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Terrorism is a term that is used almost exclusively to crimes committed by Muslims. What does the term terrorism mean and who gets to define it? According to the FBI, terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Even if we accept this definition, we notice several problems. There are many governments that fit this definition. They use acts of violence for political aims. The only difference is that they establish themselves as the victims of terrorism and therefore justify their acts of violence against civilians. Humanities worst terrorists have always been governing states. For instance, Bashar al-Assad of Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, misplaced and injured millions. He is a secularist.

The US invasion of Iraq has taken the lives of half a million people (let that number sink in for a moment). This invasion was based on the lie that there were weapons of mass destruction and we went to another country to save those poor people from their way of life and convert them to ours. An Iraqi or Syrian child who witnessed her classmates, parents, or sibling murdered or raped will clearly identify the perpetrators as terrorists. According to the FBI, most terrorist attacks in America were not committed by Muslims. Even in Western Europe, terrorist acts by Muslims are miniscule compared to terrorism by non-Muslims (see here). In Europe, the worst modern terrorist attack was the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 by pro-Russian forces in which 300 passengers and crew members were killed. These numbers can all be verified. Why then do we only think of Islam and Muslims when the term terrorism is used?

We remember 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing (where 3 people were killed), and Charlie Hebdo. However, when thinking of terrorism rarely does anyone remember Dylan Roof who killed 9 innocent Americans in the Church with the intention of starting a race war, or Stephen Paddock who shot more than 500 civilians and killed 58, Adam Lanza who killed 20 children ages 6-7, George Hennard who drove his pickup truck through a restaurant and killed 23 people because he hated minorities, or Jeremy Christian who stabbed two men who were trying to protect him from hurting two black women, one of whom was Muslim.

When it comes to terrorism, there is clearly selective memory, hypocrisy, and double standards. Even though most mass suicide shootings, which bear close resemblance to mass suicide bombers, are committed by white men, there are no policies put in place to protect us from “their” rage. We have silently accepted the rage of white men who are mass shooters, contextualize it, try to understand it, and when all fails we blame it on mental illness. This is not to say that mental illness does not exist, but Muslim terrorists are never given the chance to be mentally ill. They are immediately labeled as terrorists. There is no call for a “total and complete shutdown” of white men from entering the country until we “figure out what is going on.”

We have been conditioned to have these double standards. Terrorism only counts when it is committed by a Muslim against non-Muslims. If it is committed by a non-Muslim, or Muslim against other Muslims, it does not matter, we do not condemn it, and we erase it from our memories. When there was a terrorist attack in a mosque in Sinai Egypt, in which 305 innocent civilians were killed, no one cared. Facebook profiles did not change to the Egyptian flag and we did not all “become Sinai” because not all lives are equal.

There is a fear based in fiction, hysteria, and exaggeration that Muslims en masse are concealed terrorists. There is also fear of the individual terrorist, the suicide bomber. The suicide bomber, like the mass shooter, is unintelligible in the sense that no one can understand why someone would commit such a horrendous crime against innocent civilians. For the suicide bomber, the term terrorism is always used. However, the term is never used for mass shooters who are not Muslim. Instead, there is always an attempt to contextualize and understand why they committed their crime. Neutral terms are used to immediately single out the murderer in a manner that ensures there is no larger connection to his race or religion such as “lone wolf” “gunman” “shooter.” If the perpetrator is Muslim, there is always a larger connection made using terms identifying race and religion such as “Islamic” or “Muslim” terrorist. However, statistics show us that “Islamic terrorism” is not the exaggerated threat it is made out to be.