Everybody Is a Terrorist

Juan ColeYou know how racism works, right? You hate blacks; you think they are violent. You see a news story about some black guy who killed his girlfriend. That’s more evidence that blacks are violent. You see another news story about some black guy who helps young people start small businesses. Well, that’s the exception; you never said that all blacks were bad (even though you in fact did). It’s all about an inclination. Racism is natural for us as a species. The real question is if you have strong feelings about any group of people, are you going to feed it with biased information or not? You can fight against these irrational feelings or your can use your rational mind to reinforce them. It is up to you.

The same thing goes on with societies at large. The best example of this is how Islam is portrayed. Every time there is a terrorist attack by a Muslim, the whole country emits a huge, “See?!” When a terrorist attack is performed by someone else, the reaction is vague confusion, “Oh, what a surprise!” And it gets filed under, “Sometimes terrorists are not Muslims, but usually they are.” And that’s as far as it goes.

Juan Cole wrote an amazing article over at his blog informed COMMENT, Terrorism and the Other Religions. He looked at political and religious violence over the last century and found that very little of it was done by Muslims. They make up almost one-quarter of the population but only about 2% of the killing. Now most of that killing was in the world wars. But he goes on to note the universality of terrorism. This part particularly struck me:

As for religious terrorism, that too is universal. Admittedly, some groups deploy terrorism as a tactic more at some times than others. Zionists in British Mandate Palestine were active terrorists in the 1940s, from a British point of view, and in the period 1965-1980, the FBI considered the Jewish Defense League among the most active US terrorist groups. (Members at one point plotted to assassinate Rep. Dareell Issa (R-CA) because of his Lebanese heritage.) Now that Jewish nationalists are largely getting their way, terrorism has declined among them. But it would likely reemerge if they stopped getting their way. In fact, one of the arguments Israeli politicians give for allowing Israeli squatters to keep the Palestinian land in the West Bank that they have usurped is that attempting to move them back out would produce violence. I.e., the settlers not only actually terrorize the Palestinians, but they form a terrorism threat for Israel proper (as the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin discovered).

I remember back to all the trouble in Northern Ireland when the IRA was most clearly a terrorist organization. They killed over 600 civilians in a country of only a million and a half. (That is equivalent to over 100,000 in the United States.) That was political and religious. And yet no one went on TV and attacked the Irish. There was no discussion of radical-Catholicism. And there’s a good reason for that: the Irish and the Catholics by that point were well integrated into our society. Muslims are still thought of as outsiders. I even hear people say the same things people said about the Irish and Catholics earlier in our history, “They stay among themselves; they don’t want to integrate!” It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. There is a process and it takes generations.

Our media really need to take a lot of blame for this. All this emphasis on Muslim terrorism and endless apology for all others just feeds the cultural bigotry against one of our more recent groups of immigrants. You can go back to the beginning of our republic and see the same dynamic again and again. We should learn to put this stuff in perspective. Juan Cole’s article is a small corrective. I recommend reading the whole thing.


Here is a great Bill Moyer interview with Glenn Greenwald on some of these issues:

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Everybody Is a Terrorist

  1. I wouldn’t necessarily call taking a small sample size and using it to reinforce prejudices "irrational feelings." They’re irrational conclusions. Feelings are subjective. The trick is not to allow one’s feelings to influence one’s conclusions.

    Last night, we in Minnesota went straight from an unusually long winter to immediate summer. 40-to-70, in one day. Every teenager cooped up for the duration went out desperately looking for a wild time, and the ones least parentally supervised were the poor teenagers. AKA, the Black ones.

    I found their behavior irritating but I remembered being far worse when I was their age. One of the friends I sat with, harassed as we sat out in front of a gay bar, wasn’t as forgiving. He regarded those unruly kids as symbols of all he hates with liberal culture (aka, the culture that tells him not to hate Black people.)

    Now, the only reason I was sitting with friends in front of a gay bar (nothing against the bar, but there are places with nicer outdoor seating) is that this gentleman won’t go to straight bars. He suspects, accurately or not, as though he’s unwanted in them. He wants to have his beer or five in a place he feels comfortable. Fair enough.

