In the aftermath of 9/11, Islamophobia in the U.S. and the rest of the "West" became an intimate part of the public sphere. Take the Boston Marathon bombing, the attack on Parisian publication Charlie Hebdo, the London Underground bombings — following each of these as well as other "Islamist terrorist attacks," rates of anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked dramatically. Right-wing politicians in the "West," like France's Marine Le Pen, have tried to break from a history of anti-Semitism by being Islamophobic instead, resulting in increased racism and xenophobia as well. But this is what happens when we only talk about "radical Islam" in the context of terrorism: We neglect Muslims around the world who are themselves the victims of terrorism.
After Charlie Hebdo, Muslims around the world were asked to apologize for an attack they had nothing to do with. So why isn't it terrorism when three Muslim students are shot dead in their residence? Why isn't it terrorism when a white man enters a historically black church and kills nine churchgoers? If terrorism is the use of violence for political aims, then we need to face the reality that poor Muslims are more likely to be killed by so-called "Islamic terrorists" than those of us in the West.
It shouldn't take someone as influential as J.K. Rowling to start this conversation. Where is the international uproar when Pakistani schools are attacked? What about when there are suicide bombings in Afghanistan? When Boko Haram killed more than 2,000 people in Nigeria? Due to the sphere of influence created by the U.S. and other Western countries, we are much more likely to pay attention to pay attention to terrorist attacks — whether by al Qaeda or by ISIS — when they happen on Western soil. But according to a 2014 article in The Guardian, "The number of non-western terrorism deaths in 2013 was over 22,000." And yet, these deaths become headlines, or tweets, or statistics — they don't become the object of international rage, and it is as though we are desensitized to that domain of violence.
Just as it is hypocritical to present three-dimensional narratives for white shooters in the U.S. while dismissing all brown shooters as one-dimensional "radical Islamist terrorists," it is nonsensical to portray attacks executed by brown people as systematic while simultaneously portraying white crime as random and inexplicable. We live in a world where #KillAllMuslims is a hashtag that is allowed to exist and not immediately condemned as hate speech — and trends worldwide on Twitter. Events like the "Draw Muhammad" contest in Garland, Texas, and publications like Charlie Hebdo are permitted to blatantly satirize and mock an entire religion.
It shouldn't have been so necessary for Parisian Muslims to stand in solidarity with the Muslim police officer who died during the Charlie Hebdo attacks, to say "Je Suis Ahmed" in order to make it clear that Muslims were capable of fighting for their countries. But every time a terrorist attack takes place, Muslims around the world have to hold their breaths and hope that the perpetrator won't associate with Islam, even though they are the ones more likely to be victimized by terrorism than the Western countries that stigmatize them.
If we want to honor those who have died because of terrorism, then we cannot treat Western victims and survivors of terrorism as more important, or more worthy of being named, than those in other parts of the world. As Mikael Owunna wrote for Mic in January, "Reports about non-Western victims of terrorism are generally overlooked or ignored unless they fit [a] particular narrative of freedom and civilization under assault from Islamic extremism." We need to dismantle the system that allows this to happen, and to do that, we have to start by reassessing how we use language to talk about terrorism.
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