If Peter Selis, the white terrorist who opened fire on people of color at a party in San Diego on Sunday, was brown, had a long beard, and his name was Abdul something, Western media like the New York Times would have raved endlessly about his radical religious affiliations and racial background. The word terrorist would have been at the center of every news headline. Instead, he earned the nickname gunman and the police said that his crimes were not driven by racial hatred.
If Peter Selis, the white terrorist who called his ex-girlfriend on his cellphone to make her listen to the bloodshed, was Muslim, an immigrant, or visited the Middle East at any point of his life, the White House would be firing statements about terrorism and using the scene as a pretext to sign new Islamophobic executive orders to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Instead, we hear crickets about the horrific incident. Even Shaun King wrote in his New York Daily News column that “If Peter Selis was a Muslim, Trump would’ve already tweeted about this by now.”
Peter Maass wrote in an essay that Trump is an opportunist eager to exploit only a particular type of terror attack — by Muslims — to further his political agenda. The essay cited two incidents to prove the point. The first took place in January when a white Christian shot dead six Muslims in a Canadian mosque while Trump observed in silence.
“A few days later, an Egyptian with a machete attacked French soldiers at the Louvre while shouting ‘Allahu Akhbar.’ Nobody was killed…Yet within hours, Trump tweeted, ‘A new radical Islamic terrorist has just attacked in Louvre Museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.,’ Maass said.
It is exhausting. To continue to watch these biased narratives unfolding everyday with no purpose other than reproducing negative stereotypes about Muslims. Do journalists and politicians assess the deep scars that this perpetual epistemic violence causes and its impact on Muslim communities worldwide?
Islamophobic rhetoric that associates Muslims with terrorism and exempts whites from similar labels creates nothing but more violence. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who took office in January, said that Islamophobia is the main cause of terrorism.
“One of the things that fuel terrorism is the expression in some parts of the world of Islamophobic feelings and Islamophobic policies and Islamophobic hate speeches.”
Information consumers at the other end of television and computer screens receive the distorted discourses as factual truths. People do not even realize how much discrimination they are fed until bigotry becomes their worldview. I am guilty of that too. But I have started to learn how to pay attention and be critical of mass data consumption.
Recently, my 2-year-old son discovered a Russian animated series called Masha and the Bear. Masha is a cute little Russian girl with the sweetest laughter and energy. My husband watched a couple of episodes and said to me, “I was never a fan of the Russian accent until I heard this adorable girl.” My immediate response was, “Why do you think that is? When was the last time you heard a cute little Russian girl portrayed in a Hollywood production? Russians are always the bad guys.” He paused for a few seconds and then shook his head in despair.
Moral of the story: be wary and question everything you read and see about the “others.”
Those who use intentional and indiscriminate violence against innocent people to create terror and fear must be called terrorists — regardless of their skin color or whether they are named Abdullah, Khalid, or John. Let us use the power of words to break these endless cycles of discrimination and put an end to terror wherever it occurs.