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Use ‘Terrorist’ Label Carefully

Analyzing the t-word: A law professor asks in a new research paper, “Were Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber the Only White Terrorists?”

Use ‘terrorist’ label carefully

by Tom Krattenmaker (USA Today)

Real-life scenario No. 1: A man with a weapon strides into a military medical office in Texas and opens fire, killing 13 people and wounding 29 before he is stopped and taken into custody. In the ensuing news media coverage and public discussion, the incident is widely viewed as an act of terrorism.

Real-life scenario No. 2: A man with a weapon shows up at a public gathering inside a supermarket in Arizona and opens fire, killing six (including a U.S. district judge) and wounding 13 (including a member of the U.S. House of Representatives) before he is stopped and arrested. In the ensuing media coverage and public discussion, the incident is generally not characterized as terrorism.

The difference? In the first scenario — the 2009 Fort Hood shootings — the perpetrator, Nidal Hasan, was a Muslim of Palestinian ancestry. In the second — the 2011 Tucson shootings that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded — the perpetrator, Jared Loughner, was non-Muslim and white.

So it goes, according to new research by a terrorism prosecutions expert in Portland, Ore., when it comes to public perception of what constitutes terrorism. An analysis by law school professor Tung Yin of Lewis & Clark (the college where I work) reveals that race and religion strongly color portrayals of terrorism, to the point where crimes of a similar pattern — political motivation, mass destruction, indiscriminate killing, etc. — tend to be characterized differently in this country when the perpetrators are Muslim or of Arab descent.

This matters. “Terrorist,” after all, is the mother of all damning labels in this post-9/11 age. And beyond politics and public relations, ideas about what constitutes terrorism and who commits it can have a significant effect on law enforcement and court outcomes. It’s a term that needs to be used with care — and consistency.

Listening to Yin review cases of actual and intended violence, one is struck by how the term “terrorist” has been conspicuously absent from public discourse about some high-profile incidents of recent years.

No white terrorists?

Here in Oregon, a father-son team, Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, are on death row for planting a bomb that killed two police officers in a bank in 2008. Prosecutors portrayed the pair as bigots who hated the government. Terrorists? Not if most news media accounts are to serve as our guide. Yin finds the same dynamic in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal coverage of the arrests of five men (all Caucasian and non-Muslim) in Cleveland this spring in a plot to bomb a bridge. Are the alleged Cleveland plotters terrorists? Not if the words of most investigators and reporters are any indication.

Not to say that non-Muslim whites never get tagged as terrorists. Yin notes that two notorious bombers in recent (but pre-9/11) U.S. history have worn the label —Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. You would search in vain, however, for other non-Muslim perpetrators of mass violence in this country who have been similarly branded.

As Yin asks (rhetorically) in the title of his study, “Were Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber the Only White Terrorists?” (The study has been accepted for publication in a juried law review and is available online at the Social Science Research Network.) Clearly, McVeigh and Kaczynski are not the only white terrorists — not if that loaded term is to be used precisely and responsibly.

Read the rest…

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  • Reader

    @Abdul-Rahman

    A PRACTICING Muslim Cannot Be a Terrorist, that video is only a confirmation of the true face of Islam.

    From the YouTube comments:

    Hate filled? Yes I am. Bigotted? Well if you consider having a biased toward a theology that at the core commands people to convert, enslave or kill non-believers, then yes. As far as listening to anything a muslim says, well since there is taqyiaa which encourages you to lie to spread islam, anything that is said by a follower of that religion of the devil is a lie.

    There is nothing irrational about my hatred for islam. It is only two years old but grows deeper every day. My hatred toward islam is the same as non-muslims held toward the Nazi’s. The big difference, is the Nazi’s hid behind National pride, and muslims hide behind “a religion” that is nothing but evil.

    Safe yourself, from your own diabolic bondage called Islam, you are all victims.

  • Christian-friend

    @InPeace

  • InPeace,

    The guy is a professor and competent scholar whose writings have been peer-reviewed at an accredited academic instituion. The word “rant” is described thus:

    verb (used without object)
    1.
    to speak or declaim extravagantly or violently; talk in a wild or vehement way; rave: The demagogue ranted for hours.

    Come on. Really? At least use your dismissive language correctly.

  • Sir David Illuminati membership number 16.69

    Jack
    I rather like the idea that children are presumed innocent rather than full of evil until they are baptised. I know an old church ( 9thC ) that still has a little door by the wall near the font that was opened to let the devil out when a baby or adult was baptised

    David

  • Just Stopping By;

    Interesting… I believe the general consensus is that once one ‘leaves’ Islam they must re-enter it. This can be seen in the fact that Islam believes everyone to be ‘born Muslim’ (perhaps better translated as ‘a natural instinct to worship God’) but still requires them to make a pronouncement that they are Muslim as they didn’t have the shahhada recited to them upon birth. However there is none of the stuff that I see in certain parts of Christianity requiring lapsed believers to re-enter the faith; it is only those that formally announce their leaving

    As for the types of apostasy, that’s a minefield that depends upon who you ask as to where the particular mines are.

