The Mad White Man and the Colored Terrorist
The threat of Islamic fundamentalism is perceived to be coming from the outside, even if the perpetrator grew up in the target country.
A mass shooting and a political assassination on both sides of the Atlantic have highlighted the two versions of terrorism dominating the world today.
In the United States, Omar Mateen, a man motivated by radical interpretations of Islam, carried out the biggest mass shooting in the history of the country. In the United Kingdom, Thomas Mair, a 52-year-old neo-Nazi, killed British parliamentarian Jo Cox in her constituency.
As the two incidents shocked the world, the attention paid by politicians and the media to the existing threats they pose was very different.
In the US, politicians bombarded the media with statements condemning radical Islam and its threat to global stability. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, was even delighted to be proved right on the threat of radical Islam. He also used the opportunity reemphasize his proposed ban on all Muslims entering the US.
The media worked relentlessly to interview every person who had possibly known the terrorist to uncover his radicalization story. Although many witnesses claimed that Mateen was socially unstably, lenient toward violence and not even religious, the story of the brown terrorist of Afghan descent was shaped to convince us that there was nothing but radical Islam that motivated him. Underlining his Afghan origin made us forget that he was born and raised in America.
Simply put, the image of the terrorizing brown man with foreign blood had to be at the forefront.
In the UK, we know almost nothing about Thomas Mair. Both politicians and the media paid tribute to his victim, but with barely any comment on the underlying threat that the crime signals.
In fact, this follows a trend. Mair was labeled a “murderer,” not a “terrorist.” This is not surprising as similar incidents of “white terrorism” in the US have been attributed to “mentally disturbed” individuals. Yet digging deeper behind most, if not all, of these acts of “white terrorism” reveals the role of neo-Nazi ideas that motivate all those “not-really-terrorists.”
Why the discrepancy?
One possibility is because radical Islamic terrorism is more common. But this isn’t exactly true. The case of the US is very revealing in that respect. According to data from the National Security Agency (NSA), the US has witnessed 28 terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001—18 of those were committed by far-right supporters, while only 10 were committed by jihadists.
Not only is the frequency of attacks by right-wing fanatics higher, but the death toll of such attacks was also higher prior to the latest Orlando shootings.
So, Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims must be accompanied by a more critical one of banning all right-wing supporters, his main constituency, if it were to be a remotely sound idea.
In modern-day Europe, neo-Nazi terrorism has never disappeared. The most remarkable was the 2011 Norway attacks committed by Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist who killed 77 people and injured 242. Outside Norway, European right-wing extremists have been perpetrators of political violence in Italy, Germany, the UK, France and elsewhere.
Threats of Equal Importance
Thus, “white” extremism has proved to be no less violent in terms of frequency and scale than Islamic extremism. But “white terrorism” is riskier for an additional reason. Since it is usually committed by “lone wolves,” right-wing terrorism is harder to predict, prevent and control. Therefore, it should be ideologically countered at the same level like radical Islam. Instead, however, the ideological bases of “white terrorism” are always considered anomalous and are ignored, which facilitates breeding more terrorists.
If the two threats are equally important, why is one emphasized and the other marginalized?
The answer is politics. The threat of Islamic fundamentalism is perceived to be coming from the outside, even if the perpetrator grew up in the target country. It is the “other” attacking us, and this is cheap fuel for the rage of voters who suffer from the economic misfortunes and social insecurity of their countries.
If the terrorist is a white conservative, then there’s nobody to blame but ourselves. It is always the threat of the “outsider” that unites the people, while the threat of the insider divides them.
As right-wing politicians are on the rise in the West, right-wing terrorism risks being further ignored as no politician would label his or her own people as “terrorists.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Alisdare Hickson