Colorado Shooting Highlights Double Standards on Defining Terrorism
by Sheila Musaji
Do we have an agreed upon definition of terrorism?
Here is the FBI definition of terrorism:
There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).
The FBI further describes terrorism as either domestic or international, depending on the origin, base, and objectives of the terrorist organization. For the purpose of this report, the FBI will use the following definitions:
■Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.
■International terrorism involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any state. These acts appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping. International terrorist acts occur outside the United States or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to coerce or intimidate, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.
The FBI Divides Terrorist-Related Activities into Two Categories:
■A terrorist incident is a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, in violation of the criminal laws of the United States, or of any state, to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
■A terrorism prevention is a documented instance in which a violent act by a known or suspected terrorist group or individual with the means and a proven propensity for violence is successfully interdicted through investigative activity.
Note: The FBI investigates terrorism-related matters without regard to race, religion, national origin, or gender. Reference to individual members of any political, ethnic, or religious group in this report is not meant to imply that all members of that group are terrorists. Terrorists represent a small criminal minority in any larger social context.
Here is how Federal law defines the term “domestic terrorism” in Federal Code 113B:
Any act which (A) Involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended - (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by Intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
It seems as if we have a working definition of terrorism, and yet we do not apply that term consistently.
Who is a terrorist?
Here are just a few examples of a seeming confusion about applying this label:
— Texas Conressman Michael McCaul introduced HR 1270 asking that the various Mexican drug cartels be deemed officially as terrorist groups. There has been debate about this bill.
— When Joseph Stack flew his plane into an IRS building, he left a note making it clear he was motivated by anger toward the IRS, and what he considered an unfair system of taxation that unfairly favored the wealthy, this would make his actions both “suicide terrorism”, and an act of “domestic terrorism”, but there was a huge debate about whether or not it was terrorism.
— Jared Loughner, the Arizona shooter who was described as a “political radical” who expressed a fondness for Hitler and a hatred for the government was not called a terrorist for his shooting attack at a political event that left 6 dead, and 13 wounded including a U.S. Congresswoman.
Only a few terrorists that are not Muslims or members of other minorities, for example, Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, Anders Breivik, and a few others are usually referred to as terrorists. Why?
Are all, or most terrorists Muslims?
It is clear that most terrorists are NOT Muslims. In our TAM article Claim that All Terrorists are Muslims Ignores History there is a great deal of information about real data. Here is a very partial list of “isolated incidents” by non-Muslim “lone wolves” who have plotted or committed terrorist acts in the U.S. since 2000.
- Ray H. Adams - Jim D. Adkisson - Alabama Free Militia (5 arrested) - Chad Altman - The Animal Liberation Front - Samuel Arrington - Jonathan A. Avery - Sergio Baca - Daniel L. & Sharon Renee Barefoot (6 KKK members) - Philip Bay - John Patrick Bedell - Brent Vincent Betterly - Birmingham militia - Tyler Brehm - Kody Brittingham - Christopher Brooks - Jared & Erica Chase - Seung-Hui Cho - Brian Church (3 anarchists) - Daniel Cowart (white power skinhead) - Cody Crawford - Demetrius Van Crocker (white supremacist) - Samuel J. Crump - James Cummings - Matthew L. Derosia - John Earl - Earth Liberation Front - Paul Ross Evans - Marcus & Patricia Faella (neo-Nazi, American Front 17) - Leo Felton - David Anthony Fuselier (and 4 other KKK members) - Marvin G. Gautier - One Goh - Robert Goldstein - Anthony Graziano - Matt Hale (World Church of the Creator) - Jeffrey Harbin (NSM) - Kevin William Hardham - Robert Hawkins - Christopher Hecker - Lucas John Helder - Rev. Neal Horsley - James Holmes - Darren Wesley Huff - Patricia Hughes and Jeremy Dunahoe - David Hull (PA KKK) - Hutaree “Christian warrior” militia. - Idaho Mountain Militia Boys - Vadim Ignatov - Bruce Ivins - Paul Jackson - Samuel James Johnson (white supremacist) - Jerry and Joe Kane (sovereign citizens) - Joseph Konopka (anarchists) - William Krar = Earl Krugel (JDL) - T.J. Lane - John Francis Lechner - James J. Lee - Ray Lazier Lengend - Ryan Daniel Lewis - Thomas Hayward Lewis - Jared Lee Loughner - Donny Love, Sr. - Keith Luke - Dennis & Daniel Mahon - Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez - Jonathan Maynard - Jennifer McGowan - Kent McLellan - Richard McLaren (Texas militia) - David McMenemy - Justin Carl Moose - Dallin Morgan, and Joshua Hogan - Donny Eugene Mower - Gail Nettles - Dustin Perry - Robert Pickett - Richard Andrew Poplawski - Project 7 - J.T. Ready - Charles Carl Roberts IV - Dan Roberts - Daniel & Timothy Robinson - Scott Roeder - Bobby Joe Rogers - Irv Rubin (JDL) - Daniel James Schertz - Paul Schlesselman - Kyle Shaw - Joseph Stack - Richard Stockdale - Roger Stockham - Rossie L. Strickland - Texas Militia - Frederick Thomas (GA militia) - John Thomas - Joseph Benjamin Thomas (Aryan Liberation Movement) - Bruce and Joshua Turnidge (“Patriot” movement) - Mark David Uhl - Jomar Falu Vives - James Wenneker von Brunn - Lonnie Vernon and 4 others - Clayton Waagner (Army of God) - Jeffrey Weise - Byron Williams - Douglas Wright - Alexander Robert Youshock.
