Newspeak: “Terrorist” Means “Muslim”


After I parked on campus, a bumper sticker on the car next to me caught my attention:  “Support Israel! Fight Terrorism!”  Nice way to start off my day, right?  I thought to myself, “Why doesn’t the sticker just say ‘Fight Muslims/Palestinians’ because that’s what it really means anyway?”  If I had seen the owner of the car, I seriously would have confronted him/her with this question.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the word “terrorist” is synonymous with “Muslim.”  It is a term that evokes stereotypical images of non-White, oriental garbed, angry, and irrational Muslims who have absolutely no motive other than to kill and conquer (White Muslims are seen as brainwashed “terrorists”).  Even Muslim women cannot escape the stereotype, regardless if they wear hijaab or not.  This is Orwellian Newspeak at best, courtesy of the George W. Bush administration, where language is restricted according to the aims of the totalitarian government.  Amusingly, critics of President Obama accuse him of implementing Newspeak because he refuses to use the word “terrorism” when addressing conflicts in the Muslim world, but this is quite ironic since the Bush administration used the term (and other invented words like “Islamofascism”) to simplify complex realities.  In other words, the word “terrorist” limits freedom of thought and speech because it completely vilifies and dehumanizes the opposition — it generates no sympathy or empathy and brainwashes the masses into thinking “Muslim terrorists” hate the West because “we’re free” and “democratic.”  It is restrictive vocabulary because alternative perspectives on “terrorism” result in criminalizing the individual who criticizes the government.   Besides, Bush’s “Patriot Act” has more disturbing parallels with “Big Brother” in Nineteen Eighty Four than Obama’s alleged “Newspeak.”

Onward, I can guarantee that if you asked non-Muslims in your local town/city what comes first in their mind when they hear the word “terrorist,” most will respond with either “Muslim” or “Arab” (or “Osama bin Laden”).  Just a run an image search on google for “terrorist” and you’ll see the results are associated with Islam and/or Muslims.

Later in the day, I attended my “International Studies” class where we began our lesson on Spain.  The professor had to bring up the attacks on Madrid.  I knew it was coming.  She said, “Do you all remember when those terrorists attacked those poor people in Madrid?”  All I can think about was how the word “terrorist” means “Muslim.”  Everyone in the room knows exactly what group of people the term refers to.  No one needs to ask, “Who were the terrorists?” or “Where were the terrorists from?”

When my professor mentioned King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, her choice of words were quite interesting.  “They finally got rid of all those Arabs.”  Did she really just say that in an “International Studies” class?  I suppose “Christian” and “Jew” is equated with democracy and “good,” while “Arab” and “Muslim” are “dictators” and “evil.”  I raised my hand and told her, “You forgot that they got rid of the Jews too.”  She replied, “What?”  I added, “The Spanish Inquisition.  They didn’t just expel the Muslims, but they kicked all of the Jews out too.  They killed a lot of Muslims and Jews.”  Students in the class started to laugh for some reason.  My professor simply replied, “Oh yeah, you’re right.  And we’re going to get to that, I’m just saying that the Arabs got there around 711 and it took a while to get them out.”  I didn’t take that response too well.  I said, “Wow, that sounded biased.  First of all, they weren’t all Arabs.  Second, the Muslims were actually integrated in the country and they coexisted with the Jews and Christians.”  I heard a girl on the other side of the room say, “Shut up.”   Figures.

Yes, I will shut up so that the professor can brainwash us into otherizing the Muslims, but then again, the brainwashing isn’t really necessary because we’re already conditioned by the media to think that Muslims are “misogynistic terrorists” who want to destroy Western civilization as we know it, right?  How convenient for my professor.

About a week ago, a friend and I were speaking about Pakistan.  Then, the inevitable question came, “Are there terrorists in Pakistan?”  There’s that word again.  But what does “terrorism” mean?  Let’s do a quick exercise in semantics.  According to, “terrorism” means:

(1)  The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.  (2)  The state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.  (3)  A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Ok, let’s look at what happened last Winter when the State of Israel launched relentless airstrike attacks on Gaza which not only bombed homes and two UN schools, but also killed over 1,400 Palestinians.  Yes, that is a lot of people!  Is this not “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce” aka “terrorism?”  Yet, you would never hear someone ask the question, “Are there terrorists in Israel?”  (unless, of course, they’re asking about the Arab and Muslim citizens in Israel).  Why?  Because we’re conditioned to perceive Israel and the West as the “good guys” and “upholders of democracy.”  It’s all about reinforcing “us versus them.”  As Bush said, “You are either with us or against us.”  There is good and evil.  There is no gray area.

If the shooter of the Virginia Tech school was Muslim, the headlines would have been screaming “Terrorist Attacks Virginia Tech,” and everyone would know what it meant.  Recently, a radical White man opened fire in a Holocaust museum.  He was called a neo-Nazi, and rightfully so, but we all know that if the man was Muslim, he would have been called a “terrorist.”  When certain US soldiers tortured prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, why wasn’t that called “terrorism?”  Or what about the Iraqi civilians who were killed in the US invasion — why is that not called “terrorism”?  What about the recent murder of Marwa El-Sherbini — was her non-Muslim killer called a “terrorist”?

