Terrorism Double standards

Headlines and Photos Provided by L.A. Times

Elliot Rodger openly discussed his intentions, through his writings and vlogs, to kill every woman on University of California, Santa Barbara’s campus for misogynistic reasons, yet media outlets stated his mental illness was the primary motivation for the killing.  Craig Hicks regularly posted about his hatred of the Islamic faith and shot three Muslims “execution style,” yet media outlets stated that he “went crazy” over a parking dispute.  And now, continuing this horrific trend, Dylan Roof shot nine African-Americans dead in a church, while wearing symbols of past apartheid regimes, and he has been portrayed as a “quiet and soft-spoken kid” who acted primarily due to mental illness.

Apparently, his actions do not reflect the racist beliefs ubiquitous in our culture, just as Rodger’s did not reflect the sexist tendencies, and Hicks’s the Islamophobic ones. The media claims that they came to acquire their racist/sexist/Islamophobic ideologies in a vacuum and operated on their own volition, rather than being influenced by the ideologies of right-wing extremist groups. Thus, with these erroneous justifications in mind, media outlets find it unnecessary to classify these attacks as terrorist acts.

Contrast these cases against the attacks committed by persons who identified themselves as “Muslims”; suddenly, the media drops the same mental health or “he was a child” defenses that we saw in the aforementioned cases.  Instead, these cases are terrorist attacks committed by a rational adult who was operating under ISIS’s ideology.  There are calls for increased scrutiny of Muslim communities everywhere and a demand for all Muslims, regardless of their leaning, to apologize and condemn the act of terror.

While MPAC acknowledges that violent acts committed in the name of Islam are acts of terrorism, we are confused by the double standard that exists in both the media and society as a whole.  Why are we so willing to brand one act as terrorism, but not the other, when both are targeting people based off some characteristic–whether that is race, gender, or religion–and aiming to spread fear in those communities? Why is that even though right-wing white terrorist groups have killed twice the number of Americans when compared to Muslim extremists, only Muslims are negatively depicted in the media? Why is it that all of us are forced to apologize for the acts of a few, while right-wing white extremist groups are granted legitimacy in the political process by being allowed to donate to candidates and subject to far less scrutiny by government agencies? When are we finally going to recognize that the racist, sexist, and Islamophobic tendencies that primarily motivate these killings, are as dangerous to the functioning of our society, as any foreign terrorist group will ever be?

It’s easy for most Americans to rally behind the need to combat the extreme ideology of external terrorist groups like ISIS because it reflects no fault of our society.  Yet, the moment a domestic terrorist attack points out flaws within our system, our communities, and ourselves, we want to hide from it and pin it on some personal factor that we had no control over.  We cannot bear to accept any degree of responsibility for it.  “It had to be the mental illness,” we try and convince ourselves, knowing that these same racist or sexist comments made by the killers were ones chanted by many Americans not so long ago.  It’s time we accept that these toxic ideologies are still present within our society and need to be combatted, just as we combat the ideologies of groups like ISIS.  It is time we call all acts of terrorism what they really are, regardless of who commits them. Until we do, numerous innocent lives will continue to be lost due to our silence

Founded in 1988, the Muslim Public Affairs Council improves public understanding and policies that impact American Muslims by engaging our government, media and communities.