When someone says, “look at that guy. He looks like a terrorist.” What do you already expect to see? Thanks to religious ideologues who have been largely controlling this conversation of fear mongering, you probably expect to see a Middle Eastern man in his early to mid twenties. The religious right has been very busy painting that picture and it feeds off more than merely the radical Islamic Extremists which make up those terrorist cells. It is based largely off a clash of religious ideologies. You have seen the memes claiming this is a Christian Country, the calls to ban Muslims, have Muslim registries, etcetera. All of this despite the fact that the number one victims in the world, by far, from Islamic terrorists have been Muslims. Not Americans and not Christians. It is very similar to the victim blaming we see in rape cases where people assume it is their own fault they have crazy people blowing them up. We don’t blink an eye until some of their crazy people kill some of our people. Us and them. We only care about us and don’t see how this is a much larger and more tragic problem for them. So now we just think Muslim when someone says terrorist. But is that accurate? Well, frankly, no. Not in the slightest.
A while back we began defining hate crimes. (I know. abrupt shift. Have I ever even heard the word transition?) I’ll get there.) They began in the US as early as the post Civil War Reconstruction era, though they were not specifically called Hate Crimes at that time. California passed the first state legislated Hate Crimes law in 1978. Wikipedia defines a hate crime as:
A hate crime (also known as a bias-motivated crime) is a prejudice-motivated crime, usually violent, which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership (or perceived membership) in a certain social group.
But we have been calling a lot of incidents lately hate crimes. Now, Wikipedia defines terrorism as follows:
Terrorism is a term used in its broadest sense to describe the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror or fear, in order to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim. It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence against civilians or non-combatants.
Hmmm. Do you see the problem here? We have a great deal of hate criming going on. But are they really hate crimes? When a social group, be it Muslim, LGBT, Black, Asian, Semitic or any other identifying factor, is targeted with the hope or expressed desire to cause fear in that group of people, for whatever reason (be it retribution for a perceived slight or xenophobic hate, etc.) then it is not a hate crime. It is terrorism. We need to stop identifying people who target communities as committing hate crimes. They already know they will be arrested and they wear that offense as a badge of honor. They believe they are supposed to hate those people and they want them to feel hated. The perpetrator wants them to feel like they don’t belong here. Calling it a hate crime only serves the criminal. It only perpetuates the message they wish to send.
However, calling them what they are, terrorists, does not carry the same fear value, believe it or not, because terrorism is unacceptable, period. We are conditioned to despise terrorists, not to sympathize with them or look beyond their action to any motivation. When someone commits a hate crime against Muslims, LGBT or abortion clinics (for example) the term affords them a message. By social design and conditioning, calling them terrorists forfeits their message. Here is an example of what I mean.
Terrorists vandalized and disrupted services at a mosque today.
Anti Muslim activists vandalized and disrupted services at a mosque today.
Terrorist fired gunshot into an abortion clinic this morning.
Pro Life activist fires shots into local abortion clinic.
Terrorist assaults LBGT couple on honeymoon
Traditional marriage supporter lashes out at LGBT couple on honeymoon
Terrorist shoots and kills teen boy walking down sidewalk.
White Supremacist charged with hate crime for shooting teenage black boy for walking down street in predominantly white neighborhood.
When we call them terrorists, we take away their message. We take away their why. Without the why, they can’t instill more fear. We take away the why and they cannot be heroes or martyrs to like minded zealots and radicals. When they are denied a message, when they are labeled as nothing more than a terrorist, then their action has no higher meaning. They are just depraved criminals attacking civilians to promote some political, religious or ideological bias that no one even wants to hear about.
I’m not saying that hate crime legislation doesn’t have its place, but we are seeing acts of terrorism play out all around the world and we need to call them what they are. These people running down worshipers leaving a mosque are not committing a hate crime. The man who targeted a group of Muslim girls, abducting and killing one of them is not just a murderer and it is not just a hate crime. Attacking gay couples or LBGT people is not just a hate crime. These things are done to instill fear in social groups, to make them feel unwanted and unwelcome in the community. It is to make others feel afraid of what might happen to them. That is terrorism. It does not deserve a voice.
If we treated all acts of terrorism this way, then they would lose their effectiveness. We only help the radical Islamic terrorist organizations like ISIS by defining terrorism on their standards. In that way, we afford them a message of fear. But when we treat them all the same, when they are all terrorists, when their affiliation is that of terrorism instead of public ideology, when an islamic terrorist is no different from an anti-Muslim terrorist or a White Supremacist terrorist, then all their actions are lost and without meaning. We must change our public dialogue if we want to make a difference in the violent hate of this world. Stop giving people a pass when they commit crimes of terror. Stop identifying terror with Islam. Don’t give terrorists a voice. Don’t let them be martyrs or heroes to their bigoted cause.
We are One Woman, One World.
Ann Lavendar Truong
Shout out to Anne Coffer, great friend and amazing colleague and author. She has a new book out, just released, that is fantastic, Edge of Ridiculous . I loved it! Get it! Read it! Then tell her how awesome she is!
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