Adeeba Khanam for BeyondHeadlines
The tragic attack of 9/11 is generally considered to be the starting point when the Western countries counter-terrorism strategy changed and they started to focus exclusively on the so-called jihadists as the biggest national security threat.
Over a period, the meaning of certain words changed to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage also known as the Semantic change. If we talk about the word terrorism, the official meaning remains the same but the basic idea in people’s mind has somewhat changed. Earlier when one would hear the word terrorism, he/she would think of an evil act. But now if someone hears the word terrorism, they think of a man wearing black clothes, long beard, holding a rifle in his hands, and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.
This has been the major shift in the basic concept and idea of terrorism. And it’s not because of one person or one organization but it’s a collective error of many organizations, many people, many governments. In the last two decades, the strong association of the word terrorism with the Muslim immigrants and Arabs that has been portrayed by the media and politicians has led us to a point where the whole Muslim community is targeted and scrutinized.
In fact, the Terror attacks carried out by Muslims receive on average 357 per cent more media coverage than those committed by other groups, according to research conducted at Georgia State University. The research highlights a serious imbalance in news coverage. Out of 136 terror attacks in the U.S. over a span of 10 years, the authors studied, Muslims committed on average 12.5 per cent of the attacks, yet received more than half of the news coverage.
One counter-argument which people can think of right now is ‘because most of the terrorists are Muslims’. And this is considered to be a general idea, but the reality is too far from it.
•”In an analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, from the 65 incidents which happened in 2017, roughly 60% of those were driven by racist, anti-Muslims, anti-Semitic, anti-government or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies like radical environmentalism were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks in US.”
•”The Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism has reported that 71% of the extremism-related fatalities in the US between 2008-2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements. Islamic extremists were responsible for just 26%.”
•”An analysis of the Global Terrorism Database by researchers at the University of Maryland published in 2017 shows a ‘sharp increase’ in the share attacks by the right-wing extremists.”
The study defines “right-wing extremism” as “violence in support of the belief that personal and/or national way of life is under attack and is either already lost or that the threat is imminent,” including anti-globalism, white supremacy, nationalism, suspicion of the government and beliefs in conspiracies.
The main point of the above arguments is not that America or other countries should ignore the foreign-born jihadists, but the main point here is that they shouldn’t ignore anything- neither the jihadists nor the right-wing extremists. But the laid-back attitude and inadequacy to address the issue of right-wing extremism directly are posing some major threats to the peace and well being of the society.
It took America decades to come out of the clutches of white supremacy, but the last two decades somehow indicates that few things of the past might just be repeating itself. In the Jim Crow Era, which took place from 1877 through the 1950s, racial terror was used as a means for white to maintain power and prevent blacks from gaining equality. During this same time, white society created negative stereotypes about blacks to dehumanize black and justify the violence whites enacted upon them. The motive is not to say that the last two decades are just like the Jim Crow Era because ‘it’s not’. Jim Crow Era was way too violent and way too aggressive. But the idea here is that these right-wing terrorists or white supremacists are using the same explanations to justify their crimes as of those times, which is alarming.
It is a time when Governments need to shift their focus to right-wing extremists so that what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a White Supremacist terrorist began shooting at the 2 mosques and killed 50 people on 15 March 2019. Just to give a clear picture of how much far-right extremists activities have increased and caused damage in the last 10 years, these are some of the examples-
-On 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people by detonating a van bomb amid Regjeringskvartalet in Oslo, then shot dead 69 participants of a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utøya. In his manifesto, he stated his opposition to Islam and blamed feminism for a European “cultural suicide.”
-On August 6, 2012, a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple in the US state of Wisconsin killing 6 people and wounding 4.
-On April 13, 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr shot 3 people to death at a Jewish centre. He said 2 of them were accomplices to the Jewish people and ‘Jews were destroying the white race’.
-On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof shot nine people to death during a Bible study at a Church in Charleston, Us. Roof said, ‘he wanted to start a race war’.
-On October 22, 2015, Anton Lundin Pettersson killed 3 people at a local school in Sweden where immigrant student’s percentage was high.
-On January 29, 2017, in a mosque attack, 6 people were killed and 5 were wounded in a shooting in Quebec City, Canada.
-On February 22, 2017, Adam Purinton killed one Indian man who he had mistaken for Iranian.
-On March 20, 2017, James Harris Jackson an American military veteran stabbed a man to death with a sword in New York.
-On May 26, 2017, Jeremy Joseph Christian launched an anti-Muslim tirade on young women in a public train. When people tried to intervene he stabbed two people to death and injured one.
-On June 19, 2017, Darren Osborne killed 1 person and wounded 9 others when he ploughed his van into worshippers outside of a mosque in the Uk.
-On August 12, 2017, a car was deliberately driven into a crowd of people who had been peacefully protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one and injuring 28.
-On November 27, 2018, in the US state Pennsylvania, 11 people were killed, and 7 others were injured in a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.
In fact, between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by Islamist terrorists, according to a study by New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC.
And right-wing extremism exists in other parts of the world as well. Interior Ministry figures show that in 2017, there were 950 attacks targeting Muslims and mosques in Germany. German police recorded 578 crimes against Muslims between January and September in 2018.
But with time situation is getting worse as some of the most powerful leaders are not addressing the issue directly. For example- Donald Trump, America’s President is downplaying White Nationalist threat as “small group of people” where White Nationalism is on a rise in the US as shown in the data which states that Supremacist propaganda rose to 182%, racist rallies/demonstration to 20% and hate groups to 7% in the year 2017-2018 by Anti-defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Centre.
Since the mass shooting in New Zealand on 15 March 2018, Donald Trump has been constantly facing criticism for not addressing the issue of White Supremacy directly. He denied it to be a real problem. From the time he was elected as the President, his political agenda has revolved mainly around Mexicans, Muslims and other outsiders. Trump describes Mexicans as invaders, immigration as a kind of infestation which destroys the culture of Western countries mainly America. These ideas are often presented in a positive tone, but they are giving space for the White Supremacists to prosper. In fact, 78% of extremist attacks in the US in 2018 were carried out by White Supremacists.
All the major problems or evils which exists in today’s world are because necessary steps were not taken back then when those problems were rising. In a similar way, Governments need to realize that these far-rightists, neo-Confederates, neo-fascists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other various militias, if not handled now then, can really become uncontrollable. Right-wing extremism is fueling a surge of terrorism especially in the US and Europe. Therefore, the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy needs to be more inclusive in terms of the rising threats to society.
Also, this is a good time that we start to use the word ‘terrorism’ with its original meaning and stop associating religion and race to it. Because if we consider it to be true, then should we blame the whole white community for what happened in New Zealand? No! Because Terrorism has nothing to do with religion or race. The only mentality is to be blamed.
Also, more questions need to be asked like why when a man of color or a Muslim commits a crime, he is labeled as a terrorist whereas these White Supremacists or far right-wing people are often called ‘Lone wolves’.
Governments, media, politicians need to be more accepting in terms of acknowledging the presence of these White Supremacists and immediately need to stop associating religion and race with terrorism because it somehow misleads the whole society and paves the paths for these right-wing terrorists and White Supremacists.