Wednesday, 31 May 2017

When is something terrorism?

I don't know. But apparently you're more likely to be a terrorist if you're Muslim, and have darker skin.

Arwa Mahdawi writes in How a neo-Nazi turned Islamist flipped terror narratives upside down
There are lots of ways to be a disaffected, disenfranchised young man. You can spout anonymous abuse online. You can shoot up a school. You can bomb abortion clinics in the name of being pro-life. You can kill black people peacefully praying at church, in the name of white supremacy. You can murder teenagers singing joyfully along at a pop concert, in the name of Isis and Allah.

What you are called, when you do those things, varies. Sometimes you’re a criminal. Sometimes you’re a terrorist. Sometimes you’re a mental health statistic. How you are treated, when you do those things, varies. Sometimes you’re headline news around the world for days; you make an ignominious mark on the history books. Sometimes you’re a few paragraphs in the local papers, and barely make it into the national press.

There are a few key variables which determine what you are called and how you are treated when you commit a deadly act designed to cause widespread fear. Namely: how many people you killed; where you killed them; whether you shouted “Allahu Akbar” as you killed them and the colour of your skin. The whiter your skin, it seems, the more likely you are to be classified as a criminal rather than a terrorist.
She then cites the case of the young white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine African Americans in a church in South Carolina. He was convicted on 33 federal charges. These included murder and hate crimes, but not terrorism.

Mahdawi then discusses Devon Arthurs. Arthurs had been a white supremacist but converted to Islam. He killed his two roommates because they reportedly disrespected his religion and, he claimed, were planning a terrorst act. Police investigations in the caes led to the subsequent arrest of another roommate, Brandon Russell. Russell, a Florida national guardsman had been storing explosives in his garage and a photo of Timothy McVeigh in his bedroom. He's facing a charge of “possessing an unregistered destructive device and unlawful storage of explosive material”.

Mahdawi then looks at the statistics on domestic terrorism in the US:
According a recent report, A Dark and Constant Rage, from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), rightwing extremists have been responsible for planning at least 150 acts of terror in the United States over the past 25 years. They’ve killed 255 people in these attacks and injured 600 more. White supremacists and anti-government extremists are the biggest subset of rightwing extremists (which also includes groups such as anti-abortionists and anti-immigrant extremists) and are responsible for 85% of these incidents.

However, as the ADL points out, while “rightwing extremists have been one of the largest and most consistent sources of domestic terror incidents in the United States for many years”, this fact “has not gotten the attention it deserves.” What’s more, “it has garnered far less notice than … Islamic terrorism”.

Can you imagine how much more press Brandon Russell’s basement full of explosives would have received if it had belonged to a man called Mohammed with a picture of a 9/11 bomber in his bedroom?

Rightwing terrorism doesn’t just get less media attention than Islamist terrorism – it gets less attention in policy. As the ADL report notes, the US still doesn’t have a federal domestic terrorism statute and “federal spending on training law enforcement on issues such as rightwing violence and terrorism is extremely low”. This is clearly ridiculous. 
Then there's the case of Jeremy Joseph Christian. Jason Wilson reports on this case in Suspect in Portland double murder posted white supremacist material online:
Police in Portland, Oregon, have charged a white supremacist with a double murder and hate crimes, after he allegedly cut the throats of two passengers and stabbed another on a commuter train late on Friday afternoon.

According to police, while riding the MAX train in suburban northeast Portland, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, began “yelling various remarks that would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions”.

When fellow passengers attempted to intervene, Christian stabbed three of them.

Two of them died.

So would this be terrorism if Christian had been a Muslim and had shouted Allah Akbar as he stabbed the three people? 

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