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Letters to the Editor

BY DI READERS | APRIL 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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Whose terrorism?

Because I don’t have a smart phone, I was forced to get my news about the bombings in Boston secondhand. I asked a classmate if there had been any leads on who had been behind the bombings. My informant replied that it was suspected that the bombing was an act of terrorism. I thought that answer was curious because it said nothing at all about the bombing or the bomber.  However, it may have said a lot about us.

To those of us with limited experience, limited vocabularies, or limited faculties, “terrorism” is synonymous with “Islamic extremism,” which is another catchall used by the media to refer to something complicated that requires further explanation.

For my generation, and probably all of the American public, this connotation is rooted in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but we see the rhetoric everywhere — for example, in the current occupation of Palestine by the Israelis. We are complicit in the media’s continual portrayal of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli oppression as “terrorism,” while the acts of the Israeli occupiers, which are even more coercive and destructive of innocent human life, are presented as the official counterterrorist protocol of a legitimate government. 

It is right and good that the very same acts can be viewed as either acts of evil or righteous self-defense, depending on who commits that act. We pay for Israeli terrorism so it would be a pity to see it badmouthed.

And what should we call our own terrorism? What do we call the death of innocent men, women, and children during drone strikes or the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan? Fancy bombs in flying trashcans — at the end someone else’s race. All of these actions are of suspect legality and are acts of coercive violence that sometimes kill the intended target.

It is unclear whether the Boston bombing was a terrorist attack at all, because without a clue as to who the bomber is, it is hard to say much about why they planted and detonated their bombs.  Yet we are drawn to call the bombing “terrorism.”  

Why? Because we need to categorize the atrocity, we need it to be motivated, and we need that motivation to be an affront to us and to our way of life. Why? So that we can be indignant.  So that we can tell that person to go to hell.

In the upcoming days, we may find out who was responsible for the bombings at the Boston Marathon. We may learn of their motivations, and if they do not make sense, we will call them the acts of a mad man. If the motivation is political or social, we will say it was an act of terrorism. We will call it an affront to our way of life, and we will be indignant. We will defend our way of life. We will be the righteous ones. We will neither think, nor speak of any evil here at home.

Edward Hall
Iowa City resident

Jail solution

I updated a 2008 study on annual incarceration costs for all jail inmates, those committed to Iowa prisons by district court and county residents in federal prisons. The incarceration costs are $4.1 million for the county jail, $5.7 million for Iowa prison inmates and $2.2 million for federal prison inmates. The total is $12 million ($88 per county resident), and most Johnson County residents would think that is too much because national surveys have found the prevailing view is we are spending too much on incarceration ($197 per U.S. resident).

Jail and prison populations are still growing at a somewhat slower rate, even though jail and prison admission rates have leveled off or decreased. The reason is the average length of incarceration has increased by three weeks for county-jail inmates (for those held longer than a week), three months for Iowa prison inmates, and nine months for federal prison inmates.

Some people claim that the only rational solution to county jail overcrowding is to build a big new jail. I do not agree. I think changing policies and practices to cap the length of stay in jail by offence severity (such as two, six, and 12 weeks for simple, serious, and aggravated misdemeanors, as well as compliance with the statutory cap of six months for indictable offences) would be a rational solution.

John Neff
Iowa City resident


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