Some of these only plotted terrorist acts, some of them actually carried out bombings, poisonings, arson, murder and other acts of violence. Some of them were white supremacists, some anarchists, some extremist environmental or animal activists, some of them were religious extremists. Some of them specifically cited Christianity of Judaism or their interpretation of particular beliefs of those faiths for why they carried out their actions. Their targets included law enforcement, government representatives, judges, mosques, synagogues, churches, abortion doctors, ordinary people, etc. Some of these were suicide attacks.
Is there a double standard in identifying acts of terrorism?
Although, it is clear that most terrorists are NOT Muslims, the only investigations into radicalization of individuals to violence have been aimed only at American Muslims. For example:
— Rep. Peter King’s hearings, which seem to go on an on. [see below for a whole series of articles we have published on TAM discussing these hearings]
— Rep. Allen West’s conference “Homegrown Jihad in the USA: Culmination of the Muslim Brotherhood’s 50-year History of Infiltrating America,”
— State Senator Greg Ball’s hearing titled “Reviewing our Preparedness: An Examination of New York’s Public Protection Ten Years After September 11” which had “Sharia” as an agenda item and included testimony by known Islamophobes.[/url]
Such hearings have focused only on Muslim perpetrators. And, when Rep. King was specifically asked to broaden the scope to include all radicalization no matter its source - he refused. In fact, his response was “To include other groups, such as neo-Nazis and extreme environmentalists in this hearing would be extraneous and diffuse its efficacy. It would also send the false message that our Committee believes that there is any threat equivalency between these disparate groups and Islamist terrorism. Very simply, the Committee cannot ignore the fact that al Qaeda is actively attempting to recruit individuals living within the Muslim American community to commit acts of terror…I will not allow political correctness to obscure a real and dangerous threat to the safety and security of the citizens of the United States.”
After the Joseph Stack case, Glenn Greenwald wrote an important article Terrorism: the most meaningless and manipulated word. I recommend reading the entire article which has many references. In that article, Greenwald said:
... The New York Times‘ Brian Stelter documents the deep reluctance of cable news chatterers and government officials to label the incident an act of “terrorism,” even though — as Dave Neiwert ably documents — it perfectly fits, indeed is a classic illustration of, every official definition of that term. The issue isn’t whether Stack’s grievances are real or his responses just; it is that the act unquestionably comports with the official definition.
... All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon. The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity. It has really come to mean: ”a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies.” That’s why all of this confusion and doubt arose yesterday over whether a person who perpetrated a classic act of Terrorism should, in fact, be called a Terrorist: he’s not a Muslim and isn’t acting on behalf of standard Muslim grievances against the U.S. or Israel, and thus does not fit the “definition.” One might concede that perhaps there’s some technical sense in which term might apply to Stack, but as Fox News emphasized: it’s not “terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to . . . terrorism in that capital T way.” We all know who commits terrorism in “that capital T way,” and it’s not people named Joseph Stack.
Contrast the collective hesitance to call Stack a Terrorist with the extremely dubious circumstances under which that term is reflexively applied to Muslims. ...
There seems to be a double standard not only in relation to which acts, or which perpetrators are defined as terrorists, but also with what constitutes “aiding” or “providing material support” to terrorists, and how such acts will be punished.
Here are a few examples:
In the article Tarek Mehanna, Hutaree, MEK, & Kevin Forts: One of these is not like the others?, I noted that: Tarek Mehanna, an American Muslim from Boston was found guilty of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq, providing material support to al-Qaida, and making false statements to officials investigating terrorism. He was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison. It seems that his material support for terrorism consisted of posting translations of documents online, and of saying that Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan were justified in fighting back against occupation soldiers. ... There appears to be a double standard operating openly in regard to what might be considered “material support for terrorism”. And, the difference between how Tarek Mehanna was treated and at least three other current cases is illustrative of that double standard.
In the same article, I noted that: “Currently, the terrorist Anders Breivik is on trial in Norway. There is no question that he committed a brutal act of terror leading to the deaths of many innocent civilians, mostly young people at a summer camp. Der Spiegel published an article this week Mass Murderer’s American Pen Pal: ‘I Dream of Meeting Breivik’. The article is about Kevin Forts of Worcester, Massachusetts and an interview he did with the Norwegian paper VG expressing support for Breivik and his terrorist act. ... Forts openly supports Breivik, justifies the murder of children calling it “necessary” and calling the murders “executions”, and engages in direct correspondence with the terrorist. Breivik himself writes to Forts that he is “thinking about how we can work together.” That is a truly scary prospect.”
