What makes a terrorist?
Whenever there’s a massive shooting or “terror” attack, commentators online, on the radio, on TV or in the newspaper always apply labels. White males are often “lone wolf” or “mentally unstable” shooters. Blacks are thugs or gang members. And Allah forbid you have a middle-eastern last name or brown skin. You’re a terrorist, perhaps the worst label of all. But what if terrorism has political connotations? What if “thug” means you’re a member of a gang? What if “thugs” who commit crimes are also mentally unstable? We have an easy time explaining why minorities commit murder (that’s the way he was raised, he’s a gang-banger, he hates cops) or Muslims (He’s a Muslim so he’s a terrorist and hates everything that goes against his/her religion). But when white males go on rampages, people don’t know why it happened. It’s just random. Why?
When viewing mass shooting through the lens of the media, these labels are perpetuated and become reality. So when Robert Lewis Dear (A white male) shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic and mentioned “no more baby parts,” he established a clear political motive. But Fox News isn’t screaming about this guy as a terrorist. Donald Trump isn’t threatening to bomb his family and neighbors.
But what if terrorism has nothing to do with political gain and is just intended to strike fear into people’s hearts? William Hudson murdered six people in cold blood in an East Texas campsite. And no one called him a terrorist. If I saw someone kill six people, I’d be scared. I’d be sure as hell struck with terror. But this guy hasn’t been labeled a terrorist. No one has attacked his race or religion (or lack of religion) because of his actions.
So what makes a terrorist? Terrorism can’t be labeled by a single race or religion. Is it categorized by politics? By number of people killed? I don’t know. By either measure, a lot of whites would be included. Even Dylann Rooff, who killed nine black people in a historically black church, is facing federal hate crime charges. But his actions, although motivated by race, were also motivated by the fear that blacks were “taking over” the country. This implies a fear of political power, and racial issues have always been highly politicized. But even Roof isn’t a terrorist, only a racists who went too far.
If the media wants people to stop assuming all terrorists are Muslims and vice versa, maybe we should start using objective qualifiers for what counts as terrorism, instead of only using the term against Muslims..