The shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse occurred on June 2, and between that time and now, a series of terror attacks have erupted across Central Asia—there was a suicide bombing in Medina near the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad, three other bombings in Qatif and Jeddah, yet another suicide bombing on June 28 at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, a bombing with a skyrocketing death toll in Baghdad on July 3, and finally, there was a siege on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka last Friday. These nightmares have now been placidly reduced to “events”, and we’ve come to a point where they read more like the droning of the world’s engine—brown people just bomb things, that’s just how the world works. News of bombings trickle into our Facebook feeds and Twitter streams, we go through the internet’s profile picture phase of mourning, and then we move on with our lives.
It’s no coincidence that these attacks struck right when families were preparing for Eid al-Fitr (the day which marks the end of Ramadan fasting, and for my Chinese friends yes, it’s the same as Aidilfitri). One source (which escapes my mind right now, fill me in if you know) wrote that the day before the attack in Baghdad was “full of life” but that now the “smell of death” rips through the air. Terrorists, so aptly named, know exactly when to strike to hurt the Muslim community where it hurts the most. They are also experts at creating rifts in cosmopolitan societies with middle-eastern diasporas, and sending ripples of those threats worldwide.
Terrorism is, intrinsically, a Muslim problem. Only Muslims can be terrorists, much in the same way that only women can be sluts, only non-whites can be immigrants, and only black people can be thugs. Before you chug a beer and applaud me for shedding my “political correctness” and crossing over to the Conservative side, understand that I am not talking about how some people are genetically predisposed to being evil. Not at all, because that’s a load of Mein Kampf horse baloney. I am talking about how we invent words to simplify complex problems and play into the hands of tyrants who want to disenfranchise entire groups of people.
I got this idea from my art history over-education—Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (1971). Nochlin says that we don’t call women Great Artists because women are entering a system that’s already rigged against them. We don’t use the term “great artist” to impartially refer to great art-makers. The term has a certain look and feel to it. A “great artist” is necessarily someone who is a brooding white man and is simultaneously haunted by his own aesthetic genius and the ghosts of his past. A woman will never be a “great artist”.
Similarly, the term “terrorist” has a particular look and feel to it. The term was only popularised in 2001 when the then U.S. president George Bush declared the War on Terror. We don’t rationalise a term as sensational as “terrorist”; we have impressions of the term. When we think terrorists we think bombs, planes, white people dying, brown people wearing cloths on their heads, Arabic, Allah, and American Sniper. A trigger-happy white person can waltz into an elementary school with a semiautomatic rifle and execute children, but he’s never a terrorist, just a lone wolf. When we combine a term as vivid and divisive as “terrorist” with the rise of the internet, we get mass hysteria and a whole lot of islamophobia.
Okay so we get it, there’s irrational racism and xenophobia behind all this, as always. But why is terrorism a Muslim problem then?
It is a Muslim problem not because it’s a problem they caused, but because it’s a problem they suffer the most from. The whole situation is deliberately set up against Muslim and Middle-Eastern civilians. Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism. For the rest of this blog post I will refer to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as The Delusional, 1) because that’s what they are and 2) because to acknowledge them as representatives of Islam is to support their cause.
The Delusional are banking in on existing xenophobia in cosmopolitan cities in North America and Europe to turn everyone else against Muslim civilians, so that they are unprotected and unwelcome even in their own homes. When there’s enough islamophobia going around, there are two possibilities: 1) Muslim civilians become distraught and defenceless in a country that wants them to leave and thus become easier to oppress, 2) violent Muslim individuals feel compelled to act against that hatred and are ironically drawn to the very terrorist organisations which have caused the problem in the first place. As for the terror attacks in Muslim countries, non-Muslim countries are unwilling to get their hands tied up in the violence, because as of right now, the Middle-East looks like an Acme minefield and nobody wants to meddle with a Muslim problem. Brown countries just bomb each other all the time, that’s what they do. Meanwhile, The Delusional are getting Twitter mentions and Facebook posts which bolster their claim to the Islamic iron throne. We legitimise their Delusional organisation when we say they represent the fundamentals of Islam, and every time we do, they’re closer to becoming the Caliphate they set out to be. They hate the “West”, yes, but their main goal is to gain control over all Muslim people. The mechanism of the term “terrorist” works so flawlessly from so many directions, and in the most macabre way, this is a good example of what an effective brand name can do for a terrible cause.
So yes, in this sickening roundabout way only Muslims can be terrorists and terrorists can only be Muslim, but it’s about time we break away from our islamophobia and stop making it so goddamn easy for The Delusional to become the face of Islam.