Mehanna is in prison, nothing happened to Kevin Forts.
Rep. Peter King’s IRA/terrorist connections are discussed in the article Does Rep. King’s IRA/Terrorist Connection Matter? in which I noted a number of articles and sources documenting such connections. Here are just a few key points: Rep. King praised the IRA saying “the moral standing of the IRA is equal to that of the British army.” King said, the terrorist movement was “the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland.” In the 1980s, King was a prominent fundraiser for Noraid, the Irish-American organization that raised money for the IRA and was suspected of running guns to Ulster. He praised the “brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry”. Peter Finn, an Irish journalist reporting on King and the IRA is worth quoting: “In 1985, the Irish government boycotted the St. Patrick’s Day parade in NYC, the biggest celebration in the Irish-American calendar. The cause of its umbrage was Peter King, that year’s grand marshal and someone the Irish government said was an “avowed” supporter of a terrorist organization, the Irish Republican Army. King, then a local politician on Long Island, was one of the most zealous American defenders of the militant IRA and its campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland. He (King) argued that IRA violence was an inevitable response to British repression and that the organization had to be understood in the context of a centuries-long struggle for independence. “The British government is a murder machine,” King said. He described the IRA, which mastered the car bomb as an instrument of urban terror, as a “legitimate force.” And he compared Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, to George Washington. ... “My problem with him is the hypocrisy,” said Tom Parker, a counter-terrorism specialist at Amnesty International who was injured by an IRA bomb that struck a birthday party at a military hall in London in 1990. “If you say that terrorist violence is acceptable in one setting because you happen to agree with the cause, then you lose the authority to condemn it in another setting.”
During the uproar over the Park51/Cordoba House community center last year, this same Rep. Peter King called for a “full investigation” of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf because Rauf refused to publicly call Hamas a “terrorist organization.” Imam Rauf hadn’t expressed suport for a terrorist organization, he hadn’t lobbied to get it removed from a terrorist list, he hadn’t accepted money from them, or attended or spoken at their events - but simply because he hadn’t publicly called them a “terrorist organization”, Rep. King thinks he deserves a “full investigation”. I think it is time to demand the same standards of our elected officials and representatives
I wrote an article The MEK and terrorism double standards noting that ... it is difficult to understand why it is that elected representatives, and government officials of the U.S. government could support and/or work with, and accept money from the MEK, which is a designated terrorist organization, freely and openly. ... In addition to all of this open support for a terrorist group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) ran this ad on American television calling for its removal from the State Department’s list of terrorist organization. Former Gov. Ed Rendell, Tom Ridge, and former Mayor Rudy Guiliani are mong the people appearing in the ad. Can anyone imagine any other designated terrorist organization being allowed to purchase television advertising?
Is there a double standard in applying a religious designation to the perpetrator or act of terrorism?
When the perpetrator is a Muslim, the crime is immediately defined not only as “terrorism”, but as “Islamic terrorism”, thus blaming the entire religion and casting suspicion on all Muslims. Even in those cases where the act has clearly been “political terrorism” or some other form of terrorism, with no religious motivation, the religion of the perpetrator is included in the description, only if that person is a Muslim.
There are two main categories of terrorism: International terrorism and domestic terrorism. Some acts of terrorism are subdivided into smaller categories such as “domestic terrorism”, “political terrorism”, “eco terrorism”, “anti-government terrorism”, or other designations which refer to the specific motivation claimed by the perpetrator.
The religion of the perpetrator is only of importance if religion is found to be the motivating factor in any particular case, and we want to be able to sort out, for example “religious terrorism” from “eco terrorism” then it might make sense to use a defining term like “religious terrorism”. If it is important to further break that down by signifying the particular religion claimed by the terrorist, then, it might make sense to say “religious terrorism/Christian” or “religious terrorism/Muslim” which at least has the advantage of putting the focus on the individual(s) who carried out the act, and not the entire religion.
In no case when the perpetrator was a Christian or a Jew, even when they claimed their religion as a justification, have they been called “Christian terrorists” or “Jewish terrorists”, or the act called “Christian terrorism” or “Jewish terrorism”. It would be wrong to call such acts Christian or Jewish terrorism, just as it is wrong to call such acts Islamic terrorism. We need to clarify our terminology and apply it in the same way in all cases.
For example Justin Carl Moose plotted to bomb abortion clinics, and according to the FBI, he referred to himself as the “Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden”. That may make Moose a “Christian terrorist”, but it does not make his plot an act of “Christian terrorism”. Eric Rudolph, the Olympic bomber, planted bombs at the1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, two abortion clinics, and a gay nightclub to advance a religious ideology. That makes Rudolph a “Christian terrorist”, but it does not make his terrorist act an act of “Christian terrorism”. It is “religious terrorism/Christian”.
