Are all terrorists Muslims?

Azza Radwan Sedky
Thursday 6 Jul 2017

Stereotyping against Muslims and a presumption of their guilt is all too apparent when an attacker is white but isn't castigated in the same terms

Last month, a van ploughed through a group of Muslim worshippers who were leaving a mosque in Finsbury Park, London, having completed the "Taraweeh" Ramadan evening prayer. It was a deliberate act as the van intentionally veered into the victims who were helping a fallen, taken-ill man on the street.

As breaking news, the story was described in the following fashion. The Independent called it a “major incident,” and The Guardian was unable to confirm if it was a “deliberate attack or terrorist incident.” CNN also called it an “incident.” The Daily Mail called the attacker a “white van driver.” As for the BBC, it said: “… a man drove a van into worshippers near a north London mosque.” This, while Metro said that Teresa May described the “incident” as “terrible.”

At that early stage, not once did the media mention the word terrorism. At most, it was a major incident. That’s it.

By morning the tone changed, and the term “terrorism” emerged, a clear change in attitude, but the harm the media inflicted had been done.

To refer to such a deliberate act of terrorism as a mere “incident” is rubbing salt on the wound. It is as though only Muslims can perform terrorism acts when actually terrorism can be performed by simply anybody. 

This has always been the case though, and it is high time we recognise this phenomenon for what it is: a dangerous correlation between Muslims and terrorism.

Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist who was responsible for the deaths of 77 people in Norway in July 2011, was considered a terrorist until he was identified as a white male. He was then referred to as a deranged extremist, but the term terrorist was rarely mentioned in association with the attack after that.

When the term “Christian terrorist” was used to describe Breivik, it was met with outrage. And despite the number of dead and the scope of the calamity, the media did not zoom in on how to stop future Christian terrorists, how the Christian world should do more, and how Christians should apologise more profusely. This is what the Muslim world endures day in and day out and is told time and time again.

Hardly ever is a crime against Muslims or any other ethnic group for that matter identified as terrorism. The only time a spade was called a spade was when Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately came out and cited an attack on a mosque, that took the lives of six Muslims worshippers, for what it was: “a terrorist attack.” He also said, “More than one million Canadian Muslims coming to grips with a bloody terrorist attack at a Quebec City mosque must know they are loved and not alone in their pain … Thirty-six million hearts are breaking with yours.”

This kind of response rarely happens.

The definition of the term “terrorism” is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” The definition does not specify gender, ethnicity, colour, or religion of the doer. It specifies the act itself.

According to many specialists, terrorism is inflicted by fewer Muslims than other races while terrorist acts by Muslim perpetrators receive the most coverage. In Sri Lanka and Burma, Buddhists kill Muslims all the time, and Israeli settlers commit crimes against Palestinians on a daily basis, and yet we hardly hear of such tragic events.

According to Dean Obeidallah in the Daily Beast: "But our media simply do not cover the non-Muslim terror attacks with the same gusto. Why? It is a business decision. Stories about scary "others" play better. It's a story that can simply be framed as good versus evil with Americans being the good and the brown Muslim as the bad." 

There is more to this phenomenon than meets the eye. Media have perpetually over reported Muslim attacks while underreporting crimes conducted by others, framing Muslims in a certain way that ultimately affects the public. It is no wonder that others fear Muslims at large.

In the report, "Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?" by Erin Kearns, “Attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 449 percent more coverage than other attacks.”

Kearns continues: "Wade Michael Page’s attack on the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin killed six people and it only received 3.81 percent of the total coverage. Frazier Glenn Miller’s attack on a synagogue in Kansas killed three people and it only received 3.27 percent of the coverage. Dylann Roof killed nine people in an African-American church in Charleston and received 7.42 percent of the coverage. These attacks have three things in common: the perpetrator was a white man and the targets were both religious and minority groups. These instances highlight disparity in media coverage of terrorism."

Muslims at large are being tarred by one incriminating brush because the media intentionally and consciously stereotypes Muslims as evil doers, those capable of the worst of actions.

Meanwhile, we, the readers and viewers at large, blindly accept their exploitation as a given.

The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: the First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.

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