  • rookie

    Gunman kills 7, wounds 3 at California Christian college

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/02/us-usa-shooting-oakland-idUSBRE8310X920120402

    No mazloom, no terrorrist.

  • rookie

    Well, let`s see what InPeace has to say now?

  • Abdul-Rahman

    As Peter Ustinov so accurately put it; “Terrorism is the war of the poor and powerless, and War is the terrorism of the rich and powerful.”

  • Khalid

    The 9/11 hijackers already had a plane , which is in itself – a deadly weapon.

    Mcveigh spent time creating his OWN bomb which was a truck stuffed with fertilizer, and acted as a lone wolf with no connections to well funded terrorist cells like Al-Qaeda.

    He was easily more deadly.

  • Just Stopping By

    @Solid Snake says,

    “@JSB Doesn’t matter, cant you read?” Must…resist…temptation…to…ask…”can’t you write?”

    “Once your a Muslim always a Muslim”
    More seiously, if a Muslim commits apostasy, must they formally reconvert (or revert if you prefer) to Islam, or can they just resume participation as if they had never left? And would it matter if the reason for the apostasy was formally joining another religion or alternatively announcing a disbelief in the Qur’an but believing that God exists but has never interacted with humanity?

    I ask in part because there is a bit of the “once you’re a Jew, always a Jew” view in Judaism, but with vague and presumably inconsistent limits that are interpreted differently by different authorities.

  • Quote InPeace: : “The Seattle Jewish Federation shooting occurred on July 28, 2006, at around 4:00 p.m. Pacific time, when Naveed Afzal Haq shot six women, one fatally, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle building in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, USA. Naveed Haq was convicted in December 2009 and sentenced to life without parole plus 120 years.[1] Police have classified the shooting as a “hate crime” based on what Haq is alleged to have said during a 9-1-1 call.[2] King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng described the shooting as “one of the most serious crimes that has ever occurred in this city”.[1]

    So a non-White Muslim man shoots six women, one fatally, at a Jewish center and the attacks is not classified as terrorism.

    Strangely, the author of this rag forgets to mention this in his rant.”

    —-

    First of all, tell us what definition of “terrorism” are you using?

    -Were the shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999 an “act of terrorism?”

    -Were the shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007 also an “act of terrorism?”

    -In April 2011 – we had a shopping mall shooting in Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands, attack by a native Dutchman with a love for weapons. Tristan van der Vlies shot off 100 rounds in the shopping mall. If Tristan van der Vlies (who killed himself as police closed in) was a Muslim — this would have been called a “Mumbai-style shooting!”

    -Then there was shooting attack in Florence, Italy in December, by a radical right extremist, Gianluca Casser, directed at Senegalese street vendors – was this also an “act of terrorism?”

    No – of course, Casser, like Tristan van der Vlies, was not a Muslim. It’s not “terrorism” unless the perpetrator is a Muslim.

    Now – in March we had the shootings in Toulouse, France that was described by Europol, under the direction of Rob Wainwright – describe this as “lone wolf jihad” and “terrorism.” Why didn’t Wainwright also describe what Gianluca Casser in December as “lone wolf terrorism?” Did he describe Anders Breivik as a “lone wold terrorist?” Wasn’t Tristan van der Vlies also a “lone wolf terrorist?” Nope – not Muslim, not terrorist!” http://yellow-stars.com/blog/2012/03/22/shooting-france-terrorism-only-muslims/

    The point here is pay close attention to how the discourses and narratives change in the media and among so-called “terrorism experts” when a violent criminal is described as having a Muslim background…

  • JT

    Naveed Afzal Haq mentioned something about withdrawing American troops from the Middle East and Israel, so it could be classified as terrorism. However, he made anti-semitic statements which mean it’s also a hate crime.

    I think the line between the two is blurred here. Aren’t all acts of terrorism hate crimes…

  • Solid Snake

    @JSB

    Doesn’t matter, cant you read? At one point in his life he was a MUSLIM!!! Once your a Muslim always a Muslim, What happens in Islamistan stays in Islamistan…or something like that. Unless you convert to Evangelical Christianity and join the Far Right and attack Muslims/Leftists/Immigrants.

  • There is an emerging security and terrorism study field that challenges the dominate discourses about “terrorism” and who is allowed to frame discourses over “terrorism” for the State. Critical Terrorism studies now stands to challenge the Orthodox Terrorism studies field in many ways.