Malik Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter, committed an act of domestic terrorism, and his motivation for and justification of his act seems to have been a perverted interpretation of Islam. It would therefore be reasonable to call him a “Muslim terrorist”, but not to call his act an act of “Islamic terrorism”.
It is important that we come up with clear definitions and terms for the various kinds of terrorist acts, and their perpetrators, and apply those terms in a fair and accurate way. The terminology I suggest may be a little awkward, and someone may have thoughts on a better way to distinguish between the actions of an individual and a generalization that blames an entire religion for that action.
We already have many tools to utilize to carry out such an effort. There are many Existing Reports, Polls, and Studies on Radicalization. As long ago as 2008, the U.S. State Department approved a new counterterrorism lexicon for diplomats. The report, “Words that Work and Words that Don’t: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication,” offers specific directives, such as: don’t use terms such as “jihadist” or “holy warrior” because it legitimizes bin Laden’s followers, but also don’t use terms such as “Islamo-fascism,” which offends everyone else by associating Islam with fascism. You can view the full report here. UPI reports “Urging officials not to use the word Islam in conjunction with terrorism, the guide notes that, “Although the al-Qaida network exploits religious sentiments and tries to use religion to justify its actions, we should treat it as an illegitimate political organization, both terrorist and criminal.” Instead of calling terror groups Muslim or Islamic, the guide suggests using words like totalitarian, terrorist or violent extremist—“widely understood terms that define our enemies appropriately and simultaneously deny them any level of legitimacy.”
A report entitled TERMINOLOGY TO DEFINE THE TERRORISTS: RECOMMENDATIONS FROM AMERICAN MUSLIMS was considered by the State Department in preparing their report. The PDF of this document can be read here. From the conclusion of this report: “Words matter. The terminology the USG uses should convey the magnitude of the threat we face, but also avoid inflating the religious bases and glamorous appeal of the extremists’ ideology. Instead, USG terminology should depict the terrorists as the dangerous cult leaders they are. They have no honor, they have no dignity, and they offer no answers. While acknowledging that they have the capacity to destroy, we should constantly emphasize that they cannot build societies, and do not provide solutions to the problems people across the globe face.”
Do the perpetrators motives influence whether or not an act is considered terrorism?
If a person is a “lone wolf”, a “loner”, an “isolated case”, someone with “mental problems”, or experiencing “family problems” like a divorce or job loss, or eviction from their home — do any of those circumstances change the fact that they may also be terrorists? If the motive for the act is not political or religious, but crime related does that make the act any less an act of terrorism if the goal is to frighten or intimidate the population? If Anders Breivik, who committed a terrorist act, and is a Christian, is crazy, does that mean that his terrible massacre would not be considered terrorism? If Maj. Nidal Hassan who committed a terrorist act, and is a Muslim, is crazy, does that mean that that act is no longer terrorism?
The ADL says about terrorism: Terrorism is not something that derives its meaning only from the cause that it is meant to serve. Rather, terrorism is a method that is used by some organizations to advance their goals. People who fashion themselves to be “freedom fighters” can be terrorists as can drug dealers. When a person decides to blow himself up on a crowded bus some may conceive of him as a “freedom fighter,” but what is clear beyond any doubt is that this person is also a “terrorist” engaged in an “act of terrorism” that is (in most instances) being sponsored by a “terrorist organization” that in virtually every respect made their murderous action possible.
The Aurora Colorado case highlights all of these questions!
An ABC News story on the tragedy contained two items of information that they must have felt were important: The number of casualties makes the incident the largest mass shooting in U.S. history - and, “this act does not appear to be linked to radical terrorism or anything related to Islamic terrorism,”
Nick Martin wrote an article on TPM attempting to understand what might have motivated a person like Holmes to carry out such a terrible act. Within that story was this sentence: Holmes graduated from Westview High School in San Diego in 2006, a school district spokeswoman, Tina McDowell, told TPM. His neighbors described him as a shy, Presbyterian churchgoing teen.
According to the Times of Israel, Holmes also worked as a counselor at a Jewish-run camp for children. The article also mentions that he is not Jewish, but was active in the Presbyterian Church.
From these three articles (and thousands of others) we know that: — this is one of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history — this act is not linked to radical or Islamic terrorism — Holmes was a churchgoing white Presbyterian and was not Jewish or Muslim. —He planned this for months, and would have killed more people if his weapon hadn’t jammed. — He might have taken out hundreds more people if the bombs in his extensively booby trapped apartment had gone off.
How is it that the information about whether or not he was “linked to ‘Islamic’ terrorism” (that is, a Muslim) is important to know, but the fact that he was a “churchgoing Presbyterian” is simply an aside and has no significance? What is relevant?
What if Holmes were a Muslim? What if the perpetrator was named Mohammed Holmes? What if Holmes were a Black man, or an immigrant? What if he was an Arab? Would any of these facts change the media discussion about possible motives or sources of his radicalization? If he was an Arab/Muslim/minority would he be called a terrorist? Why doesn’t anyone want to know what church he went to, or what the Pastor was teaching? Most of the articles so far written discuss Holmes as being a “lone wolf”, a “loner”, an “isolated case”, someone with “mental problems”.
