This past week, I fell upon an article published by the Washington Times on June 24, 2015, entitled “Majority of fatal attacks on U.S. soil carried out by white supremacists, not terrorists.” After President Trump placed an immigration ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries, this article felt more necessary and relevant than ever.
However, after reading the article’s title for a second time, I was startled at how problematic it was. The distinction established between the terms “white supremacists” and “terrorists” seems evident; however, we still view terrorism as a product of Islam. Not only is this inaccurate, it is also proof that we have been taught to use this word in a context of bloodshed and violence committed by Islamic groups, acting that of prophetic guerrilla armies.
If we have learned anything from these past couple of years, it is that terrorists do not have a profile. The way terrorist acts are committed is not set in stone and not all terrorist attacks have the same message or ideology behind them. The only element that ties any terrorist attacks together is the vile will to harm, kill or the drive to achieve something by doing so.
However, this purpose is not, and has not ever been, exclusively the case for extremist Islamic groups. Shootings at Planned Parenthood centers and attacks on Berlin Christmas markets are equally acts of terrorism. Dylann Storm Roof is as much a terrorist as the San Bernardino shooter. Government-sponsored terrorism and domestic terrorism are as efficient in spreading fear within populations as radical Islamic terrorism is. All have achieved the goals they wanted: kill innocent civilians in order to bring attention to the manifesto of a dark and cruel ideology. If we cannot go beyond common understandings of terrorism, we will overlook many cases of violence and terror.
I recently heard someone whom I admire deeply say that labels do not matter. I disagree. Having an acute understanding of what information we are presented with should be what all of us strive for. If we don’t start redefining what terrorism is at our scale, then we allow and guarantee the survival of an islamophobic bias perpetrated by most media outlets and, of course, by President Donald J. Trump.