It seems the word ”terrorist” is an exalted term reserved only for a select few.
And, if my reading of the media is correct, it’s one that is not being applied to Norwegian gunman Anders Behring Breivik.
It’s part of a worrying trend in the Western media to selectively and, on occasions carelessly, employ this word as it sees fit.
The Oxford English dictionary defines terrorism as “the unofficial or unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.
Yet how ironic is it that the media are the very ones that alter its definition in order to suit their own agendas?
And let’s not forget that in order for something to be called an act of terrorism by the Western media, quite often it needs to be carried out by someone who is, even remotely, or purports to be a Muslim.
Why not throw in the word ”fundamentalist” as well, as the media appears to do so readily when it is confronted with an outrage.
Does Breivik’s self-confessed crimes not satisfy the dictionary definition of terrorism? Or is it that his skin too white, his eyes too blue and his ethnic and religious background too pedestrian? Perhaps he is just too Anglo-Saxon and belongs to the wrong religion?
Are his actions lacking political controversy and media saleability?
Despite being the man behind the biggest massacre committed by a single gunman in modern times, the media have labelled Breivik a lone, self-confessed mass killer and madman. Nothing more, nothing less.
Amid all of this, Islam has yet again found its way into the middle of this sorry and sad episode as it emerges that Breivik was, among other things, an outspoken Muslim-hater. It has been reported that he carried out his demented mission to save Christian Europe from the invading Muslim hordes that he somehow views as being a significant threat to Western civilisation.
Respect for the sanctity of life is the cornerstone of all great faiths and Islam is no exception. Any acts of terrorism, irrespective of who the actual perpetrators are, are a violation of these sacred teachings. Why is it then that acts of terrorisms are not categorically treated in the same manner?
The Oslo terrorist attacks (I’m calling it that even if the media won’t) and the way it’s been reported are strikingly similar to those of the 1995 Oklahoma bombings – one of the most destructive acts of terrorism on American soil.
In the wake of the Oklahoma bombings journalists were quick to jump on the band-wagon and label it a terrorist attack carried out by Islamists.
When the dust settled and it became clear that they were wrong, the T word was conveniently swept under the carpet.
The world was shocked to find that the perpetrator of this murderous attack was not a Middle Eastern terrorist but rather a fair-skinned US Army veteran – Timothy McVeigh.
Not much has changed since then as yet again media organisations have come under heavy scrutiny for rushing to judgment by linking the latest Oslo terrorist attacks to Muslims.
For example Britain’s best-selling The Sun newspaper published a banner headline on Saturday describing the attack as an “Al-Qaeda massacre: Norway’s 9/11”. By the time the newspaper hit the streets Norwegian police had dismissed any links between the attacker and the extremist group.
Some commentators have said it was yet another example of the entrenched anti-Muslim bias within the Western media that was set in train by the September 11 attacks.
The anti-Muslim bias is alive and well – just ask an Australian Muslim about the impacts of the deeply ingrained culture of Islamaphobia particularly within the media.
As a Muslim, reading about the Oslo terrorist attacks is incredibly disturbing. Breivik claims to be part of a well-resourced and highly motivated network wanting to overthrow Western governments that tolerate Islam.
Not only are we under attack from those who have hijacked our faith and who label themselves devout Muslims and commit atrocious crimes in the name of our faith, we now have the likes of blond-haired, blue-eyed Breiviks also trying to destroy us.
It does beg the question though: who is really to blame here?
We can’t demonise an entire faith-based community, like we did following the 9/11 attacks, can we?
Our politicians and policy makers, more so on an international level, but also here in Australia, have collectively helped to create a climate of hatred by engaging in right-wing, dog-whistling political discourse. It seems that we will never learn.
Irrespective of which end of the spectrum you belong to, we seem to be, whether consciously or not, helping cultivate a battleground for those who are literally dying to be soldiers.
Will our governments and the media wake up and realise that the battle that now needs to be fought is the one they essentially helped to foster – a battle against Islamophobia, racism and right-wing extremism?
Mariam Veiszadeh is a lawyer and Muslim community advocate.
Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald 29 July 2011