At least, in this particular case, only a few truly crazy sites attempted to link Holmes to Islam. The Roman Catholic Imperialist declared emphatically “James Holmes is a Muslim convert”. Ethan Casey on the Huffington Post responded to such nonsense in an article The Colorado killer is not a Muslim.
It is almost surprising that a false connection has not been made to Islam, as such connections, no matter how tenuous are usually raised. Here are just a few examples:
— Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter was falsely connected to Islam because his father had worked in Saudi Arabia (before he was born).
— Joel Hinrichs was connected because he had a Pakistani roommate and lived a block from the campus mosque, and had been seen walking through the mosque parking lot, which caused some to call his actions an example of “sudden jihad syndrome”.
— A Muslim doctor had a heart attack and died, while driving. His car crashed into a shopping mall - before any facts were in he was accused of having been engaged in “vehicular” jihad by Islamophobes who use the terms jihad and terrorism interchangeably and muddy the waters even more. See Thank God Someone Is Listening to Us - Terrorism Is Not Jihad for more on the importance of using these words correctly
— Tyler Brehm the Hollywood shooter was described as a “terrorist” and a “jihadist” based on one report of something a Philippino witness thought he heard him say. Brehm was also a Presbyterian.
The crazies did attempt to place the blame in strange places. Infowars posted an article which claimed “This is not your run-of-the-mill crime of passion. It was a carefully planned, heavily funded and technically advanced attack. Who might be behind all this? The FBI, of course, which has a long history of setting up and staging similar attacks, then stopping them right before they happen.” Rep. Louis Gohmert said that the Colorado shooting “had ties to “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” He also said “It does make me wonder, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?” Former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce made almost identical comments about guns as Gohmert. It seems to me that a bunch of people shooting in a dark theater full of families and children would have been even more devastating. What could go wrong with that counter-terrorism measure?
Derek McGinty reported on the Colorado shooting, that his first reaction was “at least it’s not a terror attack”, and then he thought about it: Then it hit me. Yes…it is. James Holmes is just the latest Sueng Wi Cho at Virginia Tech. Jared Lee Loughner shooting congresswoman Gabby Giffords. terrorists. They’re just our terrorists. But imagine if these guys did work for Al queada we wouldn’t be sad…we’d be furious..and there’d be hearings and congressmembers racing to write new laws to stop the madness. But…When its just a so-called lone wolf… We shrug our shoulders and figure..nothing can be done.
McGinty was not the only one who was confused about what to call this act. It is is not being called terrorism in almost any media reports, or by government or law enforcement officials. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper did say that there is no doubt in his mind that the shooting was an example of domestic terrorism. The FBI, however, says there is no indication that the shooting incident in Aurora, Colorado is tied to any terrorist groups.
James Sirota wrote an article Call it terrorism in which he said:
Not surprisingly, police and reporters have been quick to tell us the opposite — that the suspected shooter was likely just a “lone wolf” and that “this act does not appear to be linked to radical terrorism or anything related to Islamic terrorism,” as ABC News put it. This newspeak is supposed to reassure us that this is anything but terrorism — that terrorism is something that happens only in faraway places or huge cosmopolitan cities, not in an Anytown, USA, in the American heartland; that terrorism never comes at the hands of a “24-year-old white American male” named “James Holmes”; it comes only at the hands of dark-skinned “evildoers” with hard-to-pronounce names; that terrorism comes only from calculating operatives who represent organized political interests, not from “crazy” individuals who calculatedly act on their own ideology or psychopathy. In this, we are expected to be sedated by such reassurances, to ignore the ever-growing list of such “lone wolves,” and to reject a much wider definition of terrorism, no matter how much the reality of shooting after shooting after shooting screams at us to accept it.
But with bodies strewn across an Aurora movie theater and a nation clearly terrorized, we must ask: what is terrorism, if it is not a man in a riot mask and bullet-proof vest, armed with tear gas canisters and weapons, meticulously executing a military-style assault on a crowded movie theater?
Confronting that question, of course, is mind-bending and painful — in the age of “War on Terror” agitprop that purposely defines terrorism in one specific, narrow and politically convenient way, it’s akin to the cognitive difficulty of pondering the size of the universe … or, perhaps, death itself. It takes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to consider the causes of all kinds of extremism and violence — not just the foreign Islamic kind that we so flippantly write off as alien. Indeed, at a time when so many bloodlusting Americans cheer on our government proudly assassinating the imams who allegedly inspire Muslim terrorism, a shooting like this (if, indeed, it had nothing to do with Islamic extremism) begs us to wonder why we don’t feel similarly bellicose or enraged at the inspirations fueling so many other forms of terrorism — whatever those inspirations may be.