    “Terrorism” is a contested concept that has many meanings and definitions – and the problem with defining “terrorism” is that there is NO set definition for the term “terrorism.”

    In his study of 300 works of “Islamist terrorism” discourses Richard Jackson (2007) found that there was an extensive use of various labels, including, but not limited to: “Islamist,” “jihadist,” “political Islam,” “the West,” “Salafis,” “radicalism,” “global jihadist movement.” The usage of these terms was often vaguely defined, if defined at all, and was highly flexible in deployment and categories. These labels are arranged in dualistic, oppositional pairs, such as “the West versus the Islamic world” and “democratic versus totalitarian” (400). Jackson finds that the discourse’s underlying assumption is that violence, contrast to Christianity, is inherent to Islam as Islam marks no difference between Church and State.

    The assumption also includes the notion that governance of Muslim nations includes State regulation of the public and private lives of Muslims and the connection between political Islam and violence. From these assumptions between Islam and violence springs the assumption that terrorism is directly linked to, and inspired from, extremist and fundamentalist forms of Islam. Many works appear to take an automatic link of “Islamist,” “Wahhabist” and “Salafist” directly to terrorism and political violence. These works often drew upon cultural stereotypes and long-running hostility toward Islam and Muslims in the mainstream media (403-404, 401). Jackson, Richard. 2007. Constructing Enemies: ‘Islamic Terrorism’ in Political and Academic Discourse. Government and Opposition, Vol. 42, No. 3, pp. 394–426. http://yellow-stars.com/blog/2012/03/12/faulty-biased-terrorism-studies-nypd-radicalization-model/

    We not only have the flawed and contested definitions and constructions for “terrorism” that are based on stereotypes– we have an equally flawed and OPENLY BIASED practice of “counter-terrorism” in the Western world that sees Muslims as the only perpetrators of “terrorism.”

    You here at LoonWatch know what I going to write next – and I know you all get it, but it’s worth mentioning a thousand times: Note that violent crimes by Muslims are “terrorism” by “lone wolf jihadists” and violent crimes by non-Muslims are just horrible crimes by “bad people who are just crazy.”

    The template for this notion of “murder by a Muslim is terrorism” rubbish was the Theo van Gogh murder by a single individual, Mohammed Bouyeri, who was called an “international terrorist” by the Dutch State. (Bouyeri was probably just a street gang member who was “woofing”) From this single murder we now get the template to profile every Muslim young man and liken personal anger and personality flaws into “Mohammed Bouyeri” and a “national security threat.” Every young Muslim male that has problem with his identity and has social problems (poverty and social exclusion) faces the risk of being labeled a “national security risk.”

    Whet then follows next is an anti-Muslim biased practice of counter-terrorism. I would contend (and will this summer) that the counter-terrorism practices in the Netherlands, the UK and the rest of Europe violate the human rights of Muslims and must be stopped!

    “Terrorism” is such a flawed concept, a contested definition, biased both in meanings and practice among Western police and security — we own our liberties and our liberal democracies a favor by dropping the term all together. We certainly need to challenge these discourses and narratives that turn violent criminal activities by Muslims into “Mohammed Bouyeri-lone wolf jihad” and “national security threat.”

  • Just Stopping By

    With regard to Naveed Afzal Haq: “Although Haq grew up as a Muslim, he later disavowed Islam, converting to Christianity. Haq studied the Bible at Word of the Faith Church in Kennewick and was baptized in December 2005, but stopped attending his Bible study group after a few months.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naveed_Afzal_Haq

    I have also only skimmed the actual academic article this is based on, but it seems worth the read for those who are interested. While I prefer statistical analyses to case studies, it’s a good paper in that line of research: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2049221.

  • Christian-friend

    InPeace, question; was he muslim?

  • InPeace

    The Seattle Jewish Federation shooting occurred on July 28, 2006, at around 4:00 p.m. Pacific time, when Naveed Afzal Haq shot six women, one fatally, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle building in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, USA. Naveed Haq was convicted in December 2009 and sentenced to life without parole plus 120 years.[1] Police have classified the shooting as a “hate crime” based on what Haq is alleged to have said during a 9-1-1 call.[2] King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng described the shooting as “one of the most serious crimes that has ever occurred in this city”.[1]

    So a non-White Muslim man shoots six women, one fatally, at a Jewish center and the attacks is not classified as terrorism.

    Strangely, the author of this rag forgets to mention this in his rant.

  • mindy1

    My(unscientific) definition-if it’s done for political reasons, or to extort money it’s terrorism. If it’s due to a real mental illness, or to exact revenge against someone for personal reasons, it’s just someone being an ass. I am sure there is a better definition, but that is just my opinion.

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