NEWSFLASH: Terrorists can be white, shock.
The label usually reserved exclusively for Muslims is not defined by race or colour as the media seems to understand.
A terrorist is a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Not everyone wearing a hijad – though stereo-typically this is what appears when you type the term into your search engine.
Terrorists can believe in any faith and be any ethnicity.
This stereotypical image isn’t only prominent on our screens, last year police had to issue an apology after a simulated attack came under scrutiny when the ‘fake suicide bomber’ shouted ‘Allahu Akbar‘.
Race stereotyping and Islamophobia have come under scrunity, rightly so, after Sunday’s attack. Authorities have been quick to label Stephen Craig Paddock, Sunday’s Las Vegas shooter, a ‘lone-wolf’ rather than a terrorist.
Paddock opened fire on Sunday killing 58 people and wounding almost 500 others, before turning the gun on himself. Though his motive has not yet been formally revealed many people took to social media to say that if the shooter had been Muslim then people wouldn’t wait to use the label.
Sociologist Haris Ali, 21, commented that the media’s reluctance to label white extremists as terrorists is a huge surface problem that goes deeper than just a term.
“The way in which stereotypes and the labelling of people has worked in the media isn’t nothing new, it’s been around for centuries. Once a folk devil has been created, whether that be someone of s particular race or ethnicity or someone of a particular religion journalists will sensationalise the story to get more hits that’s how it works.
“With the creation of the folk devil comes the ‘othering’ of that group of people, leaving another set of people feeling under threat.”
Ali blames this for the reason as to why the media seemingly refuse to brand white attackers as terrorists.
“This is why when for example a non-Muslim is to carry out an attack such as Stephen Paddock there will be a reluctance the brand the shooter as a terrorist as opposed to if he was Muslim.
“Objectively speaking though, though Stephen Paddock is a terrorist, he is also a lone wolf like many other non-Muslim terrorists we have seen. I’m sure that if we were to quantify the attacks we see and separate them into who has committed an act whilst being connected to/linked in to a terrorist group, most of these people will be Muslim hence why there’s hardly any usage of the ‘lone wolf’ tag to them.”
However, Ali wants the focus to be on those punishing the attackers rather than the media reporting the crimes.
“Though for me, rather than focus on the media, whose main aim is to make as much money as possible, the focus should be on the courts to trial all people who commit any acts of terrorism as terrorists.”
Paddock’s actions do fit the statutory definition of terrorism in Nevada, where the events happened. The state’s law defines terrorism as: “any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population”.
According to Gun Violence Archive, so far this year 273 mass shootings, averaging at one per day, and 11,671 lives have been taken due to gun violence. Shocking? Scary?
What is scary is that white terrorists normally slip under the radar – why? Because the law grants them a cloak of invisibility – how?
A little known term called ‘domestic terrorism’ defined by the federal code as: “activities that appear indended to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction.”
Paddock’s act is, by definition, terrorism. Even, if right now, it fits the ‘domestic terrorism’ label. Clue: the word terrorism still fits by definition.
While federal law does define and recognise domestic terrorism it does not class it as a ‘federal crime’. That’s right, it does not class it.
The Guardian reported: “It’s hard, if not impossible, to understand how committing one of the largest mass shootings in American history is not “intended to affect the conduct of government”.
All this points to deeply embedded racially focused stereotyping, if you’re white it’s ‘domestic’ and therefore ‘downplayed’. Domestic terrorism is rarely prosecuted by federal courts.
Acts committed that don’t fit the stereotypical ‘terrorist’ image reinforced by the media go by unreported and therefore unnoticed.
Mainstream media is repeatedly reinforcing that terrorism is an Islam only crime – it is not. This message goes from our courts and laws to our television screens and social media themes until it reaches our minds and leaves our mouths in conversations.