April 25, 2019 | 60° F

AKBARZAI: Double standards in terrorism conceptions

Opinions Column: Unapologetically Muslim


Today, the word "terrorism" or "terrorist" has been removed from its original definition.

Terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

This name has increasingly become associated with a racial and religious group. Acts of violence occur at increasing rates in the United States. But instead of ascribing the term "terrorism" to what has occurred, we use it based off the background of the perpetrator.

For instance, take two events that occurred in the summer of 2015, and how media reporting frames the way we view these two events. On June 18, 2015, Dylann Roof opened fire at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people in a prayer meeting. Police officials and media correspondents immediately began to label the incident a hate crime. Officials and the media scantly questioned Roof’s background or religious beliefs. Instead, Roof was considered a lone-wolf attacker who was mentally disturbed. But why wasn’t this considered an act of terrorism?

Roof confessed to authorities after his arrest that he hoped to incite a race war between black and white Americans. It has been reported that he used violent tactics with a gun to create fear and hysteria to accomplish a political aim: start a race war. Not only was this not labeled a terrorist act, but police officials eased the seriousness of the event by taking Roof to Burger King after his arrest.

Fast forward to one month later. On July 17, 2015, Mohammad Abdulazeez kills four Marines in a military facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Immediately, the media dubbed this event a terrorist act. His name, Mohammad, with obvious Muslim lineage, caused the association with terrorism. The focus was no longer on what had happened, but who had done it. Questions on how often he visited a mosque or read the Quran or any links to terrorist groups circulated, in an effort to see how “Muslim” he is. His religious identity and upbringing were questioned.

Why didn’t anyone question Roof’s upbringing or background? Why do we accept that a white man can act as a lone, unaffiliated actor, but a brown man with a Muslim-sounding name must have a religious motive with a bigger agenda? Here is where the issue lies: Both are acts of terrorism, but only one is labeled as terrorism. Conclusive reports that state Abdulazeez had drug and alcohol issues, and suffered from bipolar disorders, are ignored. Because in this country, Muslims are immune to mental illnesses, and any acts of terror by Muslim-Americans are inspired by religion.

Furthermore, similar double-standards continue to be found. Gunman Omar Mateen was an Afghan-American who killed 49 individuals in a LGBT nightclub on June 12. Before news broke that he told a 911 dispatcher that he was attacking on behalf of the leader of ISIS, officials and reporters ruled religion caused Mateen to attack an LGBT nightclub.

Double-standards in relation to Mateen are best portrayed in the November 2015 Planned Parenthood killings where Robert Lewis Dear killed three people in a clinic. According to police reports, Dear dreamed “he’ll be met in Heaven by aborted fetuses wanting to thank him for saving unborn babies.” He stated that people who attack abortion clinics are doing “God’s work.” He also mentioned that members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists, has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings as “heroes.”

Headlines such as the “Rise of Radical Christianity” didn’t occur in the way it does so many times for perpetrators of Muslim background. Instead, the media dubbed this event a shooting and overlooked how his actions could be inspired by his faith, despite Dear’s numerous references to it. Do I think Christianity needs to be blamed in the same way Islam is vilified by media reports? Of course not. I don’t believe that either Christianity or Islam encourages such heinous acts. But I do believe it’s time to unchain the word "terrorism" from its linkage to one religion or region of the world.

By labeling some acts as terrorism and not others, in effect we are saying that some violence is okay while other violence is not. All senseless acts of violence are wrong. But we must stop ascribing the word "terrorist" to the image of a brown man the media has portrayed for us. Terrorism has no religion or race. It is an act perpetrated by all who incite fear for political aims.

Sahar Akbarzai is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and minoring in economics. Her column, "Unapologetically Muslim" runs monthly every Fridays.

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Sahar Akbarzai

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