Two weeks ago, when a bomb exploded in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and injured 29 people, the explo- sion was not referred to as “terrorism.” Initially, the suspect was believed to be another “lone wolf,” euphemism for “white man with a mental illness.” News outlets such as The New York Times initially reported an “explosion,” noticeably excluding “terrorism” in articles.
“Here is what we know: It was intentional, it was a violent act, it was certainly a criminal act, it was a bombing—that is what we know,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Why was there so much hesitation to deem an act as equally rooted in violence and hatred as the 9/11 attacks, Benghazi attacks, and Orlando nightclub shootings as what it was: terrorism?
The fundamental core of terrorism is to use violence to incite fear and, ultimately, promote a political aim. This goal manifests itself across racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While most of the attacks mentioned were ideologically motivated, the perception of the events are widely varied. Attacks perpetrated by white men are isolated events, solely the act of a madman; they don’t reflect “whites” as a whole. Yet, events carried out by those with names like “Muhammad” or “Abdullah” are emblematic of an entire religious group that encompasses over a seventh of the world’s population.
While this concern may seem to be a parsing of language, it carries with it real-world implications. Men and women of Middle Eastern ethnicity must endure the burden of these stereotypes every day of their lives. Veiled women and bearded men are the subject of “random” checks, piercing stares, and racist slurs. Hate crimes slurs against Muslims are on the rise. Our prejudice has manifested itself into discrimination of refu- gees from a war-torn counties, but relaxed gun laws perpetuate attacks by homegrown terrorists.
We must rise above double standards and prejudiced views, for common decency transcends violent and immoral acts. Responding to ignorance and bigotry with more of the same does nothing except simply fan the flames of hate and resent- ment. In these moments—when we are vulnerable, exposed, and weak—how we respond is indicative of who we truly are.