American media is still searching for answers following the June 17 slaughter of nine people at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. While some outlets of American media are still hesitant to state Dylann Storm Roof’s actions were racial in nature, others are trying to determine what I feel is a more important detail to this incident:
Did Dylann Storm Roof commit an act of terrorism?
As a national colloquialism, we have loaded the word “terrorism” to be an ethnic term. An act of terrorism can only be purveyed by someone with brown skin wearing a turban. The word “terrorism” cannot be enacted unless the words “Muslim” or “Islamic” or “jihad” are in close proximity. Our obsession with terrorism’s Islamic associations has contributed to blinding us when we stare into the eyes of homegrown terrorists.
Dzokhar Tsarnaev, a Muslim immigrant via Kyrgystan who helped bomb the Boston Marathon in 2013, was labeled a terrorist in the United States. Eric Robert Rudolph, the man who orchestrated the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, was not.
Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, Muslim’s from Arizona who opened fire on a “Draw Mohammed” event orchestrated by Pamela Gellar in Garland, Texas, were labeled terrorists. Jerad and Amanda Miller, members of the “Patriot movement” who murdered three in Las Vegas before being killed in a standoff with police, were not.
The last American-born citizen to be accused of terrorism was Timothy McVeigh, and as an interesting point of comparison, the socio-political movement in which Timothy McVeigh was part, the “Patriot movement,” is one of the loudest factions of Americans who pervert the actual meaning of the word “terrorism” into a tightly-defined synonym exclusive to jihad.
Every person listed above is a terrorist, yet there exists blatant and disturbing inconsistency when labeling them as such.
The United States has a real problem when it comes to classifying something as an act of terrorism and while I can sit here and blame 9/11 for that (and the events of 9/11 do seem to color our perception of what “terrorism” is) the misuse of the word “terrorism” can be found further back in American history. The old adage “your freedom fighter is my terrorist,” and vice-versa, is a very real and influential detriment on interpretations of what could be considered an act of terrorism.
To the British, the American Revolution was an act of terrorism. It is a part of history we in America celebrate. Likewise, to us, 9/11 is an act of terrorism. To many Islamic extremists, the act was heroic.
Determining whether an act is terrorism or its antithesis is solely influenced by personal biases, and unfortunately, this is where we fail in labeling things for what they are. Couple this with the fact American culture is self-centered and nationalistic — even more egregiously within some subsets of American culture — our failures in logically dissecting an act to determine its authenticity as an act of terrorism has overwhelming social consequences.
For example, when a violent act is carried out by a Muslim in this country, large portions of us rally behind the idea that a.) all Muslims in the United States need to denounce the faith and the actions of those who perverted the faith, b.) the act is of a terrorist nature, and c.) Islam needs to be kept even further under the thumb of American scrutiny. These ideas, routinely endorsed by people like Pamela Gellar and Florida pastor Terry Jones, as well as many members of Congress, infuse fresh blood in the hostilities many Americans have against Muslims.
Conversely, when a violent act is carried out by a Christian in this country, large portions of us rally behind the idea that a.) Christians in the United States need not denounce their faith, but merely the actions of someone who “lost touch with God,” b.) the act is not of a terrorist nature, and c.) Christianity still will be openly practiced and an imperative part of American culture.
When it comes to religion, many of us feel that Christianity cannot be tied to terrorism, but Islam is, even when people like religiously-motivated Scott Philip Roeder kills a doctor who provides abortion services, or when groups like The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord are tied to the Oklahoma City Bombing.
Has anyone called Jim Jones a terrorist yet? David Koresh? Robert Doggart? To our collective viewpoint, are these men not terrorists?
What about Manifest Destiny and, well, European colonization of the United States at the onset? Are the men who founded and expanded our nation terrorists? After all, the founding of America and its westward expansion was religiously-motivated and deliberate in its murder of indigenous peoples, ultimately prompting bloody conflict with the indigenous peoples and war with Mexico.
That sounds an awful lot like like the aftermath of 9/11 to me.
Ultimately, the men above are terrorists, but culturally, we are color-blind when it comes to labeling them as such. We shouldn’t be.
There isn’t undeserving harm in calling out our own brands of terrorism. There is, however, undeserving harm in refusing to call a spade a spade. Our inability to rationally view terrorism engenders more terrorism, in the form of racially and religiously-motivated violence. It’s like the cause and the symptom are indistinguishable from each other. They are the same thing.
Dylann Storm Roof committed and act of terrorism and is a terrorist. It is that simple to say and is undoubtedly accurate.