The definition of a terrorist, as per the Oxford Dictionary, is: ‘A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.’
Similarly, the definition of a hate crime – again from the Oxford Dictionary – is: a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence.
What you may notice, is the grey area of the division between the two definitions. The church shooting in Charleston where Dylann Roof murdered 9 African-Americans in their place of worship resulting in a conviction on all 33 federal hate crime charges and a death sentence; this was later reduced to 9 life sentences after he plead guilty to all remaining charges.
Clearly the FBI were correct to prosecute charges of hate crimes because the shootings were definitely specific to racial violence against a minority he held particular issues with. All those murdered and injured were that of African-American persuasion and it didn’t take long before his website, The Last Rhodesian, revealed strong white supremacist and neo-Nazi views. What I don’t understand however, is why we are so hesitant to label this as a domestic terrorist attack.
His sole motivation for the attack was to incite a race war much like the murders committed by Charles Manson all those years ago. Definitely his actions were that of a hate crime (he committed a violent criminal act against those of a specific race) but he also committed them as an extremist right wing supporter against civilians in order to start a war; is that not a pursuit of political aims? Does that not meet the definition of terrorism?
Likewise, when you google the name Dylann Roof, the predominant headlines greeting you is ‘Church Shooter/Gunman’. There’s no mention of his race, his ideologies or his motivations. There is no mention of the word terrorist. In fact the only headline that comes close to any kind of shock media label was from the Sun (surprise, surprise!) who at least attached the term ‘racist mass killer’.
Compare this to any attack or even crime committed by a person of a minority and there are huge contrasts. Khalid Masood’s murderous rampage across Westminster Bridge earlier this year killed 5 people. Immediately, global media companies launch research to find links to ISIS and Islam that can hold the attention of their readers drawn in by their shock and awe terrorist headlines. They latched onto any potential claim on the attack made by ISIS sources/representatives conveniently forgetting that an organisation like that will seek any free publicity that adds to their fear factor and credibility.
Similarly in Time Square where ex US veteran Richard Rojas drove his car through crowds of people causing multiple injuries whilst high on recreational drugs (hoping for death-by-cop suicide due to a lack help with his mental health post-war) was immediately leapt on as potential terrorism by news outlets/websites around the world. The panic they cause is easily outweighed by the hits they receive on what has effectively become efficient click bait.
In the 1960s the prospect of Nuclear War was what paralyzed people with fear. In the 1970s through to the 1990s it was the threat caused by the IRA that had people cautious. Since the attacks in 2001 though, it has been extremist Islamic terrorists that have dominated headlines and thus been psychologically implanted into brains fear processor.
It hasn’t crept up overnight. Whenever there is a crime involving someone of Asian ethnicity or with Muslim beliefs it is added as a ‘description’ of those involved. It is a clever technique of slowly overtime associating those words with abhorrent acts.
Think of the paedophile/trafficking rings, crimes of undeniably and indescribable horror and evil. Then read the articles on them and it doesn’t matter which news site you use; you will find at some point in the article a mention that the majority of the criminals were of British-Pakistani origin. It is the same for coverage of exploitation rings in Rotheram, Rochdale and Bristol. Clearly if any of them selectively chose to abuse only Caucasian females it should be reported as such, but to repeatedly categorize them as Asian or Muslim criminals is simply feeding into the vile rhetoric constantly seen spewing from the Twitter accounts of Katie Hopkins and others like her.
Its why UKIP were able to navigate a successful Brexit regardless of the notion that terrorists who have attacked the UK are neither EU citizens or refugees but UK born. It’s also why as noise filtered through social media of the barbaric details of the Manchester attacks a fortnight ago, alt-right Twitter were already calling for the deportation of Muslims before it was even clear what had happened.
Outside of the victims and their families (who of course my thoughts and sympathies go out to primarily), its the Asian and Islam communities that are worst affected in these events. In the aftermath, reported incidents of racism and hate crimes escalate, the religion so dear to their lives is linked to abhorrent groups/crimes and they are prejudiced throughout the country. And for what?
