Terrorism Or Crime? That Might Depend On Whether A Murderer Is Muslim

Glenn Greenwald has a must-read piece on the Boston Marathon bombing in the Guardian today:

Over the last two years, the US has witnessed at least three other episodes of mass, indiscriminate violence that killed more people than the Boston bombings did: the Tucson shooting by Jared Loughner in which 19 people (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) were shot, six of whom died; the Aurora movie theater shooting by James Holmes in which 70 people were shot, 12 of whom died; and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting by Adam Lanza in which 26 people (20 of whom were children) were shot and killed. The word “terrorism” was almost never used to describe that indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, and none of the perpetrators of those attacks was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A decade earlier, two high school seniors in Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, used guns and bombs to murder 12 students and a teacher, and almost nobody called that “terrorism” either.

In the Boston case, however, exactly the opposite dynamic prevails. Particularly since the identity of the suspects was revealed, the word “terrorism” is being used by virtually everyone to describe what happened.

The essay by Ali Abunimah Greenwald links to is also a must read:

All of these cases reinforce the widely noted observation that acts of violence, especially mass shootings, carried out typically by white males are immediately labeled as the acts of “disturbed individuals” while the acts of a person identified as “Muslim” are to be labeled “terrorism” regardless of the facts.

These are unsafe assumptions and foreclose the possibility of full understanding. Moreover, by reinforcing popular stereotypes, they give new force to the anti-Muslim backlash that seems only to be growing stronger and more poisonous as the 11 September 2001 attacks recede into the past.

It is also important to note the contrast between Obama’s eagerness to label the Boston attack as “terror” and its alleged perpetrators as “terrorists” – without evidence – and his reluctance to label last August’s mass murder at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin as “terrorism” despite the identification of the shooter as having a history of white nationalist and supremacist activism.

Add the 2009 murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller by an anti-government extremist to the list of crimes that weren’t widely called terrorism–despite the fact that the convicted murderer, Scott Roeder, was a highly religious political extremist (he belonged to the Montana Freemen and the sovereign citizen movement) whose motive was to bring about the end of abortion by terrorizing abortion providers.

But Roeder’s religion wasn’t Islam. And his skin colour wasn’t brown.

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth will never, ever pass up a chance to make a Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo pun.

6 thoughts on “Terrorism Or Crime? That Might Depend On Whether A Murderer Is Muslim”

  1. Sigh. Did you even read my post? Did you read the links? Can you articulate your objection? Do you have anything thoughtful to say on this topic whatsoever?

    You know, Snowfish, Glenn Greenwald is a pretty sharp guy and you could learn a lot from his columns. It would be good for you. Anyway, the point stands: there’s a clear double-standard in the way violence is reported in media when it’s committed by white assholes vs. Muslim assholes.

    Also, nothing I wrote or linked to is “leftist”. Media professionalism and responsibility? The rule of law and civil liberties? Not “leftist” concerns, Snowfish.

    Unless by “leftist” you mean “not the simplistic garbage Snowfish likes to shove into his brain-hole.” If that’s your definition of leftist, then okay. It’s pretty leftist.

  2. There is some confusion re. the term terrorist simply because many people equate terrible acts with terrorism. It is fair to say to mass shooting do instill terror but because they are not carried out with the intent of advancing a “cause” they are typically not identified as “terrorism”.

    I think the technical term used for the Boston Bombings is “lone wolf terrorism”. The wikipedia entry for this isn’t bad and it includes Scott Roeder on the list of American cases. Lone wolf terrorist are typically adherents to a cause without being part of or linked to a terrorist organization. They may simply be individuals who strongly identify with a cause but act on their own initiative. They qualify as “terrorist” in the sense that they seek to force some kind of “change” by means of instilling terror. Wikipedias list does include some Islamic terrorists, but it also includes Christian fundamentalists, anti-abortion activists, white supremacists, homophobes, militia-compound & anti-government types, anti-Semites, anti-immigration and/or anti-Arab radicals, and even an environmental terrorist. Some, like myself, might argue that Marc Lepine should be included on this list as well.

    There are some interesting journalistic pieces about on-line sleuthing that support the claim that more suspicion did fall on non-white Boston Marathon crowd members than white ones before the suspects were identified. Some may remember that in 1995 Muslims were incorrectly and unfairly identified as suspects after the Oklahoma bombing. This turned out to be the act of home grown terrorist and militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh.

    As for attacks on leftists, Norwegian “lone wolf terrorist” Anders Behring Breivik has this one covered. 77 people murdered in one day, 69 of them at a workers youth league summer camp…. He also hates Muslims, muticulturalism and feminists.

  3. Well, put, JM McKinnon. You might also have mentioned that the bombings of trains in Spain were originally thought to be the work of Basque separatists, because, given their history and MO, that was a completely reasonable assumption (also see Oklahoma bombing). Police investigating such incidents can’t rule out anything or anyone.
    I don’t think that the journalists above are on solid ground with their equating of “disturbed individuals” and vengeance seekers (Taber and Columbine) with terrorists. And no one mentioned the Beltway Sniper, oddly enough.
    Stephen: the Guardian is considered a left-of-centre paper, so in that narrow instance, Snowfish isn’t wholly off the mark. Also, your phrase “white assholes vs. Muslim assholes” implies that Muslims are people of colour, which is not always the case. Sometimes oversimplifying just doesn’t serve the reader well.

  4. I think the weapon of choice is the measuring stick here. If those two had merely waded into the crowd firing guns, the first thought would not have been terrorism. I believe that’s why Loughner et al were not labeled terrorists.

    Officials in the US are loathe to associate the use of guns with terror. The Fort Hood shooting is “officially” classified as a workplace violence event, not a terrorist attack, though some would like it to be. That shooter was a Muslim. The Virginia Tech shooting was not labeled terrorism either and that shooter was not white.

    So there is not always a double standard based on religion or skin-colour. Sometimes it’s because guns are sacred in the USA.

  5. Perhaps it’s not so much the supposed sacredness of guns as it is the crime classification system, which dictates how an alleged crime is to be investigated.

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