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Terrorist = Muslim

Dylann Roof, the murderer of nine African Americans in the Charleston church shooting, goes on trial in January. This attack has been classified as a possible hate crime, but many people question why it is not terrorism? Is it because he is white?

Our country has recently suffered from more attacks than ever before, but only some are qualified as a terrorist attacks. But how are they distinct? There have been various attacks that seem to abide by the U.S. definition of terrorism, but have not been characterized in that way, which some people attribute to ethnic backgrounds because of our implicit biases.


9/11 –al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked 2 planes and crashed into the Twin Towers, killing thousands of people and injuring even more, members of the Islamic terrorist group from the Middle East, claimed as a terrorist attack and launched the War on Terror

Boston Marathon bombing –2 brothers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, set off bombs during the nation’s most celebrated marathon, brothers were Muslim, claimed as a terrorist attack

Orlando Nightclub shooting –Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 in a mass shooting, American, but family was described as moderately Muslim, claimed as a terrorist attack

Charleston church shooting –Dylann Roof killed 9 African American church attendees, white American, claimed to be a hate crime

Sandy Hook shooting – Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people, 20 were kids and 6 were adults, white American, defined as a mass shooting


The definition of terrorism is constantly debated and changed, which shows how complicated the topic is. Media exposure of terrorism has been growing, which has resulted in an evolving definition and discourse of terrorism. Many people question why mass shootings are not terrorism, but others claim that the motive is unknown so it doesn’t constitute a terrorist attack. Stampnitzky claims that terrorism has strayed away from being called insurgency because terrorists are not recognized to be rational in any way. When calling an act insurgency, experts recognize that perpetrators act with some kind of political agenda. If this were the case in terrorism, might many more cases be recognized that way, regardless of ethnic background? Think about any mass shooting. People claim that the motive was unknown, but are we choosing to ignore that they are acting with rational purposed because of the color of their skin and the American sound of their name?

In congruence with this system, the Charleston shooting was only claimed to be a hate crime, but he was acting out of coherent reasoning structured by white supremacy ideology. Critics argue that “assailants who are white are far less likely to be described by the authorities as terrorists,” which is furthered evidenced by the previously mentioned examples that categorized terrorists attacks as those committed by those of Muslim descent.

These discussions exemplify the vague and symbolic complexities of the topic of terrorism, which makes it easy for this fear of terrorism to be exploited among the public, which is how our society has constructed a moral panic of terrorism and the how our deeply ingrained implicit biases play such a big role in our social constructions of terrorists. There is a test that determines an individual’s implicit bias towards Muslims. However, the results of this Harvard test showed that, collectively, respondents show some level of automatic preference for other people compared to Arab-Muslims, but the largest proportion of respondents show little to no automatic preference between people of other nationalities and Arab-Muslims.[1] This could be because the test was not specific to terrorism, so attitudes towards Muslims are otherwise pleasant.

The media has a symbiotic relationship with terrorism that seems to exacerbate the moral panic of terrorism. In order to pacify this panic and combat the implicit biases, John Mueller suggests an alternative approach to terrorism that I think might be helpful for the public, to address it as a criminal activity, in order to decrease the fear and practice reason and skepticism towards the facts that are known. And then, the social construction of terrorism might include more racial and religious diversity applied to similar types of attacks.

[1] “ProjectImplicit.” N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2016. <>.

Caroline • December 13, 2016

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