Western revisions of terrorism

Yasser Abdel Aziz
Yasser Abdel Aziz
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Even the most optimistic Muslim could not have foreseen the decrease in the attacks against Islam and its followers. The image of Islam was defamed by the actions of a few terrorist organizations that eventually culminated in the rapid spread of Islamophobia, especially in Western countries. This became more evident as the term “Islamic terrorism” became the buzzword in all security and strategic approaches made by Western countries towards ours over the past two decades or so. Even the leaders of developed countries were throwing around this term as an attribute of the religion itself rather than one of some so-called Muslims.

During a visit to Egypt almost two years ago, French President Emmanuel Macron himself used the words “Islamic terrorism.” This came after the French leader began his presidency with the affirmation to all French people that combating “Islamic terrorism” lies on the top of his list of strategic priorities.

It must be mentioned, however, that France’s Macron was not the sole Western leader to use this term; Former US President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel were quicker to brandish this term than their French counterpart. These names are but a few entries in a list that contains numerous influential leaders of European political parties and movements, such as France’s National Rally, Austria’s right-wing populist party FPÖ, Denmark’s Progress Party, and Netherlands’ People’s Party, among others.

Standing against this incessant propagation of the idea of “Islamic terrorism” and utilizing its impact to shape the policies vis-à-vis Muslim countries and individuals, we saw scientists and leaders from inside the Muslim world and abroad asserting that terrorist, racist, and fanatic tendencies should not be associated with a certain religion, country, or society. Rather, it is a particular social, economic, and political context that could foster these predispositions anywhere and at any time.

We can find a blatant example of this in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in the state of Pennsylvania by a far-right extremist American three years ago. The shooter, Robert Bowers, killed 11 worshipers and wounded 6 others while shouting “All Jews must die!” This incident is considered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history.

Another flagrant example can be drawn from the case of Timothy McVeigh, who was executed 20 years ago on June 11, 2001. McVeigh, a white American, carried out the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that killed 168 people, injured more than 680 others, and damaged 342 government buildings. The attack was a response to what was dubbed a “massacre” perpetrated by the FBI on Branch Davidians in 1993 when federal agents moved against a compound housing heavily armed Branch Davidians, killing 74 members of theirs.

A third example occurred in June 2018 as French authorities apprehended a militant far-right group on the charge of plotting to kill Muslims. Only six months later, another six right-wing French people were taken into custody on the charge of plotting to kill French President Macron himself. French authorities at the time unveiled how they had stopped yet another attempt on their president’s life by a similar group. Macron, on the eve of winning his presidency, stated that extremist right-wingers are the number one enemy of France and the inheritors of a party that only deals with malice and enmity. This only caused him to face many difficult challenges created by these far-right extremists during his first three-year presidency.

The fourth, and final, example only happened last week when a French court sentenced French citizen Damien Tarel to 18 months in prison, with 14 months of the sentence suspended. Tarel is charged with slapping the French president in the face during a visit to a small town by the name of Tain-l’Hermitage in south-eastern France.

The prosecutor said the attack was a “deliberate act of violence,” while Macron dismissed it as an “isolated” one but a “stupid, violent act” nonetheless. French leaders across the political spectrum condemned the act and considered it a symptom of the fraught political climate in the country.

Upon investigating the French slapper, authorities discovered that Tarel subscribed to right-wing or far-right politics and his partner and cameraman had a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in his house.

Macron blames the attack on social media and holds it responsible for spreading a toxic political atmosphere and normalizing hatred. He accused these platforms of aiding to demonize people who hold different political opinions and paving the way to committing acts of violence against them.

We see that, on both sides of the Atlantic, the trend of criticizing the so-called “Islamic terrorism” has shifted to focusing on the threats posed by right-wing extremism that stems from racism and xenophobia.

Just last week, President Joe Biden commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre with a speech in the same city in the state of Oklahoma. The massacre, considered one of the worst and bloodiest events in US history, was carried out by a mob of armed white Americans who attacked Black residents in the city of Tulsa, killing around 300 of them while looting, plundering, and laying waste to their possessions and buildings. The massacre was fuelled by racist intentions and President Biden has become the first US president to shed a grisly light on this heinous slaughter.

The president’s commemoration of the massacre was, by all means, very significant, but what he stated in his speech had a greater significance with regards to the issue at hand. The president gravely said that “According to the intelligence community, terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not ISIS, not al-Qaeda — white supremacists.”

None could ever underplay the atrocities committed by ISIS and al-Qaeda. However, their abominable crimes were not a reflection of Islam; they were a reflection of these groups’ shameless extremism and racism.

This is something that can be found in any race, any country, and amidst the followers of any religion as long as the conditions that foster this fanaticism are ripe.

Today, Western leaders have finally started to come to grips with this inescapable truth. Well, better late than never.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Egyptian outlet ElWatan News.

Read more:

The imminent threat hiding beneath the surface

The war against extremism: Five years later

Are white supremacists more dangerous than ISIS?

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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