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Guest Post: What Does a Terrorist Look Like?

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

Leaving the emergency room with an empty gurney in tow, I noticed a middle aged man hurriedly walking toward the Emergency Services entrance. He looked like a taller version of Kevin Pollock.

If you don’t work in a hospital or as an EMT, the Emergency Services entrance is reserved for police, fire, and emergency medical personnel because it grants direct access to patient rooms, the emergency room nursing station, and the rest of the hospital. Normally, it’s accessed via security code. Patients and family or other visitor have a dedicated entrance with a waiting room and access to a triage area.

So I stopped the guy. Our conversation went like this:

Me: Excuse me, sir. If you’re looking for the entrance to the emergency room, it’s behind you around the corner.
Man: It’s okay, the paramedics just brought in my dad through here.
Me: Yes, sir. But this entrance is dedicated for emergency personnel only. If you’ll go through the main entrance, the admissions people can take your name and get you a pass.
Man: What’s the problem?
Me: Sir, it’s really just a security issue. This entrance is for people who are cleared to use it. You really need to check in at the front desk.
Man: Security? What, do I look like a terrorist to you?
Me: Sir, what exactly does a terrorist look like?

I want to stress how polite I was trying to be. I did use “sir” every time.

By this time, the door had shut behind me and the man, foiled in his attempt at breezing into the emergency room, returned to the front entrance, leaving me to dress the gurney and clean my rig to prep for the next call. But the whole exchange got me thinking: what does a terrorist look like?

There’s no clear definition. The man’s implication was that there should be some discernible difference between him and a terrorist at first glance. Is there expectation for appearance? Should all terrorists mirror Islamic extremists? The notion would discount domestic terrorists like Jared Lougher, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray.

My rather-obvious-but-never-repeated-enough point is that there is no defining “look” of a terrorist, aside from the desire to inflict chaos and violence on a particular population. Appearance has nothing to do with it.

nine comments

God, I just loved this post. It goes to the central issue of terrorism.

Nice work Matty.

They look like a person with dark skin, a big fuzzy beard, and a turban. But wait, isn’t that a sikh?

Funny enough though, this morning I just happened to be reading about the terror activities that the Jewish Defense League conducted in the US throughout the 1980’s. Yet no one associates Judaism with terrorism.

I may be splitting hairs, but can Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray really be considered terrorists? Assassins, certainly. I guess I could accept that Ray was a terrorist, because he was acting IOT inspire fear within a particular political movement, however I just don’t really view the Kennedy assassination as an act of terror.

Kelly, I am assigning you the task of defining who is a terrorist. Timothy McVeigh?

Check out this link by the Washington Monthly (H/T to Best Defense) about training police to find terrorists: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/feature..

What does a terrorist look like? 19th century anarchists, which weirdly enough, also have funny beards.

@ Kelly – great point on the assassins, especially since a lot of them are insane.

@ Kelly – I agree with Eric, great point on the assassins. I think I was in the mindset that assassinations are another way to spread terror.

Here are 19 examples:


Looking at the photo I’d have to conclude they’re all men.

Great post Matt. I deal with the same line of thinking at work all the time. What does an illegal alien look like? Hispanic, yes, but French, British, Somali, Iraqi, Chinese as well to name a few I’ve encountered.

Thanks Will. Nice parallel too.

Michael – so in other words, you’re assigning me my master’s thesis? I’ll start working on it.