I shudder with fear at the possibility that the killer will be identified as Arab or Muslim, and I will spend weeks responding to either vicious attacks, or questions from incredulous people asking why “my people” did this.
But when it turns out that the killer is not an Arab or a Muslim, a sense of relief overcomes me as the news media coverage shifts from promoting hatred to one of grief.
A sense of relief spreads across America, too. For some reason, if a white man murders people, we can be calm and we don’t have to worry, as if there were no extended threat.
But if the killers are Arab or Muslim, armed security scramble to “protect” the public in cities across America. Cautions and warnings are issued about being observant and vigilant. In the eyes of many Americans, Arabs and Muslims are terrorists, but white guys with automatic weapons are not.
The message that everyone should embrace is a simple one, but it is often forgotten. Terrorism has no religion. It has no nationality or ethnicity. The only common denominator linking killers who take innocent lives, as Stephen Paddock did on Sunday night in Las Vegas, is extremism.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, American Arabs and Muslims have been living on the edge of fear that they will be blamed for acts of violence.
The news media have been culpable in promoting this fear, putting different spotlights on violence depending on who the killer is. There is no doubt that when the killer is an Arab or Muslim, and there have been several over the years, the tragedy is elevated by the instant labeling of “terrorism.” This labeling causes widespread apprehension in Americans, and fuels a wave of racism against Arabs and Muslims. Even if a terrorist is Arab or Muslim, what does that have to do with me?
Paddock, the 64-year-old man who killed more than 58 people in Las Vegas, was a white American. He was not an Arab, and whatever spurious claims may have been issued by Daesh, he was not a Muslim. And with the knowledge that he was a white American with no known links to extremist organizations, suddenly the massacre is not classified by the news media, police or politicians as an act of terrorism, and the killer is not described as a terrorist. Instead, Paddock is immediately described as a “lone wolf” shooter.
And I am happy with that? No, I am not. Why do we even distinguish between these definitions? The truth is that the killer who carried out this appalling attack should be described as a terrorist, because that is what he is. We need to stop using this differentiation between “terrorist” killers and “lone wolf” killers and start identifying these killers for what they are.
Only when violence is carried out by an Arab or a Muslim does America call it terrorism, but we need to understand that extremism has no religion.
They are extremists. Their ethnicity, their religion or their nationality has absolutely no bearing on what they did, even if they asserted a connection.
I know that most Arabs and Muslims in the world are joining all Americans in expressing their condolences to the victims of this senseless act of violence by an extremist with a personal agenda.
It doesn’t matter what the killer believed. Extremism is a sickness and we need to do a better job of identifying extremism and protecting moderation and moderates.
The other thing that bothers me is that while my apprehension level skyrockets in the wake of these violent acts, it seems that the TV news media might just be enjoying all this in a macabre way. They are gaining huge audience ratings. They are breathlessly breaking into regular TV programming to provide minute-by-minute updates, sometimes with information that is inaccurate, wrong and misleading.
What happened to accurate journalism in America? Was American TV news massacred by the extremists, too?
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and author in Chicago. Email him at [email protected]