It’s unfortunate that in a world where comedy and satire are needed now more than ever, the notion of making media consumers laugh at the horrors of modern existence can be the equivalent of signing your own death warrant. Twelve people are dead because a group of guys decided to take their faith too far, and instead of merely threatening the newspaper, decided that the best way to demonstrate Allah to the world was to blow the men and women at Charlie Hebdo away.
It’s a sickening display. This was, by definition, an act of terrorism.
In the United States, we enjoy First Amendment protections to free speech (despite the efforts of some of us to suppress those rights). Essentially, this means that I am allowed to write this entry and say things like “Ted Cruz is a modern-day racist who probably blows David Koch for campaign donations” and “Jesus was a con artist” without fear of legal retribution or discourse (even though the former might be skirting libel, but it’s for a point). I think in some ways we lose sight of that as a culture, which is why incidents like the shooting at Charlie Hebdo seem to bother us so much. I’m not in any way defending the actions of the people who decided violence was the answer to something they considered to be abominable, but I think in the United States we have a hard time understanding that there are some cultures where the exercise of speaking freely is not condoned, and in some cases, is punishable by death.
Look at it this way: this isn’t the first time Muslim extremists used an act of terrorism against an enterprise that they felt tarnished the image of Islam. There have been numerous threats lobbied worldwide against cartoonists, television networks, newspapers, and all other forms for media for depictions of the Prophet Muhammed and criticisms of Islam in general. But, as history has shown us, Islam isn’t the only philosophy that can dish out deadly repercussions for “less than favorable” viewpoints regarding their belief patterns.
In the United States, the word terrorism has become synonymous with our national nightmare. We see hijacked airplanes crashing into skyscrapers, brown, bearded men with box-cutters, envelopes with powdered anthrax, mosques, and the copies of the Quran. Culturally, we have compartmentalized terrorism with Islam, which I suppose makes sense, considering the public consciousness’ traumatized viewpoint of Islamic imagery. This compartmentalization exists, I’m sure, at least partly due to the heavy Christian biases that exist in the United States. However, this narrow focus on Islam as a source of terror has pulled many of us away from actually denotes terror:
“Terrorism: (noun) The use of violence and intimidation for the purpose of creating fear, perpetrated for a political, religious, or ideological goal.”
Incidents like the Charlie Hebdo shooting pull at the strings of some American media personalities, activating their voice boxes for the purpose of ideological fervor. Much like Muslim extremists who preach a bastardized version of Islam for the purpose of jihad, many commentators in American media (as well as many in American pulpits) become condescending, accusatory, and verbally violent when they talk about Islam and what their idea of Islam is. The idea is to transmogrify the actions of what is, collectively, a handful of ideologically-charged fringe groups who act upon a distorted interpretation of a book into a full-scale invasion force tasked with destroying everything and everyone in the world not in accordance to Muslim idolatry. Look no further than this commentary to get an idea of the ideological fervor being perpetrated in American media regarding Muslim jihadists:
Terrorism knows no specific religion, no specific race, no specific creed, no specific gender, and at the end of the day, terrorism knows no specific ideology. Despite the hyper-focus, terrorism is not purely a Muslim act. Terrorism exists only within the rationale of those who carry it out for whatever idolatry they feel justifies their homicidal actions.
For example, terrorism has been carried in the name of Jesus Christ as recently as late-November 2014, when a man named Larry McQuilliams went on a shooting rampage in downtown Austin, TX. He had ties to the Phineas Priesthood, a recognized white supremacist group that claims Christian inspiration and staunchly opposes interracial intercourse, racial integration, homosexuality, and abortion. Among McQuilliam’s targets was the Mexican Consulate, which he attempted to burn down before being shot and killed by Austin police. McQuilliam’s actions, racially motivated by the book “Vigilantes of Christendom” by Richard Kelly Hoskins and the teachings of the Phineas Priesthood, were also textbook terrorism. The Ku Klux Klan has openly stated they subscribe to Christian philosophy in their persecution and violence toward blacks, Catholics, Jews, and other races and creeds that defy their white Anglo-Saxon superiority complexes. The Order is a group largely composed of Mormons and some of their ranks were found guilty of murdering Jewish talk shot host Alan Berg in 1984. The “Army of God,” one of the most well-known Christian terrorist groups in the world, justify their actions through Biblical quotation and have bombed abortion clinics, gay and lesbian bars and nightclubs, and are also responsible for the Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games. Internationally, Christian doctrine also played a large part in The Troubles and has been used in West Africa by the Lord’s Resistance Army, who use Christian doctrine to justify the recruitment of child soldiers and the terrorizing of villages. Furthermore, historical imperialism by the Roman Catholic Church was fundamentally rooted in interpreted Christian philosophy.
According to figures from the Southern Poverty Law Center, white supremacist groups in the United States — many acting on Christian principles — saw an explosion in recruitment following the election of Barack Obama in 2008. So much, in fact, Attorney General Eric Holder revived the Domestic Terror Task Force last June.
Of course, this isn’t to say that terrorism is fundamentally Christian either. All one has to do is pay attention to what’s going on between the Israeli’s and the Palestinian’s to get an idea of what Jewish terrorism looks like. Again, the comparison is for the sake of making a point. It’s hypocritical for us as a culture to speak out against terrorism and give it an explicit “Muslim” label, because by doing so, we are denying the heritage of terrorism that abundantly manifests in all religion. This also isn’t to say that religion is inherently terrorist in nature. As I mentioned previously, terrorism knows no religion. However, religion can breed terrorist attitudes, much like any other philosophy or demographic figure.
When PETA blows up an animal testing center, PETA has committed an act of terrorism.
When one party of an intimate relationship uses threats, intimidation, isolation, or other means of asserting coercive control and power over another party in the relationship, the aggressor is committing intimate terrorism (terrorism doesn’t necessarily have to have a sociopolitical goal).
One can even make the argument that the War on Terror is essentially the usage of terrorism for the purpose of fighting terrorism. This philosophy is further bolstered by the recent CIA torture report.
To stick to the proverbial idea of unanimous blame against a group of people for the actions of the few, hell, PETA, Jews, the I.R.A., Christians, et cetera… they all might as well have hijacked some Boeings.
The point is that our society has a very specific idea of what terrorism actually is and it’s through that hyper-specific definition that we can see incidents such as the massacre at Charlie Hebdo as an act of terror, but we are unable to call other acts by their proper monikers. I consider the Charlie Hebdo shooting an act of terrorism, as it was a religiously-driven attack that carried a consequence of manifesting fear in the surviving community. It’s a tragedy really, but as luck would have it, certain media affiliations are running with this story as a way to rally against Muslim identity and philosophy. That is, itself, an act of terror, as Islamophobic responses promote fear of Islamic culture and the Islamic world. This, in turn, more or less, makes certain American (and international) commentary no different from the acts they are condemning, as terrorism does not require the shedding of blood to be terrorism. The precedent of unleashing Islamophobia in the wake of Muslim terrorist attacks even further cements the twisted web of social bigotry many in this country (and abroad) still feel the need to weave, a tapestry of hate that reinforces the idea that “all [insert group of people] are bad and should be done away with.” Hate, fear, bigotry, terror — they are all one in the same.
As Bobby Kennedy once said, “The big threat to America is the way we react to terrorism by throwing away what everybody values about our country — a commitment to human rights. America is a great nation because we are a good nation. When we stop being a good nation, we stop being great.”