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 Dictionary.com, “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)