Calling something terrorism is undeniably powerful, but the word is used in such widely different ways that it often seems to mean little more than, “I condemn this utterly”. Whether it's being used loosely or specifically though, it has the function of setting the acts it describes as outside of reasonable consideration – it's often paired with words like “senseless”, “incomprehensible”, or “unimaginable”.
But terrorism is a strategy that's been used by almost all political tendencies at different times. As a strategy, it's not desperate or insane, the way the specific attacks often appear; terrorism has specific goals and groups using it aren't shy about articulating them. The goal of this text is to look at terrorism as a strategy, as a choice that rational people might make to achieve their goals. This gives us a stronger basis for rejecting it and also gets us beyond the shocked and decontextualized reactions we understandably have to scenes of violence, like the two attacks in Toronto.