To elaborate more, I must cite myself from a previous post I wrote:

In 2002, over 2,000 Muslims were massacred in the Indian State of Gujarat, while hundreds of Muslim women were gang raped. The worst part is that the government was complicit in these horrible crimes and many of the victims have yet to receive justice. Where was the mainstream western media when those atrocities were committed? Did we hear the media call the assailants “Hindu extremists?”

Over 200,000 Muslims were butchered in the Serbian genocide against Muslims in Kosovo, but the Serbians were never called “Christian terrorists.” When over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians were forcefully evicted out of their homes by the Israeli military, the Israeli soldiers were never called “Jewish terrorists.”

When Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, the media neglected to report that he was a member of the extremist “Christian Identity Movement.” [I]f the perpetrators were Muslim, you could count on the media to label them “Muslim terrorists.”

The reality is that the meaning of the word “terrorism” should not be restricted or assigned to a particular group of people — that is sheer propaganda.  Terrorism exists all over the world, it happens every day, and we’re all victims of it.  Since Republican Newspeak has conditioned us into thinking “terrorist” means “Muslim,” I believe it’s time we either stop using this word or we use it accurately.  When Israeli soldiers oppress Palestinians, that must be condemned as an act of terror.  The more we use “terrorism” for Muslims and Arabs, the less progress we make.  Worst of all, liberals, democrats, anti-war activists, and even Muslims and people of color engage in Newspeak without even realizing it.

It is time to reflect on the words we say and understand their meanings otherwise the propaganda of “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength” will only continue.  Only through understanding can we generate solutions that make the world a better place.

(Photo Credit: Obey)

19 thoughts on “Newspeak: “Terrorist” Means “Muslim”

  1. Nicely done, Jehanzeb. It’s interesting that there is no REAL definition of terrorism that’s internationally agreed upon – which is purty suspect. I dunno, whenever there’s a semantics dodge at the U.N. (terrorism, genocide, etc.) I get nervous. I do remember that in the case of the Serbian massacre of Muslims in the 1990s the acts were deemed genocidal, but the perpetrators weren’t called terrorists. Huh. Good illustration point.

    Also, unless you need it, please drop that class. Never mind criminally biased – your prof’s an idiot. One of my favorite teachers, my high school history instructor, lectured on the Spanish Inquisition in the following manner: “To show its gratiitude for the wealth of learning and culture brought by the Moors, Spain murdered, forcibly converted, or flat out expelled its Jews and Muslims.” After this, she paused, smiling wryly. “And Spain was never, ever a world power again.” 😉

    1. Thanks Fiqah! I actually need the class, haha. It’s one of those general requirement classes (I took another course, which was inter-cultural communications, but it didn’t count towards my major because it was a 400 course!).

      I like what your teacher said. Last class, I actually helped my professor teach the facts about Al-Andalus. There’s a brilliant documentary about it too, which I’m hoping she will show.

  2. Interesting article!!

    when you bring up Israel (Israel’s government) and Palestine (Palestine’s government which is Fatah & Hamas… and a few other fairly insignificant players) in your discussion of terrorism- I was a little bit confused. Are you drawing a moral equivalence between the two or are you saying that one side acts more moral than the other? Is there a particular Palestinian political party that you support be it Fatah, Hamas or even another one?

    Also, I think that the issue of Islam being connected to terrorism will end soon. You have to realize that muslims who use terrorism do so because their nations have weak militaries. However, the musilm world is rapidly growing fast and we can expect that they will soon have the capability to take out their legitimate (or illegitimate) frustrations out by using conventional warfare rather than attacking civilian targets.

    Thus, we won’t see suicide bombings in Israel but instead will say airplanes dropping bombs on targets in Israel.

    That will be good because as muslims are able to use conventional warfare, people will no longer make the connection between Islam and terrorism. everyone wins- except the zionists! 🙂

    1. Sam,

      Thanks for your comment. No, I’m not drawing any “moral equivalence” nor am I suggesting that there needs to be conventional warfare. You seem to imply that only Muslims/Palestinians target civilians. Are you saying that Israeli soldiers don’t attack or target civilians? See this article recently published by Haaretz, “Rights group: Most Gazans killed in war were civilians”:

      Um, and I’m not hoping for more suicide bombings OR airplanes dropping bombs on targets in Israel. What I’m talking about is how the word “terrorism” is linked only to Muslims, but when other groups of people do something just as horrific (or worse), it is not called “terrorism.”

      I think you misinterpreted my post.

  3. Nice post. The power of language is definitely not to be underestimated. Together with the control of the media, it is easy to be brainwashed if one is not analytical, or if one is not willing to look deeper for the truth.

