who wishes to create a theological state. Again in his own words, this was one of his aims; in fact because of his obsession with the religious threat posed by the ‘other’ religion (Islam), it seems his primary aim.

Irrespective of the religious overtones, the term fundamentalist can also be applied because of his “racist” (or extreme xenophobic) views; we can interpret each term (Terrorist, Christian and Fundamentalist) as three dimensions of description. His complaints about the ‘cultural Marxism’, tolerance and multiculturalism…how they have ‘corrupted and polluted’ Europe…the racial or at least cultural purity that has been the hallmark of the xenophobic movement in Europe strikes me as fundamentalist. As such his views on race and Europe do seem to qualify as fundamentalist and extremist.

So despite the protestation of the Christians, fascists and right wing; the term “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” seems applicable. If that label applies, were does the term ‘terrorist’ lead us? What use or misuse has the modern interpretation of ‘terrorist’ come to be…that we shall discuss in chapter 2.

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