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Is there a double standard on terrorism?

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

What is terrorism? Terrorism is seemingly a phenomenon of perspective, illustrated by the famous notion, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. It is very unclear what separates crimes with a terrorist background from any other crime of the same nature committed by anyone else as opposed to a terrorist group or a lone perpetrator. Currently, the United Nations has not agreed upon an internationally recognised definition of terrorism. This fact alone makes it clear that terrorism is merely a broad term that can be explored differently, depending on interpretation. Terrorism is usually motivated by political motives or ideologies.

When visualising a stereotypical terrorist, it comes to mind that the terrorist most probably would be male, brown-skinned with a long beard. Basically describing a typical Arab Muslim. Supporting this is research by The Washington Post, which attacks carried out by Muslims receive 357 percent more media attention than other attacks. Furthermore, when the attacker is of Muslim background, there’s an increased chance that the attack will be labelled as terrorism by a whopping 488 percent. Yet white males, who are then labelled as either “lone wolf” or “mentally ill”, carry out most shootings based on political motivation.

The recent attack in El Paso, primarily targeting Hispanic immigrants inside a shopping mall highlighted that often perpetrators of such attacks are driven by hate to commit such horrendous acts against other people. Should this be qualified as terrorism or should the attacker put into the box of mentally deranged gunmen? Quoting President Trump in his speech addressing the incident, he said: “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun”. This statement shows a clear unwillingness to label this attack as terrorism even though it was later discovered that the attacker was motivated by white nationalist ideology.

The rise of such hate crimes has increased rapidly by nationalist political parties blaming their country struggles and problems on immigrants. No exceptions therefrom are the policies of President Trump. Therefore, the atrocities from El Paso are also a form of terrorism as a group of people are targeted for their cultural background out of pure politically induced hate. Whilst President Trump might not be the direct reason for those attacks, he acts as an enabler for people who want to vent their anger, by giving those people clear targets. There have been plenty of generalisations and biased accusations during some time against Hispanic immigrants, referring to them as rapists, thieves and troublemakers.

When an attacker is Muslim, politicians and the media are very quick to jump to the conclusion that it is terrorism. There may be a double standard to label a Muslim a terrorist but when it comes to a non-Muslim there is hesitation and that the gunman is mentally deranged? Does that in a sarcastic way mean that Muslims may be immune to mental illness? Realistically, shouldn’t all attacks against innocent people be labelled as terrorism, regardless of the background and religious beliefs of the attacker?

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou indicates in his article on white supremacist terrorism that even though there are strict anti-terrorism laws in place in most countries since “9/11”, attackers driven by white nationalist ideology are not prosecuted under these same laws, despite it being possible to subsume the crime as terrorism. This is due to the fact that the public eye is rather focused on Muslims being terrorists than to examine attackers from other backgrounds. According to him, this in itself is a privileged treatment of white nationalists and thus an invisible form of racism.

The headlines in various news outlets highlight that issue further. For example, at the time of the “Charlie Hebdo Attack” the New York Times headline for the story was the following: “Terrorist strike Charlie Hebdo Newspaper in Paris, leaving 12 dead”. In stark contrast to another headline from the same publisher about the very recent attack in a Mosque in New Zealand: “In Christchurch, signs point to a gunman steeped in internet trolling.” Both were horrendous attacks and should be called out for what both are. Terrorism.

Marginalising groups of people, whether it may be in the East or the West, will only fuel hatred and create a breeding space for terrible acts of terror. Terrorism has no face, gender, skin tone or religion. Shouldn’t all crimes of that same nature be treated and portrayed equally to end this double standard on terrorism?

Written by: Tahir Pardhan

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