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Wajahat Ali Headshot

'Jihad Jane': Not the Usual Suspect

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The assumption that terrorism and radicalisation is specific to a certain racial profile, religion and ethnic name is undermined by the arrest of two white American women allegedly conspiring to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist and the recent attack on the IRS building by a disgruntled Texan American.

Alleged ring leader Colleen Larose, popularly known as "Jihad Jane" and Jamie Paulin Ramirez ("Jihad Jamie"), recently exonerated of all charges, are as American as Apple pie and The Liberty Bell due to their blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin. However, the women's conversion to Islam and embrace of radicalised politics represent to many an unfathomable juxtaposition. The US department of justice proclaimed: "This case also demonstrates that terrorists are looking for Americans to join them in their cause, and it shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance."

This revelation immediately creates an exaggerated and fictitious paranoia in some that the average white American neighbour could secretly be a stealth, Islamist jihadist willingly ready to explode at the drop of a satirist's paint brush. It also rationalises "western" Europe's hysterical fear about its impending transformation into "Eurabia", and condones its prejudicial and reactionary behaviour that has lead to the banning of minarets and hijabs.

In America, the sensationalised curiosity surrounding Jihad Jane's revelation can be ascertained from her Google search, which has yielded 1,760,000 hits, and by her front page appearance on nearly every major media outlet. Whereas a search on Joseph Stack, the disgruntled and suicidal Texan who flew a plane into an IRS building killing one and injuring 13, has only netted 430,000 hits.

The existence of such white, radicalised identities reveals several important realities.

First, the necessity to racially profile Middle Easterners and Arabs, and the subsequent erosion of civil liberties to protect our "safety," becomes moot in light of Jihad Jane's whiteness. Her seven co-conspirators arrested in Ireland, five of them recently released without charge, all come from varying ethnic backgrounds. If we are to racially profile all suspicious individuals based on this revelation, TSA might as well show the "special security" love to nearly every airline passenger. Will Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who have advocated unfettered profiling against Middle Easterners, call for similar treatment against middle aged, white women and men? Perhaps President Obama should amend his recent security measures, created after the arrest of the Nigerian underwear bomber, and extend special pat downs and heightened profiling to individuals returning from European countries, not just the 14 mostly Muslim countries currently targeted.

Second, terrorism comes in all shapes and colours, but it is easier and more comfortable to label it as such when it's wrapped in a Muslim package. Even though the "war on terror" has made the word almost meaningless, "terrorism" is specifically defined by the United States as a "violent act ... intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population ... [or] influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion". In comparison to Jihad Jane's alleged assassination attempt, Joseph Stack's kamikaze into the IRS building seems more apt to fit the definition.

Specifically, Stack outlined his intentions and grievances in a detailed 3,200 word manifesto proclaiming his hatred of the government and the IRS in particular. However, Representatives, such as Republicans Steven King of Iowa and Massachusetts centrefold Scott Brown, have been slow to label him a terrorist and even empathised with him. "It's sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, [the IRS is] an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it's going to be a happy day for America," said King.

One wonders if Joseph Stack was named Yusuf ibn Stack and a practising Muslim if he'd be afforded such sensitive understanding. Considering America's violent history with rightwing, anti-government extremists, most notably Timothy McVeigh, one hopes the government is actively concerned about Joseph Stack's sympathisers and supporters, "who are looking for Americans to join them in their cause."

It seems radicalisation and extremist ideology is a non-discriminatory disease that increasingly preys on isolated, lonely and angry individuals, regardless of colour or religious belief, who perversely justify the use of violence as means of furthering their agenda.

Ultimately, the US government must finally heed its own advice and seek colour blind security procedures and policies that effectively isolate radicalised elements within its society instead of marginalizing its own citizens based purely on race or religion.

Originally published in The Guardian