These contradictions and omissions, of course, are why such a question will almost certainly be ignored in the now-practiced kabuki theater of horror porn — the kind where vote-seeking politicians issue meaningless platitudes, ratings-stalking reporters breathlessly recount the gory details and attention-starved pundits preen in front of cameras to prognosticate about the electoral implications of mass murder in a presidential swing state. Carefully avoiding the T-word, it is a conspiracy of distraction and reduction, playing to our reflexive desire for soothing diversions and simple answers. The conspirators expect that when the cameras eventually pan away from the cataclysm, we will slip back into hyper-sleep for another few weeks, until the next massacre hits, and then the cycle will begin anew.
Their expectations are, sadly, probably correct — but with a theater full of innocent victims in a square-state suburb, they don’t have to be, nor should they be.
Sirota’s article raises the questions that many Arabs and Muslims are also raising. A number of Arab and Muslim sites, in the U.S. and overseas are discussing these questions. The National Arab American Journalists Association Blog has a post that is representative White Terrorist James Holmes—what, no demonization of “his” people? that opens with You can bet your last Falafel that if James Holmes were Abdullah Arak, or some Middle Easterner, the United States would be on the brink of racist chaos and the media would be stoking the flames of hatred using its worthless newsprint.
The questions have been asked before, for example Dean Obeidallah wrote What if Jared Loughner were a Muslim? when the Loughner case was playing out, in which he said:
If you are a typical white person, I would imagine your initial response was relief the suspect was caught, and an attempt to make sense of why he committed this horrible crime. But if you are Muslim or of Arab heritage, your reaction to the news of the arrest was likely: “Please don’t let him be Arab ... please don’t let him be Muslim.” Believe me, that was my reaction.
This reaction in not unique to American Arabs and Muslims—most minorities in America have a similar response when a horrific crime has been committed and the identity of the suspect is still unknown. We desperately don’t want the person to be one of “us,” for fear that our entire minority group will suffer a backlash. I doubt any white people hope a suspect isn’t one of them—it’s just not relevant. They don’t suffer as a group because of the actions of a few bad white people such as Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph.
Americans are trying to figure out why someone committed this heinous act. Was it because he was ostracized by society, or because his parents didn’t hug him enough? But let’s be brutally honest. If the suspect’s name wasn’t Jared but was Jamil or Mahmud instead, America’s reaction might have been different. What if a Muslim-American had made anti-government statements and shot a U.S. congresswoman at a political event?
... Why can’t a Muslim-American be considered a crazed lone gunman? I’m not a psychiatrist, but I doubt mental illness distinguishes between religions. And why is that every time a white American commits a horrible act—be it flying a plane into an IRS building or attacking a Muslim cab driver in New York City because he is opposed the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero—the presumption is that he is not a terrorist, just a poor delusional guy who has lost his mind. ... If a Muslim-American is a terrorist under U.S. law, I have no problem applying that label, if the same goes for a non-Muslim. Note: Dean Obeidallah has also written about the current Colorado shooting case Why isn’t the Colorado shooter considered a Terrorist?
It’s time to ask serious questions and look for real solutions
We have a problem - Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, immigrants, rich, poor, educated, .... We have a problem and if we are to find a solution we will need to first analyze the problem and try to understand where this violence is coming from. The problem is not with any particular religious, ethnic, or racial group as the violence cuts across all of these lines. We have too many people who think that the solution to their problems is violence, and because of that we have too many families suffering the loss of their innocent loved ones.
If we are to have any chance of solving this very real problem we need to stop wasting time pointing fingers of blame at superficial characteristics of the perpetrators based on nothing more than prejudice, stereotyping, and a tendency to look for easy answers. All this does is take time and energy away from actually looking for solutions, and in the process we should be concerned with right now with helping the victims families.
In an article Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism, I said
We are violent, not only with each other but with the environment, and even with our spiritual selves. We are one human race but isolate ourselves from each other through fear, suspicion and selfishness. We have broken our ties with the natural order and with each other. Our beliefs may be different but our suffering and sorrow are shared. Too often, we excuse “our” violence and condemn “their” violence (whether individual or state) in the name of ethnicity, culture, politics, self-defense, religion,— but, no matter the “reason” or excuse, the end result is the same, more death and destruction. ... We need to regain our consciousness to be aware of our connection to each other— to care about not only what happens to US but what happens to THEM. We need to recognize violence in all its forms. We recognize war and murder as violence. We need to recognize poverty, hunger, homelessness, racism, prejudice and all forms of intolerance, bigotry and injustice against any people anywhere as acts of violence which damage the human spirit, and to understand that we cannot have peace as long as these acts of violence continue. ... Somehow we need to find a way of coalescing our mutual desire to do better so that together we can give voice to our need to: bring light to our hearts instead of vengeance; pray instead of beating war drums, ad to send love into the world to fill it with healing, caring, and kindness, rather than the current anger that will only continue to increase the darkness and Godless, soulless actions. If we were all to focus the enormous energy of our shared sorrow about our current predicament into building a better world, we could accomplish something ......... We keep making the same mistakes over and over, and one of the most dangerous of these mistakes has been to define the problem by its manifestations rather than its causes. The root cause is a spiritual void.
