When I first heard the news about yesterday’s incident at Orly Airport in Paris, my first thought was ‘I hope he’s not Muslim’.
I’m not Muslim. So why do I care?
Because I’m bored of the constant stream of outrage. I dislike how people on Twitter and Facebook revel in lambasting all Muslims because of one more incident that supposedly ‘proves their point’ – that all Muslims are part of some dastardly global terrorist plot. It feels as if these commenters are watching and waiting, ready to pounce with their vitriol as soon as news of an incident breaks, no matter how minor.
I can’t subscribe to any view of Muslims being innately prone to terrorism because of their religion. Part of that inability comes from my being a reasonably intelligent and cosmopolitan human, but otherwise it’s because this outrage is selective, misdirected and full of holes – and that bothers me.
In fact, it infuriates me.
Can’t mentally ill people and criminals be Muslims too? Or are those categories reserved for white people? Can’t the two things be mutually exclusive, rather than religion being treated as the sole defining factor?
Why is it always the same old story every single time? Couldn’t a random guy, prone to criminality, perhaps suffering from mental illness (but who just happens to be from a Muslim background, with a Muslim name and brown skin) one day decide to attack people in an airport?
Anyone can claim their deeds in the name of Allah. It doesn’t necessarily make them part of a wider terrorist plot. With the constant public hysteria surrounding ‘Islamic terrorism’, widely reported, it’s not hard to imagine someone latching onto it as support in their criminal mission, even if they aren’t religious at all. It’s part of the bandwagon effect.
Out of interest, I compared Google results for the Orly incident with the recent Canadian mosque shooting. In the former incident, only the perp died. Arguably, he brought it on himself by trying to grab a soldier’s weapon in an airport. And he was already an experienced criminal known to the police.
But in the Canadian incident, six innocent mosque-goers were murdered by a white man with a gun. He had no criminal background whatsoever. There would have been no way to predict the attack. I find that terrifying.
The first page of Google speaks for itself. The Orly would-be attacker, once his identity emerged, was immediately labelled ‘radicalised Muslim’, and his attack (which killed no-one except himself) described as being ‘treated as a possible act of terror’.
Whereas Alexander Bissonette, the mosque killer, is described as a ‘student’, a ‘suspect’, and perhaps, in one of the more critical headlines, a ‘mosque shooter’. Even worse, an innocent witness of Moroccan background was mistakenly thought to be the shooter, before the real one was identified.
Al Jazeera describes Bissonette as ‘a French-Canadian university student known for his far-right views’. The word ‘terrorist’ is suspiciously absent from most of the coverage.
Yet this guy murdered six people because of their religion. He was driven by extreme right-wing, white supremacist political views. He killed for the sake of those views. Is that not the very definition of terrorism?
Terrorism has been around for a long time. It was around in the French Revolution, where Robespierre and the Jacobins conducted their ‘Reign of Terror’.
It was around in imperial Russia, where disgruntled students became ‘radicalised’ and committed public attacks – ‘propaganda of the deed’ – designed to create fear and bring down the ruling regime.
And terrorism was very much around in the late 20th century when the Irish Republican Army conducted attacks across the UK. These groups are only a few of the thousands of armed resistances that have existed throughout history; there are many more, spanning a wide range of cultural contexts.
They have cropped up wherever inequality and injustice are found, in a misguided attempt to somehow ‘redress the balance’ and achieve a ‘better life’ for themselves via the cause they represent, despite the warped methods they choose to get there.
The point is: terrorism is not specific to any religion, race, nationality or culture. We need to stop treating it as such.
It would help if we could put terrorism into perspective. But that will remain difficult unless the language we absorb from the media every day is adjusted to portray a more balanced picture of what’s really going on in the world. Although in this era of clickbait for revenue, perhaps that’s just a futile dream.
Nevertheless, we can do our part to help by thinking critically beyond the headlines and continuing to call out selective outrage whenever and wherever it occurs.