The contradiction of colour in the word ‘terrorist’

Following the horrific events that took place in Nice last month, I would firstly like to send my condolences to those who have been affected, and would also like to call for unity against such actions, not just in Europe, but across the world. However, from the events in Nice to other recent acts of violence, there is a need to realign the definition of the following word: ‘terrorist’. Failure to do so threatens the unity I and many others call for.

The Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel is now recognised as the person behind the appalling violence in Nice. Almost immediately, media outlets from across the world rushed to the label which is frequently resorted to when acts of violence are committed by people with roots to the Arabic world: that label is ‘terrorist’.

Within society today, a deep contradiction has arisen in how those with white skin who commit acts of violence with a clear political, religious or ideological motivation are not reported as terrorists by Western media. Where the evidence of ideological affiliation was starkly clear, questions arise: why is there still such reluctance to use the term ‘terrorist’ for white people or far-right individuals? And why was Bouhlel — who was of Tunisian descent — immediately categorised by much of the media as a ‘terrorist’, despite him having no links to extremist groups? Admittedly, France has been the victim of several Islamic terrorist attacks in recent years, however to start assuming that a man of Tunisian descent automatically qualifies as an Islamic terrorist puts Western society on a dangerous path.

Definitions of terrorism indicate that implementation of the term requires the use of violence so to purport political, religious or ideological belief. An act of terrorism requires a conscious belief from the perpetrator that their actions are in protest or support of something. Therefore, what determines the use of the term is in the motivation of the violent act.

Supposedly within this definition, there is no room for ethnicity or race, although this is rapidly becoming the norm in the mainstream Western media.

In the UK, the most obvious example is that of Thomas Mair’s assassination of Jo Cox. After Cox’s death, the headline of a Telegraph article read as follows:

Thomas Mair: Man arrested in connection with Jo Cox attack was a ‘loner’ with ‘history of mental health problems’”.

Despite the headline, this article notes Mair’s long-time subscription to the pro-Apartheid magazine named the ‘White Rhino Club’. If still in doubt of his motivations, Mair then stated in his court hearing: ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain.’ However, the reporting on this is surprising and disturbing. Mainstream media outlets failed to present what Mair did as an act of terrorism, therefore revealing a deep problem within Western media’s view on what counts as terrorism. Even left-wing newspapers, such as The Guardian, failed to connect Mair’s actions with terrorism, demonstrating how Islamophobia has become normalised in Western media. Imagine a similar situation during which the perpetrator bellowed, “Allahu Akbar!” I must wonder in what vein the reporting would have followed, although a fairly accurate assumption can be concluded.

It is this failure to do so that supports the notion of the crazed white man who killed a politician due to his mental state, not his ideology. The fixation on white perpetrators’ mental health, or the other common, quite meaningless phrase — “lone wolf” — blurs the true colours of reality. It antagonises the issue of Islamophobia which has grasped the world with such a firm grip, from Europe all the way to Donald Trump’s frighteningly rapid advance. It is what prompted the media to immediately call the events in Nice ‘terrorism. Much of this is likely to have been because of his name: Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel. There is a noticeable difference between this name and that of Thomas Mair, and interestingly there is a distinct difference in the absence of the word terrorist for Mair.

Similar cases include the recent arrest of Frenchman Grégoire Moutaux, who was caught with Kalashnikovs, explosives, and some 5,000 rounds of ammunition on the border of Ukraine and Poland. Driven by ultra-nationalist ideology, not dissimilar to Mair’s apparent motivations, Moutaux’s plans revealed his wish to carry out fifteen attacks, including ones on mosques and synagogues. Although arrested before he was able to execute his plans, ideology fuelled this man’s hate. But somewhat spectacularly, Moutaux’s case is being handled by the French “organised crime unit”. This fact is even more surprising when Intelligence chief, Vasyl Hrytsak, declared that Moutaux sought to ‘stage a number of terrorist attacks in protest’, because of ‘mass migration of foreigners to France, the spread of Islam and globalisation.’ Once again, the media and authorities have raised the white flag and surrendered to providing the white perpetrator with an escape from the word “terrorist”.

The leap towards labelling Bouhlel a terrorist is having significant consequences in our society. Although perhaps expected, the Daily Mail promptly introduced their story of last night by presenting Bouhlel as an ‘ISIS fanatic’. Following investigation, it appears Bouhlel had no direct ideological motivations other than to spread pain, despite ISIS claiming the man as one of their soldiers — this move has since been widely mocked by French society.

Why is it that Thomas Mair could kill Jo Cox with such naked political motivation, and then escape the label of terrorist? Why is it that Grégoire Moutaux can plot such horror with explicitly racist motivations, yet see his case be handled by the ‘organised crime unit’? And why is it, that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a man who caused such horror and devastation on the streets of Nice, but whom the media knew next to nothing about, let alone his motivations, immediately reported him as being a terrorist? Our societies must rid themselves of Islamophobia, since in this testing time we live, assumptions can be extremely dangerous, but exceptions even more so.