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A Terrorist By Any Other Name
Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2002 in The Daily Star (Lebanon)
A Terrorist By Any Other Name
by Hesham A. Hassaballa
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: in the early hours of the morning, a Middle- Eastern man aboard a Greyhound bus attacks the driver with a boxcutter and slits his throat, forcing the bus into oncoming traffic. Six people, including the attacker, are killed and 34 people are wounded. Invariably, this man would be called a terrorist, and the crime condemned as an act of terrorism.

This exact scenario did occur early on Oct. 3. However, the attacker was not Arab; he was Croatian. Perhaps, then, it was no surprise that R. Joe Clark, agent-in-charge of the Knoxville, TN office of the FBI, described the attack as “not an act of terrorism.”

On Nov. 9, FBI officials proclaimed for the first time that they believe the individual behind the recent anthrax attacks to be a “disturbed American loner along the lines of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.” No mention that this “disturbed individual” is a terrorist.

Clayton Lee Waagner, the man accused of sending hundreds of hoax anthrax letters to abortion clinics, was not described as a terrorist. Similarly, Irv Rubin of the Jewish Defense League, caught allegedly planning to bomb a mosque and the office of an Arab-American member of Congress, was also not described as a terrorist. Why?  Was it because he was not an Arab or a Muslim?

In fact, several Arab and Muslim Americans were escorted off their respective flights because either the pilot or the passengers were “uncomfortable” with them on board the plane. The most recent incident concerned an Arab and Muslim Secret Service agent. The agent alleges that he was kicked off American Airlines Flight 363 from Baltimore to Dallas on Dec. 25 because the captain had concerns about his identity, even though the agent went through the proper procedures for armed security personnel who are passengers. The agent’s identification was subsequently checked several times by American personnel and by local police. He even offered to have the Secret Service confirm his identity. He was kicked off anyway.

What’s more, when the agent asked to go back on the plane to retrieve his jacket, the captain allegedly said: “I don’t want him back on that plane.” Further, according to CNN, witnesses dispute the airline’s claim that the agent acted in an angry manner.

This is an abhorrent double standard, and is testament to the still prevalent stereotype of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists. Not only is this manifested in the statements of officials, but in the media as well. It seems that whenever we hear or read about terrorism or violence, the words “Islamic” or “Muslim” do not lag far behind. Furthermore, whenever terrorism is in the news, Muslims are overwhelmingly more newsworthy.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington, DC-based Islamic advocacy group, analyzed the news coverage of the Millennium terror plots that were foiled nearly two years ago. The arrest of the Algerian man who allegedly tried to smuggle bomb-making materials into the United States was covered by 129 stories (113 print, 16 broadcast) on the day of and the day following the announcement of his arrest. Twenty-one stories ran on Page 1.

Yet, the arrest of two suspected militia members accused of plotting to blow up a California propane plant, which could have killed as many as half the people within a 5-mile radius, received 51 stories (51 print, 0 broadcast) on the day of the arrest and the following day. Only one of the stories ran on Page 1; many of them ran as news briefs.

Also, the arrest of an American Airlines mechanic who was charged with possessing bomb-making materials after potential explosives and assault rifles were found in his home was covered by just 10 articles. The New York Times ran the story on Page 20. The Washington Post ran it on page eight. The Algerian man, of course, was called a terrorist. However, none of the propane plant or American Airlines stories highlighted the alleged perpetrators’ race or religion. They were not called terrorists.

The truth is, all these individuals are terrorists. Yes, there are terrorists who happen to be Muslim, but terrorists come in all stripes, and terrorism has no religion, no ethnicity, no national origin. It is time to call a spade a spade and drop the double standard.

Hesham A. Hassaballa, a syndicated columnist with the Independent Writers Syndicate, is a physician and resides in Chicago


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