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Seema Ahmad Headshot

Austin Plane Attack Highlights Double Standards

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A week ago, Joseph Stack flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin. It is shocking that there wasn't non-stop news coverage of the tragic event. After all, the image of shattered buildings and a smoke-filled sky is forever ingrained in the minds of Americans after the attacks of 9/11.

Instead, the news of the day was dominated by the Conservative Political Action Conference and Tiger Woods' impending apology.

And although some reporters discussed the incident, it quickly became apparent that the intentional flying of an airplane into a government building would not dominate the news. Stack was not Muslim which meant there would be no hysteria and inflammatory rhetoric about the Austin attack.

This act wouldn't be politicized to marginalize certain groups as "soft on terror." It wouldn't result in draconian policy measures to expand government surveillance or to use racial profiling.

There wouldn't be a round-up of all middle-aged men who had expressed outrage at this country's tax regime. There would be no expectation for tax protestors to condemn Joseph Stack or risk the questioning of their patriotism. In fact, newly elected Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) discussed Stack's actions in terms of popular frustration with government and a desire for "transparency" and "accountability."

Yet when violence is perpetuated by Muslim extremists, the results are completely different. Fear is fanned by those who stand to benefit from it pressuring some Muslim organizations dedicated to American pluralism to defend their integrity by repeatedly explaining that the world's 2 billion Muslims are not represented by one individual's act of violence.

To examine the motives or mental state of terrorists is to risk being called a "terrorist-sympathizer." Legal and social norms are compromised all too often and we operate on prejudice masquerading as policy. Although the Obama administration has taken some courageous steps to reverse this trend and pursue a more balanced rhetoric, it has not been able to fully implement polices that restore American ideals of justice and equality.

Joseph Stack committed a horrific act. So did Nidal Hasan when he went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood military base. And although the threat of Al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism is serious and real, it is problematic that the media only inquires about religion, organizational affiliation, or ideology when Muslims are involved.

In the news coverage that only lasted a day or two, few have asked, "Who was Joseph Stack?" And yet, tax-protester violence is not new.

Right-wing extremist groups -- sometimes religiously inspired -- have a history of aggression in this country. Take anti-abortion groups that supported the death of Dr. Tiller or anti-semitic members of Posse Comitatus who refuse to pay taxes and have killed or threatened federal officials. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report in April of 2009 on the rising threat of right-wing extremism. It may be that Stack has no affiliation with these groups, but the public inquiry should be made.

Stack deserves our condemnation, as does Hasan for taking innocent lives. Both of their motivations and actions deserve intense scrutiny. But we should not allow Hasan's assault on humanity to malign all members of a particular religion, when both he and Stack only represent the most extreme elements in society.

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