By Mamdouh AlMuhaini
5 October 2017
A lot of people have criticized the American media’s description of the Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock as a mad man or criminal and slammed it for not calling him a “terrorist” which they believe is the right word.
British journalist Piers Morgan tweeted that they did not call him a “terrorist” because he was a white man, adding that they would have called him a terrorist if he were Muslim. This criticism falls within the context of complaints against the injustice Muslims are suffering as they believe that only the latter are described as “terrorists” whenever a crime is committed by a Muslim or a group of Muslims.
We hear these critical statements a lot from our friends and we read about them in dailies and social networking websites. However, this is not true. According to news reports, Stephen Paddock was a loser and gambler who lost a lot of money and this could have been the motive behind the horrific massacre he committed. Moreover, the investigations are ongoing.
It was a horrible attack but these crimes happen everywhere for psychological, social and financial reasons and the perpetrators are not described as “terrorists” but as “murderers,” “deranged” or “criminals.”
If someone in any Arab or Muslim country carries out a similar attack – which happens frequently – it would not be right to call him a “terrorist” as he is someone who committed a crime due to certain circumstances and personality disorders.
Take the example of an incident that happened in Canada several years ago. A Pakistani citizen named Mohammad Shafia murdered his wife and three daughters because he doubted their behaviour.
What can you call this man? You can call him a “fool,” an “idiot,” “sick,” “criminal,” or an “immoral” but the term “terrorist” does not apply. The same can be said about Paddock.
Terrorism stems from an extremist religious ideology that incites hatred and enmity and pushes those who embrace it to kill others because they follow a different religion, sect or opinion. We have seen these among believers of different faiths and not just among Muslims.
For example, Anders Behring Breivik, who committed massacre in a Norwegian island in 2011, killing 76 people, acted upon extremist religious basis. It is thus accurate to describe him a “terrorist.” Those who belong to al-Nusra Front are certainly terrorists because they are driven by religious hostilities.
The obvious question here is why do they only focus on Muslims? It is because terrorism is more common among extremist Muslims. The biggest terrorist organizations we have known in recent decades are al-Qaeda and ISIS whose members are only extremist Muslims.
If Christian terrorists, like Breivik, establish terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and kill Muslims, Jews or others, the media will shed light on them more than others but there are no such organizations. Yes, there are extremist Christians, Jews and Buddhists but there are no terrorist Christian or Buddhist armed groups like ISIS committing horrific crimes by hijacking civilian planes or mowing down people using trucks.
The Middle Ages
Religious and sectarian hatred and terrorist operations were common in Europe during the Middle Ages. If there were news outlets and social media networks back then, everything would have been about Christian or Jewish terrorist organizations and their horrific massacres.
France’s prominent philosophers, like Voltaire, were chased by terrorist Catholic militias who wanted to kill them. Some philosophers were in fact killed and crucified for “heresy” and abandoning religion. However, this is a thing of the past as religious reform and philosophical and scientific revolutions that occurred in Europe helped the mind win over superstitions.
Muslims should be angrier than others when this mix up occurs with every crime. They should be angrier because first of all their religion is being distorted by terrorists. Second, it is because they are the biggest victims of this extremism and third, it is because they are the ones threatened by it the most as terrorism has killed Muslims the most.
The chances that extremism will spread and young people will be radicalized are higher in Muslim countries compared to Europe or America. Mixing terms up and calling others terrorists is just sentimental revenge against others as we’d practically be describing crimes motivated by psychological illnesses as terrorism.
In this case, we will not be aware of the origin of the problem – which we fall victims of the most – to resolve it. The most important question here is why do some people insist on mixing up terms whenever an attack happens?
Some simply echo an Arab inherited cultural rhetoric that speaks out against the West’s unjust treatment of Arabs and Muslims. There is a category that keeps echoing this rhetoric in order to gain fame by appealing to the sentiment of the people who are moved by such populist stances.
There is another, and more dangerous, category that intentionally confuses terms so terrorism is categorized among crimes committed due to mental illnesses. This represents a clear attempt to obscure terrorism’s real motives which are linked to the extremist culture that embraces terrorism and legitimizes it.
Extremists intentionally opt for this approach. Their aim is to wipe out the fingerprints of the major problem, which is narrow-mindedness and intolerance. During the phase of terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia, some called the terrorists who killed innocent people as criminals or mentally ill. These terms are of course wrong and deceitful and it is dangerous to believe them.
There are mentally ill people everywhere who haven’t killed anyone. Criminals and thieves do not commit their crimes because they think they bring them closer to God. However, terrorists do as their religious doctrine triggers them to commit massacres, which they think will lead them to paradise and grant them God’s acceptance.
This whole debate has been brought up again following the Las Vegas massacre, and many people will actually bring it up if the massacre has been committed elsewhere. It is nothing but an attempt to mix up terminologies and confuse an issue which we must ensure remains more clear than anything else.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms.