Islam's linkage to terrorism is overstated, stereotypical
Published: Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 23:02
When the Department of Homeland Security announced that Thursday's suicide attack on an Internal Revenue Service building was not "terrorist activity," they were not only denying the obvious but were also doing the Muslim community a disservice.
In the United States today, the stereotypical terrorist is a person of Middle Eastern descent who is driven to violence by extremist Islamic ideology. This image was burned into the public's consciousness by the horrific murder of 2,973 people on Sept. 11, 2001 and the almost immediate identification of al-Qaida as the group responsible for this atrocity. As the war on terror began in earnest, the only terrorists to get the spotlight were those devoted to a violent perversion of Islam, leading terrorism to become synonymous with Islamic extremism.
The United States Patriot Act defines terrorism as "any activity that (A) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life that is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any State… and (B) appears to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping." This is a description of a tactic, not an ideology.
The most recent usage of this tactic on American soil occurred last Thursday when Joseph Stack purposely crashed a plane, heavily laden with extra fuel, into an IRS office in Austin, Texas. The intentions of his suicide attack were laid out in a blog post in which he declared that "nothing changes unless there is a body count," and that that he "hope[s] that the numbers quickly get too big to be whitewashed and ignored[,] that the American zombies wake up and revolt." Stack also argues that "[V]iolence not only is the answer, it is the only answer."
Clearly, Stack's attack was a textbook example of perpetrating a violent act with the intent of coercing a civilian population and influencing the policy of a government through intimidation. The fact that the Department of Homeland Security would immediately distance the incident from the government's definition of terrorism is nonsensical. Not only is this nonsense, it is a fallacy that denies the American public a reminder that terrorism is used by ideologues of all stripes.
Throughout American history, terrorism has been employed by a variety of groups in the pursuit of diverse aims. The vast majority of terrorist acts committed on American soil were the work of American citizens. For decades, the Ku Klux Klan used murder, arson and torture as weapons of terrorism to preserve segregation and promote white supremacy.
Just this past election cycle, many opposed to the election of Barack Obama harped upon the fact that he was acquainted with William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground. The Weather Underground perpetuated terrorist bombings of government facilities and banks for a decade in an effort to spark a global Communist revolution.
Before Osama bin Laden, the most high-profile terrorist in the eyes of America was Timothy McVeigh. His bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in 1995 was the most deadly terrorist attack before Sept. 11. An American citizen of Irish descent and Catholic creed, McVeigh's murders were motivated by the same anti-federalist sentiments that can be found in Stack's suicide note. Both of these men railed against taxes and believed that bloodshed was the only way of bringing about the change they believed in.
Religion clearly does not have a monopoly on the use of terrorism and neither do persons born outside of the United States. The sooner the American public disassociates the abhorrent practice of using violence to affect government policy with Islam, the sooner we will be able to once again embrace an enduring element of American greatness – our diversity and willingness to accept others into our union.
The American people are a tapestry woven of threads from every corner of the Earth and our ever-evolving culture thrives on the integration of new people and ideas into our country's fabric.
Our government has an obligation to protect us and the diversity that we embody. The refusal to acknowledge this most recent terrorist attack is a refusal to further the protection of Muslims whose religion is wrongly associated with terrorism.