In the shocking and fortunately failed case of the attempted bombing of Time Square this past weekend, I began seeing a pattern in terminology defining anti-government violence and terrorism. Many reports say, "It is unsure whether or not this was an act of terrorism." What they mean, of course, is, "We don't know if the culprits are Muslims."
This is a pattern because of other examples in which the changing of the identity of the assailant changes the crime. When Andrew Stack of Austin flew his plane into the IRS building just over two months ago, it was determined by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo not to be terrorism, and media outlets like The New York Times, Fox News, and CNN echoed this refrain.
Why? When Arabs or South Asians with falsely Islamic, anti-American rhetoric fly an airplane into a building, it's terrorism. When an anti-American, vaguely-Christian white man does the same, how we could we label it any differently? This is a problem that is equally shared by both conservative and liberal media outlets, including some of my favorite personalities like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, as well as politicians.
After a South Park episode depicted Muhammad supposedly in a bear costume, a New York-based website called Revolution Islam responded with threats to the creators of South Park. Soon thereafter, almost all news sources warned of "Muslim retaliation." But can these guys be called Muslims? Zachary Chesser, one of the punks from Revolution Islam, isn't exactly your typical Muslim. A troubled kid who used to draw satanic images and dress in goth attire, his recent "conversion" to Islam can be compared to kids 40 years ago becoming communists to rebel against their parents.
Yet the media did a terrible job of catching this, instead lumping them together with actual Muslims from both in the United States and abroad. I agree whole-heartedly with the right of shows like South Park to use free speech, and they certainly don't target one group over another. (I remember seeing Jesus die by machine gun in a specific Christmas special of South Park.) Hell, I am admittedly a South Park fan. Some of my Muslim friends found it funny. Others didn't appreciate it as much, but all were much more pissed off that some jackasses claiming to be speaking for Muslims were misrepresenting them by calling for violence. They share their faith with those terrorists no more than I share my faith with the "Christian" terrorists who bomb abortion clinics.
This uncovers a greater issue, and that is the strength of Muslims voices against violence. The Gallop World Poll conducted the largest ever survey of Muslim opinions worldwide. Their findings revealed that 93 percent of Muslims believe that there is never a case for violence against civilians. When given the chance to write in a response, many cited the Quranic verse 5:32, "Killing a man is like killing all of mankind," a verse used to condemn violence. Of the seven percent who considered violence acceptable, they often cited political rather than religious reasons. Further research reveals that this seven percent is no more religious than the majority.
You may often hear Americans claim that not enough Muslims condemn violence and terrorism. However, that simply could not be further from the truth. There have been many Muslim religious leaders speaking out against terrorism, including some of the most prominent, like Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (who issued a 600-page fatwa on the issue), Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, Abdel Motei Bayyoumi, and many others. There have been many organizations started by Muslims to mobilize against terrorism and improve Muslim-West relations, such as ASMA, Free Muslims Coalition, Muslims Against Terrorism, The Cordoba Initiative, and many more. Also, there have even been massive demonstrations by Muslims against terrorism, in places like India (over one million people participated), London, and even across the US.
Why isn't this common knowledge? It's simply not covered by the media at all. I don't believe this is a product of agenda as much as it's just the nature of the business. Conflict news retains viewers and attracts ad revenue.
Terrorism is not a Muslim invention, and the vast majority of Muslims don't consider those who act in violence to be Muslims.
Terrorism is the latest step in a long tradition of anti-conventional warfare. Non-traditional warfare has many historical examples, such as the American Revolution, when the British cried foul play due to revolutionaries' lack of uniforms and their targeting of generals over soldiers. Guerrilla warfare, defined by attacking and withdrawing and confusing the lines between civilians and combatants, was used by the Filipino rebels against Americans during the US occupation of the Philippines, by the Sardinistas in Nicaragua, and by Ho Chi Minh in the Vietnam War. Terrorism, defined loosely as "violence targeting civilians by non-state actors with the intent to cause public fear," is the latest in this underdog non-conventional warfare progression. Terrorism has been used by ETA in the Basque region of Spain, by the Irgun against the British in Palestine (leading up to the creation of Israel), and by the IRA to fight the British presence in Northern Ireland.
Terrorism is wrong and despicable. However, it is not a Muslim invention, and those who claim Islamic reasoning won't be the last to use it. Even more importantly, by their own religious tendencies, by fatwas by religious leaders around the world, and by Muslims' rejection of their violence, they should not be bundled together with Muslims who despise terrorism.
Whether or not the culprit in the attempted bombing of Times Square was an angry Arab or a wacky white guy, the act is terrorism, no matter where the culprit is from or what he or she believes.