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Terrorism by other name

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(originally published in The Kathmandu Post, July 28 2011:

Media speculation was rife immediately after the twin terrorist attacks on Oslo. Experts weighed in and fingers were immediately pointed at radical Islam. Before all the facts has even been ascertained, the western media was overrun with reports of non-existent Islamic groups ‘claiming’ responsibility and terrorism ‘experts’ speculating on the involvement of al-Qaeda. Even the New York Times, that bastion of western liberal media, fell victim. They reported: “Powerful explosions hit Oslo; Jihadis claim responsibility.” Similar reports appeared on the BBC, The Washington Post, all focussing on how the heinous acts, which have taken the lives of 76 people, were the acts of Islamic terrorists. They were right on one account and wrong on another. It was an act of terrorism, but it wasn’t Islamic.

It has by now emerged that the prime suspect in the Oslo attacks is Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing nationalist, Muslim-hating xenophobe, contributor to the conservative blog Atlas Shrugged (after Ayn Rand, patron saint of the US Tea Party) and for any and all reason, a terrorist. The New York Times was still attempting to pin the blame on al-Qaeda, pointing out that other terrorist groups and factions around the world were learning from al-Qaeda and mimicking their ways. As if no one knew how to improvise bombs before al-Qaeda, as if no one had thought to bomb government buildings with a political agenda before al-Qaeda. Richard Silverstein, on his website, points out the New York Times fallacy: “Are the only terrorists in the world Muslim? If so, what do we call a right-wing nationalist capable of planting major bombs and mowing down scores of people for the sake of the greater glory of his cause? If even a liberal newspaper like the Times can’t call this guy a terrorist, what does that say about the mindset of the western world?”

Blogs like Electronic Intifada were the first to point to how quick the liberal media jumps on the it-was-the-Islamists bandwagon. It is clear the western world doesn’t regard terrorism as being carried out by anyone other than Muslims. To them, that is terrorism, anything else is extremism.

Terrorism has now been relegated to who accepts responsibility for it. Instead of focusing on the horror of death and destruction, terrorism is now a name game. If linked to an Islamic group, then it is terrorism. That is why, the US and its liberal media is careful to use terrorism when it suspects a Muslim is involved and when a white, Christian, anti-government radical crashes a plane into a building, it is termed merely ‘extremism.’ This is why when the Palestinians launch a rocket at the Israeli Defence Force, it is called terrorism and when the IDF indiscriminately bombs a Palestinian settlement, it is called retaliation. The civilian bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan and the drone attacks on Pakistan by the US are not termed terrorism, even though it spreads a more palpable terror. No, that is merely democracy in action. But when Iraqi and Afghani locals, be they al-Qaeda or not, target specific military bases, specific military operations of an invading, occupying army, it is termed terrorism.

In Europe, the biggest threat is not from radical Islamic groups but from nationalist extremists like Breivik who are virulently afraid of what they call ‘Islamification of Europe.’ Of the 294 terror attacks attempted or executed on European soil in the year 2009, only one was linked to radical Islam, reports Glenn Greenwald for Salon magazine and Robert Lambert on Al Jazeera, Mehdi Hasan, editor of the New Statesman, quotes figures compiled by Europol, the European police agency. In 2006, only again only one out of 498 documented terrorist attacks across Europe were linked to “Islamists”; in 2007, it was four out of 583.

Terrorism is not always so blatant, there is also terrorism of propaganda and terrorism of rhetoric. Such rhetoric is always divisive and creates an insider and an outsider. Whenever there is trouble, it is always the outsider who is blamed. There were Twitter reports from Norway, immediately following the attacks, of violence against Muslims. An innocent, vulnerable minority was targeted based on assumptions alone. This is the kind of violence rhetoric breeds. And it leads to a culture of fear where you fear cops if you’re brown, you pray that you will not be singled out for a ‘random’ check of all your baggage, your check your facial hair before you leave for the airport.

Glenn Greenwald asks ironically, “Will tall, blond, Nordic-looking males now receive extra scrutiny at airports and other locales, and will those having any involvement with those right-wing, Muslim-hating groups be secretly placed on no-fly lists?  Or are those oppressive, extremist, lawless measures — like the word Terrorism — also reserved exclusively for Muslims?”

That the western world is so quick to blame is no surprise. It still reeks of Bush’s “either you are with us or against us” rhetoric. Even President Obama’s address after the Oslo attacks made veiled references to an “international” threat. But it is an even sadder state of affairs when the so-called experts on terrorism, the so-called liberal media like the New York Times, fall sway to stereotyping. The disappointment with the leftist liberal media is not new. It has been growing for some time. That is why people are migrating to social media blogs from traditional news outlets, where regular folk, not just experts, hold sway over opinion. On blogs, there is room for debate, and it is blogs like Electronic Intifada that expose the hypocrisy of the leftist western media.


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