  4. I really enjoyed your article and it is very well written. I am not a Muslim and I won’t pretend to know how it feels to be put in the same box as “terrorists”. I can tell you that Timothy McVeigh was a “domestic terrorist” and I have heard the term used many times on Fox news when referring to:

    (1) The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes. (2) The state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization. (3) A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

    Those who have mental problems including the Black Muslim man who shot the National Guard worker were not referred to as a “terrorist”.

    My personal opinion is that in our life time the groups who are participating in those acts the dictionary refers to as “terrorism” happen to be Muslim. Now don’t take that as my blind believe that other religions are not guilty of these types of acts or that I agree Israel and the USA. If it was 30 years ago in Ireland the terrorists were the Catholics and the Protestants.

    I believe ALL religions have the potential of breeding “terrorists”. For some reason religion brings out the best and worst of people. (All people and all religions)
    For these times I will tell you that Islam is sending a clear message. It is the same message that the Catholic Church sent many years ago when they were in power (when they had as much money as the Muslims do now with their oil money). Islam is sending a clear message they want everyone to live under Sharia law. I find that highly offensive because that is not my path.

    There is no way you can tell me that a whole nation is 100% one religion all by choice. You and I both know that they do not have the freedom of religion and are forced to live by some old beliefs from a book that is old and out of date. Religion is a man made scam to manipulate peoples actions.

    1. Emilly,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I must admit that I’m kind of confused by your comment though. When you say “Islam is sending a clear message they want everyone to live under Sharia law,” I hope you realize that you’re attacking the religion of Islam itself. What I think you mean to say is that extremists want to do this.

      But let me tell you why that’s a problematic statement. Have you ever felt violently threatened or pressured by any of your Muslim friends (assuming that you have some) just because you’re not Muslim? The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful people, and I think it’s important that we understand that.

      As RCHOUDH said, not all terrorists are always motivated by religion. In fact, a lot of the violence we see erupting in the Muslim world are a result of post-colonialist liberation ideologies. Religious extremism is something that is added to an already heated and/or violent political conflict. We have seen this with the Crusades (both in Jerusalem and Spain).

      And, unfortunately, the last part of your comment is Islamophobia. Those “old beliefs from a book that is old and out of date” happens to be what I believe in, so you’re essentially generalizing about all Muslims. It’s a typical stereotype about all people who follow religions, i.e. they’re “brainwashed,” “indoctrinated,” or “can’t think for themselves.”

      I can think for myself, Emilly. I have an independent mind. I would not believe in Islam if I wasn’t allowed to question. If you actually spoke to imams, you would understand that “there are no forbidden questions in Islam” (as my local imam teaches us). When you say “religion is man made,” you are making an attack on feminists who follow religions. There are a lot of Muslim feminists (including yours truly), and if you read our literature, you would understand that Islam teaches gender equality.

      If you are genuinely interested in learning more about Islam, please read “The Muslim Next Door” by Sumbul Ali-Karamali. It will answer a lot of your questions and break a lot of the stereotypes you obviously have about Muslims and Islam.

  5. I love how you pounced on the MSM depiction of terrorism by its throat. We also have to remember that terrorists are not always motivated by religion (whatever that religion is). There are many terrorist groups that are secular and thus strictly political. Another example of non Muslim terrorists would be the Hindu Tamil Tigers.

    Also I’m proud of how you are not afraid to stand up against your professor’s ignorance and bigotry, even though it could adversely affect your grade in this class. And we’d love to hear how you helped her teach about Al-Andalus in a future post Insha’Allah!

    1. Thanks so much, RCHOUDH. I agree with the points you made. I was actually planning on writing about Al-Andalus (and what happened in class) as my next blog post! Stay tuned!

  6. I wish you had said something to that girl who told you to “shut up”. That was extremely rude of her to say. But I suppose people only hear what they want to hear, and its easier to pin the blame on some mindless, bearded, vein-popping red-faced “Moslem” because people think they can’t relate to them. I love your comment about there only being good and evil, no gray area. I suppose there is only black and white for some of us out there. Its easier to live that way for some people. :\

  7. Excellent post–dreadful prof!

    The perversion of the words terror/terrorism/terrorist began in my view with George Bush’s “War on Terror”. Terror is an emotion, only a country which has wars on everything from poverty to drugs would speak of a war on an emotion. Terrorism is a strategy of asymmetrical warfare with specific tactics practised by all who use it, including those famous terrorists, the maquis who helped liberate France from the Nazis, the partisans in Italy, or speeding ahead the ANC and their leader Mandela, only recently off the terrorist list in the USA.

    Reuters rightfully refuses to use the term terrorists, and in regards to the Madrid bombing I and my Spanish friends weighed the evidence against the modus operandi of the usual train bombers in Spain the ETA. Formerly the Basques were separatist revolutionaries now they are “terrorists” too.

    Thanks for sharing your views Jehanzeb, and allowing us to share ours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s