As we all know words are hugely important: if used inappropriately they can offend and upset. Whilst, if used sensitively they can reassure and comfort. Classification of events and tragedies like those that took place at Parkland High School in February of this year (killing approximately 17 and injuring 14) and in Las Vegas (killing 58 and injuring over 800) is just as important. Why? Just to be precise, pedantic and technical? No, because classifications have real-life consequences. Let me elaborate.
The United States (US) is fast becoming the random gun rampage capital of the world. In October 2017 in Las Vegas, for instance, we saw a crazed gunman shoot sniper-style from a hotel window killing nearly 60 people and injuring over 800: apparently, the United States biggest ever gun rampage. This was by no means the first nor will it be the last from memory alone I can think of a number of vicious gun killings/mass murders in the USA in recent years:
- An Uzbek migrant who drove a truck onto a pedestrianised area in New York City killing 8
- A white extremist who killed 9 black people in a church in Charleston
- A man dressed as Batman during a showing of a Batman movie gun downed approximately 12 in Denver Colorado
- A wealthy young kid in California who was apparently an ‘Incel’ killed 6 of his peers
- A man gunned down 23 kids at an elementary school in Sandy Hook
- 2 brothers killed 3 using an improvised device in Boston
- A couple went on a rampage killing approximately 14 in San Bernardino California
- Omar Mateen killed approximately 49 in a gay nightclub In Orlando, Florida
There was also Columbine and many others. More Americans appear to be killed by other Americans than by foreigners. Some of the statistics are truly astounding. According to the New York Times the number of Americans killed in battlefields in all wars is circa 1.4 million, those killed by firearms in the US since 1968: 1.5 Million! In the last decade alone, the number of gun fatalities exceeds the nation’s total war fatalities.
The FBI defines Domestic Terrorism as ‘perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature’. Interestingly, of all the rampages mentioned above the only ones that were classified as terrorist attacks were the ones in San Bernardino, Boston, Orlando and New York City. Why? It’s quite simple because the perpetrators were Muslim (even if in some cases they were US citizens).
It appears in the US at least a terror attack is almost invariably only a terror attack if committed by a Muslim. Similar attacks committed by non-Muslims aren’t classified as such. Dylan Roof, for example, was a white nationalist who went into a Black church with the intent of killing as many black people as possible: His motives appear to be clearer than Omar Mateen’s who carried out the Orlando Massacre (There is still some speculation about his motives) yet the former (as far as I’m aware) has never been classified as an act of Terrorism.
The pattern of reporting is almost always the same: if a non-Muslim does it (typically a white man) the focus is on the individual, the person is often instantly ‘humanised’ and his/her mental health is often referred too: in the case of Stephen Paddock, for instance, the police have mentioned his relationship and gambling issues. When the perpetrator is a Muslim the headlines will almost always seek to vilify and demonise both Islam itself and the world’s approximately 1.6 Billion Muslims. Are Muslim mass murderers not allowed to have personal and/or mental health issues?
The consequences of such classification and reporting are very real and no less contrasting. When it’s a Muslim its instantly called a terrorist attack, politicians jump on the bandwagon to score points, conspiracy theories are hashed, this or that group are blamed. Muslims in the US (and West) generally are made to feel guilty, pressurised, sometimes even attacked, their civil liberties are attacked, wholesale travel bans are implemented, and, in some cases, we even see threats of wars against Muslim countries that are allegedly behind these attackers.
When it’s a non-Muslim by focusing on the individual the pressure on his/her family, community and society is therefore hugely reduced. You often get some fine speeches, condolences, and prayer but then back to business as usual.
There clearly appear to be strong political and communitarian undertones to such classification of these crimes. There is a desire amongst elements of the mainstream media and political elites to vilify Muslim’s at both home and abroad. By the same token, when the assailant is Non-Muslim there is a rush not to blame US society as a whole or their respective communities. In addition, the lack of action in the latter cases may also reflect a desire to protect a gun industry that is worth approximately 30 Billion dollars per annum.
By Faisal Khan