Banning black trenchcoats as some schools did after Columbine won’t solve anything, neither will attempting to make one community a scapegoat for all of the ills of our society. Assuming that every Muslim, or every Korean, or every (fill in the blank) is somehow responsible for a particular action committed by someone belonging to their group, or can explain what goes on in a sick mind, or should apologize for something they had no control over is bigotry.
Focusing on only one source of terrorism and ignoring others makes us all less safe.
Here is an email that I received after the Hollywood shooting from one of the folks who took the false Islamophobic characterization of that crime to be an act of terrorism that came from “sudden jihad syndrome”. This email points to the very real effect such bigoted terminology has on the general public. “We dont want your kind here..we dont need your radical opinions..we want you out of our beautiful country and back to your camels and women beating and hostile islamic bullshit..you arent part of the human race as far as we’re concerned..you belong on another planet where you can blow shit up…LEAVE!!!! I hope and pray that all you radical assholes are buried in hell…you are not welcome or wanted in U.S. soil, unless its 6 feet under..go back and wash your fucking camels and beat your women..die motherfuckers, die!!!!”
Such emails are not “isolated incidents”. I regularly receive such hateful messages, and so does any Muslim who is active in any way in public discussion of such issues.
2011 Annual Report: Zero Civilians in U.S. Killed by Islamic Terrorism… Just Like Every Year Since, Danios http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/annual-report-zero-civilians-in-u.s.-killed-by-islamic-terrorism8230-just-l
17,000 “Islamic terrorist” attacks exist only in fevered Islamophobic brains, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/17000_islamic_terrorist_attacks_exist_in_fevered_islamophobic_brains
A terrorist by any other name, Jon Pahl http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=27612&lan=en&sid=1&sp=0&isNew=1
Actually, Many Muslim Terrorists Are as Unbalanced as Jared Loughner, Cord Jefferson http://www.good.is/post/like-jared-loughner-many-muslim-terrorists-suffer-from-mental-health-issues/
Call the Colorado shootings what they were: terrorism, Dawinder Sidhu http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-colorado-shooting-terrorism-20120724,0,285198.story
Citizens for National Security and Rep. Allen West Bring Islamophobia to Congress, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/cfns
Claim that all terrorists are Muslims ignores history, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/claim_that_all_terrorists_are_muslims_ignores_history
Florida terrorism arrest follows tip from local Muslims, MPAC http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/florida-terrorism-arrest-follows-tip-from-local-muslims
Homegrown Terrorism, Sahar Aziz http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/speech-at-duke-university
Hutaree Militia Arrests Point to Tripling of Militias since 2008 http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2010/0329/Hutaree-militia-arrests-point-to-tripling-of-militias-since-2008
Hutaree Christian Militia, Not an Isolated Phenomena, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/hutaree_christian_militia_not_an_isolated_phenomena
PETER KING’S HEARINGS:
On TAM we have published a number of articles on Rep. Peter King’s Hearings and related U.S. government and military hearings and training that most American Muslims consider to be Islamophobic: TAM has an article The American Muslim Community and Rep. Peter King’s “Islamic” Radicalization Hearings which has a great deal of background on Peter King and these hearings, which includes an extensive article collection. We also have a series of articles breaking down various aspects of the hearings.
- Peter King’s Hearing: What Was the Point? discussing the content of the hearings, with a collection of articles written after the hearing ended.
- Peter King’s Civics Lesson for American Muslims which has a collection of anti-Muslim statements by elected representatives and government officials made during and before the hearings.
- Existing reports and studies on radicalization in the American Muslim Community and Polls, Surveys, and Statistics Relating to Islam and Muslims with actual hard evidence so lacking in the hearing.
- Response of Civic Organizations and Interfaith Community to “Muslim Radicalization” Hearings
- Elected Representatives & Government Officials Who HAVE Questioned Islamophobia with quotes from elected representives and government officials attempting to counter the bias of this hearing both during and before the hearing.
- Peter King’s hearing: witness testimonies - allegations but no facts
- Peter King’s Fourth Hearing Targets Muslims in the Military
- Peter King’s Fifth Hearing With “Astroturf” Muslim Witnesses
- Zuhdi Jasser and AIFD - Identified by Rep. King as the Ideal American Muslim Leadership
- Does Rep. King’s IRA/Terrorist Connection Matter?
- Answers to Peter King’s Claims About the American Muslim Community which lays out all of his claims and allegations and provides detailed answers to each. (e.g. Do Muslims cooperate with law enforcement? Do Muslims speak out against terrorism and extremism? Are most Muslims terrorists? Are 80 to 85% of mosques run by radicals? Have American Muslim organizations responded to the issue of radicalization? Are mosques the source of radicalization? etc.)
- The scope of Rep. Kings Hearings Creates Homeland “in"Security
- National Faith Leaders to Protest Anti-Muslim Hearings
- Rep. Peter King’s Muslim Phobia
- Claim that all terrorists are Muslims ignores history
- The NYPD, the CIA, and “The Third Jihad”
- Islamophobia no longer questioned - even by our elected representatives
- GOP Anti-Muslim Limbo: They’ve Lowered the Bar Again!