These lunatics who commit these atrocities aren’t Muslim, it’s blaspheme for them to even suggest it is done in the name of Islam. Islam itself derives from the Arabic word ‘salam’ meaning peace; hence the Muslim greetings ‘As-salamu alaykum’. You don’t see Ku Klux Klan members or Jeremy Joseph Christian (Portland white supremacist) labelled as extremist Christians. Everyone knows that the IRA and its members were strict Catholics but again there was never a mention of it in the reporting of all famous bombings conducted by them. When you think of the atrocities and corruption worldwide in the Catholic church as priests abused children throughout the globe yet it still somehow seems to have a better reputation, certainly in the media, than Islam.
Many of the far right point to one particular passage of the Quran as a reason for the violence. Detractors of Islam point to one section of the sword verse out of context:
“So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.” – Quran 9:5
They do this cleverly managing to crop out the verse in almost its entirety removing a much purer meaning behind a seemingly violent verse. Realistically, the whole verse discusses a periodic war against Pagans, giving permission to those who otherwise swear on peace, to fight against those who have broken a treaty, defamed their religion and attacked them first. It was a call to arms in defense of those worshiping Allah against those who initiated the conflict.
There is no mention whatsoever of starting a conflict against those who do not believe in Allah. It effectively specifies – when it is read as a whole – exactly who the ‘sword’ should be taken up against. It certainly isn’t children at a Western music concert.
Blaming Islam for terrorist attacks is like blaming Christianity for the millions of lives lost in both the Crusades and the Holocaust. People will always manipulate passages in order to attain what they seek. You need only look at the cults that have arisen in the States time and time again. Power hungry people will play on a human’s desire for meaning and belonging both in their current life form and for what they will have in the afterlife in order to control them. These terrorists are no different, their effects are just a lot closer to home.
As an atheist I have a dislike of religion as a whole. I see the comforts it brings to those who are ill/dying and their families around them. I can also understand how many of the teachings – Ten Commandments etc – probably provided the foundations for society’s laws which obviously play a vital role in our existence. However, I think the ability to indoctrinate people into a set mind-frame/belief from an early age whilst teaching them to disregard everything else is dangerous. People become a lot more close minded. Similarly, religion is behind most conflicts that arise in the world whether they are the source of the issue (issues in the Middle East such as the Gaza is as much a religious conflict as anything else) or used as an excuse.
Effectively, what I am saying is that religion either needs to be disliked as a concept in its entirety with every single report mentioning the religious beliefs behind it, or it needs to be disregarded from publication. Realistically, whilst I imagine the families of the victims would want a name to blame for their own personal closure, it would be better off if we didn’t report those responsible at all.
Aside from the benefits the intelligence/police force would see (anger at the US leaks was because it gave those connected to the bomber warning they may be compromised earlier than expected), it also takes away any of the romantic elements for a would be Jihad. Think about this. Many of them see it as a way to reach their fantasy promised by those who radicalized them. An opportunity to become a martyr for their religion. Yet, according to those in the Islamic communities, a refusal to perform a Muslim burial is one of the worst things that can happen to them. It’s a large reason many mosques/preachers both in the UK and the US have refused to perform these ceremonies on those who commit these atrocities. Effectively they have been excommunicated for their faith. Take it one step further and never once report their name or publish their pictures and they never become a martyr. Their names wont be symbolic for those who may yet seek that path nor will they ever reach the notoriety that is twinned with the desires of mass shooters in America.
Rather than attack the innocents targeted/effected by these terrorists, its time the media and those in positions of responsibility narrow their cross-hairs. Their sloppy approach is like using a shotgun instead of a sniper rifle, accepting the collateral damage as necessary. Rather than continuing to fuel the fear and hate spread by those filled with anger, they’d be better off getting on the side of the victims and those in charge of protecting them. I’m not talking about media censorship, I’m talking about using our media to silence the voices of those who seek to destroy us. Promote the love and strength shown in the aftermath rather than the extremism that brought about the devastation and we might finally start to see an effective counter.