In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States embarked on what was dubbed the “War on Terror,” aimed at identifying and rooting out the threat of global terrorist networks wherever they may exist around the world in the name of security and freedom. It became the hallmark of George W. Bush’s presidency. Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and “Islamic terrorism” became distant, faceless enemies reviled and hated with patriotic fervor. Ten years later, the war is far from over and the perceived threat of terrorism informed by Islam still looms and impacts the way we process tragedy.
As the news rolled in about a mass killing taking place in Oslo, Norway at a youth camp this past Friday (July 22) journalists and pundits were quick to identify the shooter as Muslim with ties to Al-Qaeda and carrying out a possible retaliation for the death of bin Laden earlier this year, connecting this to Norway’s role in invading and occupying Afghanistan.
WATCH NBC NIGHTLY NEWS COVERAGE OF THE OSLO ATTACKS:
The conjecture was based on very limited knowledge of what was actually happening on the ground and with little information provided by Norwegian law enforcement. And when it was confirmed that it was not Al-Qaeda and not a Muslim, but rather a right-wing Christian fundamentalist Norwegian by the name of Anders Behring Breivik, the word “terrorism” all but disappeared from coverage. It was replaced with “madman” and “extremist” as if to imply that Breivik’s actions were not the result of an ideology but of a personal defect belonging to him and him alone.
There has been no call to hunt down and kill the terrorists responsible. There is no one advocating for the profiling of Norwegian men or the banning of right-wing literature. CNN is not producing a special investigating the tenants of Christianity and exploring its violent history. The type of public outrage that accompanied the initial reaction that this may be the work of Muslim terrorists or Arab descent is nil.
We have conflated Islam and terrorism to the point that any action that by definition is an act of terrorism but is committed by persons who are not Muslim we go out of our way to not call it terrorism. Not only does this let others off the hook, it breeds xenophobic contempt for Islam that inspires people like Breivik to kill close 80 people in order to “seize political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda” by eliminating so-called traitors who were, according Breivik’s 1,500 page manifesto, enabling a Muslim takeover of Europe.
Our greatest national export is culture. Our music, movies, fashion, and lifestyles have touched all corners of the map. What we fail, or possibly refuse, to recognize is that we export both the good and bad and have equal responsibility for both. We proudly claim the influence of the Civil Rights movement in other global fights for human rights, like the uprisings in Egypt earlier this year, but shy away from the role we have played in creating a climate of accepted hatred for Muslims.
The Park 51 incident in New York City last year, the protest in Tennessee of the construction of a mosque happening now, Rep. Peter King’s congressional hearings on the “pervasive threat” of Islamic terrorism, the unchecked bigotry in the rhetoric of GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain and others, as well the profiling that takes place at airports and other dismissals of civil liberties over the course of the last ten years have created a climate that clearly accepts and promotes the denigration of Islam, the world’s largest religion. This is the message we here in the U.S. have projected to the rest of the world.
Breivik admits to being influenced by American writers and bloggers. Minus the unforgivable act of terrorism, his ideology is nearly indistinguishable from that of a run-of-the-mill conservative candidate for Congress here in the states. He is anti-immigration, pro-Israel, Christian fundamentalist, anti-jihad, and has a hatred of hip-hop.
WATCH REP. KEITH ELLISON ADDRESS ANTI-MUSLIM RHETORIC
But none of that played a role worth mentioning in his attack on the Oslo youth camp, if you follow the media narrative. It would have been different if he were Muslim and affiliated with Al-Qaeda (or even if he weren’t affiliated with Al-Qaeda, they would have played a role in influencing him). This hypocrisy sends a very clear message to the world community: we take terrorism very seriously, so long as it is perpetrated by Muslims.
If the meaning of terrorism is going to be limited to that of acts of violence committed by Muslims of Arab descent, we will be forced to accept the consequences of such a definition. It could be in the form of retaliation or it could be that those who are neither Arab nor Muslim kill with no regard in hopes that it will be blamed on Islam. There are myriad possibilities. We have to ask ourselves if this was our intent. We have to form the world we want, for better or worse.