Identity and Dialogue

The inequitableness of denying white terrorists their name

The inequitableness of denying white terrorists their name July 20, 2016

Dylan Roof's photo is from the Newyorker.

Undeniably, America still has problems finding words to qualify white people who themselves know they intend to terrorise minorities like black people, Muslims, LGBT communities. Anthea Butler wrote that “One of the most egregious terrorist acts in U.S. history was committed against a black church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. Four girls were killed when members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, a tragedy that ignited the civil rights movement.” This act is still remembered whenever the civil rights movement is mentioned. Nevertheless, that did not suffice to convince some people that some terrorists are white. Indeed, talking about the Charleston church shooting, Butler said that “[listening to] major media outlets, and [one] won’t hear the word “terrorism” used in coverage of [Charleston’s] shooting. The white, male suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, [is not] described as “a possible terrorist” by mainstream news organizations […]” It has become a habit to search for other possible descriptions of a white terrorist in order to avoid using the “T” word.

The UpFront presenter
Mehdi Hasan, referring to many white people, who should have been called terrorists but were refused the name, comparing them to “brown” people who committed much lesser offenses, mentioned Dylan Roof and how it was difficult for the American media or the FBI to call him a terrorist after he killed all those black people in Charleston, while Jubair Ahmad, an Pakistani-American was sentenced to twelve years in prison for making a Youtube video for the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Hasan gave another surprising example of how Jared Loughner, a white man who in 2011 shot and wounded Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed other six people, was just called anti-government activist, not a terrorist, and was charged for murder and attempted murder. The judge said that "the evidence clearly shows that he knew what he was doing, despite his mental illness". Hasan compares him to Javed Iqbal, a Brooklyn businessman who provided access to Hezbollah’s satellite channel and was sentenced to six years in prison. However, Robert Doggart planned to erase an entire Muslim community in New York but he was not put in jail directly. “Doggart, a former candidate for Congress in the 4th District, had focused on the Muslim community of Islamberg outside Hancock, N.Y., and tried to recruit "gunners" who would go with him to kill individuals there and destroy several buildings, including a mosque and a school.” Hasan compares him to Tarek Mehanna who was sentenced to 17 years in prison for translating Al Qaeda material. Although ‘the American Civil Liberties Union has said that the verdict against Tarek "undermines" free speech’ Caputi said that “Mehanna is being punished for his ideas, and the case against him stinks of a lynch-mob mentality. The Islamophobia that still grips the US has often resulted in a hysterical witch-hunt for "radical" Muslims, of which Tarek Mehanna is the most recent victim". To make it worse, some of the American Medias tend to affirm that terrorists are always Muslims. Brian Kilmeade, a Fox News TV presenter who said that “not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslim”. Mehdi Hasan ends the video giving the numbers of the victims of white supremacy comparing them to those of the victims of Islamists’ terrorism, the latter being twice as less as the former.

Nonetheless, the most abhorrently thoughtless statement came from
Richard Orange who said that to call “to call Breivik a “far-`right terrorist”, to speak of his radicalisation, and analyse the development of his ideology, is to give him exactly what he wants”. That is to show how even outside America, some white terrorist can kill over half a hundred people and still get denied the name they so much want to be associated with.

One might wonder about the need of all the fuss about calling white terrorists by their name. The point is that in the very recent past, the United States of America has deprived many people of their rights because they were thought to be terrorists. Extraordinary measures are used when interrogating them, such as waterboarding. If one could think for a moment that one of the people mentioned above should be “waterboarded”, then it becomes easier to understand the need of this kind of awareness: assigning a criminal activity to a particular race is unfair and exceedingly dangerous to the lives of countless of innocent members of that race. Think of
Ahmed Mohammed, the American teenager who was iniquitously put into custody in Texas for having invented a clock that looked suspicious to his teacher. That shows how much people come to associate members of an entire religion, race or ethnicity to a violent behaviour or action.

A survey done by
the Pew Research found that “a median of 50% across four Western European countries, the U.S. and Russia called Muslims violent and a median of 58% called them “fanatical,” but fewer used negative words like greedy, immoral or selfish. A median of just 22% of Westerners said Muslims are respectful of women, but far more said Muslims are honest (median of 51%) and generous (41%). That is highly revealing. Of course one should also not lose hope in an entire country. It could be thought that the majority of non-Muslim Americans think that they should consider Muslims differently from people from other religious traditions. However, “about six-in-ten Americans (61%) say Muslims living in the United States should not be subject to additional scrutiny solely because of their religion; [and only ] 32% say Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny than people in other religious groups. 

People may think that ideological wars are not as harsh as actual wars on battlefields. Some well-intentioned people get strained by a pattern of events that do actually not have much to do with a faith and slowly people of a whole nation, sometimes a generation, get swallowed by stereotypical attitudes towards those who seem to be different from them.

If it is easy to have such attitudes on Western soil, what should we expect when countries are unfairly invaded (yes, I mean Iraq in 2003) and many of its inhabitants are thought to be terrorists? I won’t even start talking about differences among white and less white “collateral damages”…

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