Issues of Intolerance
When I heard about the gruesome events that took place on the campus of Ohio State University on November 28th, I knew they were undoubtedly motivated by hate, but was it terrorism? Is driving a car onto a campus with the intention of murdering and stabbing innocent college students terrorism?
Domestic terrorism, per American law, must appear to be planned, must intimidate a civilian population, and must involve putting human life in danger. Additionally, these acts must violate criminal law by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. Therefore, by definition, the events at OSU fit the necessary criteria to be considered terrorism. However, even before the facts of the incident were fully revealed, American news quickly branded the act as terrorism when the perpetrator was revealed to have a Muslim name. Why is this? Why is it that Muslims are grouped together and feared as one?
We all know that terrorism is destructive and morally wrong; however, Americans remain naïve to its low likelihood of occurring. This is partly because many Americans have an unintentional bias and hesitancy toward people of Muslim descent, which originated from previous attacks on America’s home soil, such as the bombing of the World Trade Center parking garage in 1993 and the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Understandably, the American government and its citizens were forced to take precautions in order to protect our country; however, biases against Muslims have clouded the minds of many non-Muslim American citizens and have severely reduced unity and trust between Muslims and non-Muslim citizens. I’ve witnessed countless double-takes and looks of disapproval directed toward Muslims on airplanes and in shopping malls. It’s unnerving to witness the amount of distrust Americans exhibits towards Muslims. A study by Sultan Ali Alawam sought to explore the increased fear Americans have toward Muslims and found that there is a definite correlation between knowledge of terrorism and perceived fear of Muslims. This fear has frequently been manifested throughout recent years as white perpetrators are not dubbed terrorists nearly as often or as rapidly for incidents which meet the definition of terrorism.
John Mueller would agree that the fear of Muslims serves as the driving force for the continued overreaction to terrorism within American society. It is highly unlikely for an act of terror to occur, however. The implicit racial bias toward Muslims has created an almost automatic reaction to assume that any act of violence or hate by a Muslim must be terrorism. While that is the case in situations such as Ohio State, race or religion should not in and of themselves be determining factors of terrorism. In fact, Muslims commit less than 6% of the terrorist attacks in America, proving the influence of media on our misperceptions of terrorism.
Similar to the Ohio State incidents, Kurzman describes an incident by a man named Mohammad Taheri-Azar who drove his car onto the quad at UNC-Chapel Hill with the intent to kill. Both this incident and the Ohio State incident share the similarities of a Muslim perpetrator with intent to kill; however, there are various white people who commit acts of terror that aren’t publicized, or are not categorized as terrorism. Considering the hastiness in concluding that the actions of Abdul Razak Ali Artan and Taheri-Azar were that of terrorism, it is perplexing how Dylann Roof was not characterized as a terrorist following his brutal actions in Charleston, SC. The combination of these events implies a specific “face of terror,” and suggests a furthering racial divide in America.
In order to circumvent the problem of division within the country, these implicit biases must be brought to light. Events like the one at Ohio State University are unjust and are rightfully feared. Americans should treat any act of terror with the same intensity and should strive for justice and safety within the country; however, Muslims should not be blamed collectively for the wrongs of a few. Without bringing awareness to these biases, Americans will remain ignorant to the reality that anyone is capable of committing an act of terror and that Muslims are not the sole cause of terrorism. It is important to teach tolerance and to respect fellow Americans to achieve a more united country.