    And if patrons of this bar act improperly, they are always defended as acting out drunkenly-expressed long-standing frustrations. Also: fair enough.

    So a bunch of teenage Black kids with rage to burn on Minnesota’s first good day in forever don’t get the same pass? (Interestingly, the girlfriends apologized for their boyfriends’ behavior, and kept them in line. I don’t know what that means, but I’m filing it away in my "Black culture isn’t as male-dominated as people say" memory bank.)

    People who feel turded on tend to turd on others. Marx had some brilliant shit going on, yet he utterly missed this, When you’ve been used and abused, your first reaction isn’t to fight the assholes. It’s to pretend you’re just as powerful as they are by turding on someone else, someone weaker. (Fighting the assholes is kinda intimidating.)

    There are many artistic cliches I hate, and one of them is that oppressed people are noble. No. Oppressed people behave horribly. That’s a standard justification oppressors use; "see, we were right, they act like animals." Sure, if you force them to.

    Americans are an oppressed people, a colonized people. And, accordingly, they react to this by turding on anyone lower down the scale. It’s quite predictable and quite sad.

  2. @JMF – You misunderstand. The irrational feelings are our tribal instincts that "those people" are inferior/violent/whatever. The question is whether we will help those [i]irrational[/i] feelings along by using our [i]rational[/i] abilities to confirm using (effectively) bad data.

    Is your friend gay? My experience at bars is that I am unwelcome regardless, but no one has ever picked a fight with me at a gay bar. I think there are sexual politics going on. Neither men nor women are interested in me, but gay men understand that better than straight men. (Many "manly men" seem to think that "nice and quiet men" are adored by women, but that isn’t especially true.)

    Individuals are governed by the group. That is why things like unions and political movements can be so powerful. But a mob tends to push people to behave badly. Most of my political interactions circle around this. "Yes, it is terrible that the child was brutally murdered, and that guy should be punished. But we can actually do something about fertilizer plants exploding." Getting the group to focus on what is important is critical. I just read another Eco essay about how noise is the new censorship. He’s dead on with that.

  3. Eco’s essay collection is ready for pickup at my library. I read "Foucalt’s Pensulum" decades ago; it was like Indiana Jones for grownups. (Not that "Temple Of Doom" isn’t a terrific movie, I just don’t like the other ones.) Eco in "Foucalt" poked fun at arcane conspiracy theorists. Interesting that Dan Brown has made gazillions of dollars ("The DaVinci Code") peddling the same ridiculous arcane conspiracy bullstuff that Eco poked fun at 20 years ago. I’m betting Eco also did more research than looking up stupid shit on the Web.

    If you want your local barkeep to make you feel less unwelcome at the neighborhood watering hole, there’s a simple solution: tip. You don’t even have to tip a lot. 10% is more than frat-boy drunks tend to drop. Incidentally my preferred dive of choice is right across the street from where Repubs had their 2008 convention. The staff still gnashes their teeth over that convention. Why? Republicans don’t tip.

    My friend is gay, and believes that the local gay bar is the only one where everyone doesn’t give him the stinkeye; "you’re gay, we can sense it, we serve you coldly because we disapprove of your lifestyle." Nonsense. As mentioned, if you regularly tip bartenders, they’ll treat you like family even if you were recently convicted of murdering theirs.

    Which is what makes his attitude towards small sample sizes amazing. For him, any snooty dismissal by staff in a straight bar is equivalent to prejudice. (It’s not prejudice; it’s that he, like a lot of rich people, doesn’t tip.) But unruly Black kids behaving poorly on the first warn Friday in six months are unforgivable. They can’t possibly have had experiences which make them likely to stereotype White people chatting in front of a gay bar.

  4. @JMF – Yes, I would rather someone think me a Republican than a bad tipper. I would also rather be gay than black in this country. That doesn’t take away from the fact that there is still a lot of homophobia and that people commonly get beat up because they are gay or because other people think they are gay. Of course, I’d much rather be black in Uganda. But in the end, it seems that you are saying your friend is kind of a dick. And that’s fine. So am I. And so are most of my friends. But we [i]all[/i] tip well!

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