- The GOP Anti-Muslim Limbo: How Low Can They Go?
- White House Releases “New” Counter-terrorism Strategy: Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States
- Where is the U.S. Government Getting It’s Information on Islam and Muslims?
All of these articles will be updated as further information comes in, and there will be more articles in this series.
The MEK and terrorism double standards, Sheila Musaji (with TAM article collection on MEK) http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/some-terrorist-groups
Militia Movement: Extremism in America, ADL http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/militia_m.asp?xpicked=4&item=19
Militias Seen as Gaining Strength http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-04-16-militia-movement-on-the-rise_N.htm
Officials See Rise In Militia Groups Across US, Eileen Sullivan http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/12/officials-see-rise-in-mil_n_257128.html
Oklahoma City bombing: Is 1995 repeating itself today?, Peter Grier http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0419/Oklahoma-City-bombing-Is-1995-repeating-itself-today
Sarah Palin, Blame, and Responsibility, Sheila Musaji (Arizona shooting) http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/sarah_palin_is_a_little_confused
Perceptions of terrorism, post 9/11, Erin McIver http://www.themontrealreview.com/2009/Perceptions-of-Terrorism.php
The Return of Christian Terrorism, Mark Juergensmeyer http://religiondispatches.org/archive/religionandtheology/2432/the_return_of_christian_terrorism________/
SPLC Urges DHS to Reassess Resources After Key Analyst Reveals Unit on Domestic Terror was Scaled Back in Wake of Right-Wing Criticism http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/splc-urges-dhs-to-reassess-resources-after-key-analyst-reveals-unit-on-domestic-terror-was-scaled-back
SPLC Report: “Patriot” Groups, Militias Surge in Number in Past Year http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/splc-report-number-of-patriot-groups-militias-surges-by-244-in-past-year
Selective Counterterrorism Practices Threaten Social Mobility of American Muslims, Sahar Aziz http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/selective-counterterrorism-practices-threaten-social-mobility-of-american-m
Some terrorism scares are more useful than others http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2011/01/20/some-terrorism-scares-are-more-useful-than-other-terrorism-scares/
Robert Spencer and the Big Lie About “Islamic” Terrorism Threat, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/robert-spencers-specious-arguments
The terrorist as public relations expert (Breivik), Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_terrorist_as_media
Todays Eerie Similarities to Oklahoma City, Aitan Goelman http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0410/35993.html
The “War on Terror” Creates “Islamic” Terrorism, Danios http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the-war-on-terror-creates-islamic-terrorism
Was Joseph Stack a terrorist, Kevin Drum http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2010/02/was-joseph-stack-terrorist
What Americans Can Do to Discourage Future McVeighs, Kathleen Parker http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/16/AR2010041603842.html
What if they were Muslim http://whatiftheyweremuslim.com/
When is a terrorist group not a terrorist group?, Ed Drum http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/03/when-terrorist-group-not-terrorist-group
White House Releases “New” Counter-terrorism Strategy, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/law_enforcement_training_on_islam_and_muslims
Why are Mexican drug cartels not listed as terrorist organizations http://tucsoncitizen.com/view-from-baja-arizona/2010/08/17/mexican-drug-cartels-are-not-listed-as-official-terrorist-organizations/
Why Can’t Terrorists Be Mentally Ill, Too?, Cord Jefferson http://www.thenation.com/blog/169063/why-cant-terrorists-be-mentally-ill-too#
Why is no one calling Jared Loughner a terrorist http://www.good.is/post/why-is-nobody-calling-jared-loughner-a-terrorist/
In our TAM article collection http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/hirabah_jihad_terrorism_violence_just_war_crusades/003090 Hirabah - Jihad - Terrorism - Violence - Just War - Crusades we provide links to many resources to better understand this discussion which includes this section:
Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism list of article collections and resources on this and other topics including responses to Islamophobic claims.
- Part I & II Fatwas & Statements by Muslim Scholars & Organizations against extremism and terrorism
- Part III Statements & Articles by Individuals
- Part IV A few Quotes A-K, and L-Z
- Part V Muslim Voices Promoting Islamic Non Violent Solutions
- Part VI Qur’an & Hadith Against Extremism and Terrorism
- Part VII Selective Hearing of Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism
- Part VIII Religious terrorism is an oxymoron, Sheila Musaji
- Part IX Throwing Stones at the Qur’an From a Biblical Glass House, Sheila Musaji
- Part X Claim that all terrorists are Muslims ignores history
- Part XI A Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism (5 parts), Sheila Musaji
Part XII Muslim Scholars Appeal to Christian Scholars for Dialogue and Peace - “A Common Word”, Sheila Musaji
Part XIII Muslim Violence, Christian Non-Violence: People in Glass Houses Should Not Throw Words, Sheila Musaji
Each of the resource articles mentioned contain collections of extensive links to articles on the particular aspect of this discussion.