What do most Americans picture when they read the word “terrorist?”
Most likely, the image that comes to mind is of a brown skinned man, possibly wearing a robe and speaking Arabic.
A recent editorial in Teen Vogue points out that when an act of violence is committed by an extremist with a Muslim background, both law enforcement and the public are desperate to know his motivations.
The perpetrator is immediately called a “terrorist” and everyone tries to dig into his family history. We want to know all about his mosque and its imam, because we believe it’s vital to learn where and how he was radicalized.
Rooting out terrorism and eliminating radical extremism are key to what we see as our safety. And that makes sense!
But why haven’t we worked as hard to find out who radicalized Dylann Roof and pushed him to massacre people in church? Or what about James Jackson, whose name isn’t even recognized by most people. Who radicalized him to the point where he drove 200 miles specifically to murder a black man on New York’s city streets?
And why were the first two crimes labelled terrorism while the second two were not?
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, this country has been focused on stopping Islamic terrorism, but has largely ignored the mass killings carried about by white men with hate based ideologies.
It is certainly time, says TeenVogue, for us to widen our definition of terrorism and address the openly racist far right ideology that is posing a greater danger to American citizens than Islamic terrorism.
A 2015 report stated that anti-government extremists present a greater threat to the public than Islamic extremists. While we should not take our efforts away from understanding and ending Islamic extremism, we should also be working to understand the rise in white male domestic terrorism.
Lincoln Blades, the author of the opinion piece in TeenVogue, put it this way:
“In a nation where we strive to understand religious propaganda in order to prevent further indoctrination, it’s crucial we take a more serious approach in identifying white nationalist, white supremacist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic agitprop.”
Clearly, before we can eliminate violent extremism, we need to identify it, and call it out for what it is. When an act of random violence is committed because of a person’s ideology or personal beliefs, that’s terrorism.
Once we have identified that terrorism, we need to figure out where the hatred and will to commit murder has come from. How are these white men “radicalized” and what groups are they associated with that promote that radicalization?
It’s a serious and frightening question, and it has profound consequences for the safety and security of all of us.