Following the horrific murders of three Muslim North Carolina residents in mid-February, the Palestinian National Authority has condemned the attack as “terrorism” and requested that U.S. law enforcement allow its own investigators to participate in the case. The PA is not the only party labeling the murders as terror attacks and a hate crime. Multiple sources have called for the crime to be labeled as such, including Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan, who called out President Obama for his silence. (He has since released a statement calling the murders “brutal and outrageous.”)

The FBI is now involved, and so far the preliminary investigation has concluded that the shootings were carried out as a result of a dispute over a parking space. That will not be debated here, but exemplifies the power of words and labels, and how, in this age of social media, hashtags, and a 24-hour media that bombards us with its own spin on any given story, those simple words can literally mean the difference between life and death.

According to the U.S. State Department’s website, a foreign government is designated as a state sponsor of terrorism under the following circumstances:

“Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.”

As of today, according to the site, four countries are currently designated at state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Given the thawed relations with Cuba, that designation may change, and while there is a lot more to it than just simply deleting a name from a list, it does adequately portray the weight that the words on that simple list carry.

In March of 1982, when the State Department made the decision to place Cuba on the list, the repercussions for the Caribbean nation included sanctions comprised of a ban on U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales, certain controls over exports of dual-use items, and miscellaneous financial restrictions. The sanctions did not cause Cuba to implode, but it did cause some hardships.

Governments are not the only organizations playing the word game. Recently, the Ukrainian-American Bar Association posted an open letter demanding that the United States designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, based on its actions pertaining to the ongoing war in the Ukraine. The letter specifically cites the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, and says that it is “clear that these alleged “separatists” are supported, controlled, guided, trained, and armed with extremely deadly weapons by the Russian government. One of these Russian supplied weapons—a BUK S11 SAM missile launcher—brought down Malaysian flight 17.”

The United States has, to this point, been largely inactive on events in the Ukraine and against Russia. Speeches have been made, meetings held, and words exchanged, but nothing of substance has taken place that would make Russia pause or halt its actions. The consequences of this inaction, justified or not, is evident in the continued slaughter and emboldened moves by Russia in the region.