Terrorism is Terrorism. Drop the Subtext.

NickDefaultNick Wallace ’14

I have not felt strongly patriotic in a long time. With the continued discrimination against minority groups here at home and the continued use of drone attacks that target civilians in Pakistan, it is sometimes hard to be. But this past week has given everybody, including myself, a chance to be a bit more patriotic than usual.

A week ago today, I was receiving text message updates on my phone indicating the speed at which my roommate was running the Boston Marathon (He flew through the race in under three hours, by the way). I was checking my phone periodically through the morning, hoping to see if my roommate was keeping the pace he had hoped to maintain throughout the race. The race finished, and I immediately texted my good friend to congratulate him on fulfilling a lifelong dream. Little did I know how much chaos would soon ensue.

I will not recap that horrific day, as I am sure all of us will always remember where we were when we first found out that a bombing had taken place at the Boston Marathon. As a native New Yorker, I remember as a child watching the morning news with my family before boarding the bus to go to school on September 11, 2001. I remember some of my peers being pulled out of class and told that they were going to be picked up from school early. I remember one particular classmate asking our teacher powerlessly if her father, who worked in New York City, was going to be okay. As I watched the news with my friends last Monday, the same feelings of confusion and vulnerability sunk in as I contacted friends to see if they were safe and heard my other roommate (a Boston native) frantically try and contact his family members.

But similarly strong was the sense of pride I felt while watching the Red Sox defeat the Royals 4-3 this past Saturday in their first home game since the Marathon. It was the same pride felt the day following the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Danny Nava’s homerun was reminiscent of that of Mike Piazza’s on September 21, 2001. In both instances, something as common sporting event was able to bring the city together in a time of need. It is safe to say that the nation was cheering for Boston in that baseball game, and that the win for the Red Sox was for the entire city.

But as we as a nation rally behind our flag following this tragic attack, it is important not to isolate certain members of our community. It was almost surreal how quickly the mass media tied the bomber’s religion to this entire incident. While watching CNN, one news analyst reported that Tsarnaev had just recently become a U.S. citizen on September 11, 2012, and was speculating whether the suspect had purposely chosen the date as a symbolic representation in the name of Islam. Truth be told, nobody chooses the day he/she becomes a citizen in the United States.

Similarly, the word “terrorist” was quickly applied to the Boston bombers. I do not wish to suggest that these men were not terrorists; their acts confirm that they indeed were. But let us be careful about associating the word terrorism with specific groups of people. Note well that terrorist organizations exist across the globe and identify under a diversity of religious denominations. The actions of the Ku Klux Klan, for example, can be considered terrorism. I do not think many rational people can argue that the lynching of innocent human beings can be considered anything but acts of terror. Furthermore, the Ku Klux Klan often cited Christian doctrine for committing such crimes in the first place, and attempted to maintain the traditional social ordering that existed in the United States. But by no means are all Christians associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Likewise, The Lord’s Resistance Army, formerly led by Joseph Kony, operates in Uganda, South Sudan, and the DRC. The group characterizes itself as a fundamentalist Christian movement, and yet has been responsible for widespread human rights violations including murder, rape, child slavery, abduction, and mutilation. It is safe to say that like the Ku Klux Klan, not all Christians are associated with the Lord’s Resistance Army.

And there is the Westboro Baptist Church…. have I made my point?

Unfortunately, Arabs and Muslims are disproportionately depicted in the American mass media as extremists, terrorists, and villains. Action packed movies often contain violent Muslim extremists who are wreaking havoc, while white Americans are the ones to restore order. Even cartoons that Americans deem acceptable for children contain discriminatory undertones. A perfect example is Aladdin, which is considered a Disney classic. In the movie, the lighter skinned protagonists, Aladdin and Jasmine, have westernized facial features and Anglo-American accents. This is in contrast to the other characters, which are dark-skinned, bloodthirsty, and villainous. They are cruel palace guards or greedy merchants with Arabic accents and grotesque facial features. Moreover, the movie’s opening song sets the tone:

“Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don‘t like your face, It‘s barbaric, but hey, it‘s home.”

Clearly, the Disney movie Aladdin encompasses racial and religious discriminatory undertones. But this movie is just one example. All across the board (including MSNBC, Fox, and everything in between) Muslims are disproportionally depicted in a negative light. The following statistics show the consequences of this one-sided media coverage:

-48 % of Americans believe that torturing suspected terrorists is often or sometimes justified.

-39 % of Americans believe Muslims living in America are not loyal to America

-More than 1/3 of Americans believe Muslims living in the US are sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

-Nearly ¼ of Americans say that would “not like to have a Muslim as a neighbor.”

(USA Today Gallup Poll 2008)

What is alarming is that the one-sided media coverage that exists leads to fear. As stated in the documentary The Mean World Syndrome, “this type of fear and condemnation of entire groups of people seems to be less based on our actual relationships with people and more on our relationship with media.” Without positive depictions to counteract the negatives, the most extreme members of minority groups are allowed to stand out above the rest, creating a distorted and menacing depiction that leaves viewers feeling “under attack.”

Let’s not make the same mistakes we have previously made in regards to racial profiling and religious discrimination. Do not assume, by any means, the ridiculous assertion that all Muslims are terrorists or sympathetic to terrorist. These Boston Bombers do not represent the views of either their nation or their religion. Whether or not they acted alone, or within a larger group, these people represent an extremely miniscule minority of people; they are certainly not in the majority.

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2 thoughts on “Terrorism is Terrorism. Drop the Subtext.

  1. Nick,
    I fully agree with your condemnation of the mass media–certainly they are more interested in creating a real-life 24 episode than accurately reporting the news. I think this was more obvious in CNN’s excitement to report that a “dark-skinned male” was arrested than with their treatment of the actual terrorists, however. While the Gallup statistics you reported are somewhat disturbing, they are not all that surprising.
    All was going well for me in reading this article until I reached your sermon on the ethics of drone warfare and your treatment of all religions with an arrogant, postmodern, equalizing chagrin. Although not directly related to your distaste for all things religious/spiritual, your application of the word “terrorism” very adequately communicates your agenda as a cultural contrarian, an apologist for anybody who is not a straight, white, Christian. Surely you see how detonating bombs on a major city’s streets during a national “sporting” event (term “sporting” used loosely, but I digress), or flying commercial airliners into skyscrapers is different than lynching individuals through Alabama streets? The latter is a hate crime and a singular act of murder; the former is a spectacle with the singular goal of inflicting terror and fear in the entire nation. Murder is murder, but the separate intentions of these two examples describe what is meant by “terrorism.”
    I understand that sticking up for the underdog is a popular trend. Go Florida Gulf Coast! Go gay rights (certainly not an underdog as anybody with a brain supports equal marriage, but activists play it off that way)! Go Muslims! FGCU students, homosexuals, and Muslims are all equal human beings, no better or worse in any way than you or I as white males. Intelligent people realize this, so there’s no need to go crusading for applause and congratulations by acting as their savior. It’s a great way to hide your ego and your arrogance, but that doesn’t make it honorable.
    Anyway, keep writing, because “forward thinkers” will continue to need their Robin Hood.

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