When is Terrorism not Defined as Terrorism?

by Salam Al-Marayati

As we await the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation into the July 4 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, we are witnessing a sudden attack on law enforcement’s definition of terrorism.

If the investigators conclude that the shooting incident involved terrorism, let’s all accept it and move on. If they maintain that it was an isolated incident, expect a widening of the debate on the methodology on classification of violent acts. A deeper problem, however, is how violence and subsequent pain has been politicized and exploited.

When Irv Rubin of the Jewish Defense League was charged last fall with attempting to bomb our office, the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and the office of Rep. Darryl Issa, federal authorities avoided the invocation of terrorism. It was a bomb plot and the charges centered on the possession of explosives.

The president did not issue any statement to the nation, as he did for the LAX shooting. In fact, the JDL is still not listed as a terrorist organization. Where were the brave voices speaking out against political correctness? In another landmark case, a federal judge dismissed charges against seven members of the Mujahedeen El Khalq, a pro-Marxist terrorist organization established to overthrow the current Iranian regime.

The group was charged with aiding terrorist groups by soliciting donations at airports. The judge asserted that MEK’s civil rights were violated when they could not defend themselves against the State Department’s assertion that they were a terrorist group in the agency’s listing.

Members of Congress even passed a resolution in solidarity with the MEK after the Clinton administration placed the Marxist group on the terrorist list. Congress was never accused of aiding and abetting terrorists. Should the same standard apply for the three American Muslim charities shut down as a result of the government’s freeze of their assets? Of course, the MEK story did not stir up any debate, because these terrorists are working for the West against a Muslim country.

Selective justice is injustice — it does not help us in the war on terror and continues to project the image that the U.S. is anti-Islam. Other cases involving violence against ethnic groups could have been used as political footballs. An Egyptian store owner was killed within weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, but it has not been labeled a hate crime or a terrorist attack. Terrorism was never acknowledged when black churches were torched throughout the South. There was also a case involving militants storing arms in an Armenian church here in Los Angeles. Their purpose in smuggling arms was to kill their opponents, the Azeris. If a group of Muslims was caught storing arms to ship to the Kashmiris, for example, I’m sure there would be a national uproar about it as another chapter in the war on terror. American Jews celebrate the fact that their children defer going to college in order to serve in the Israeli army, but American Muslims are chastised as terrorist sympathizers for giving money to the refugees of war-torn countries. The LAX shooting underscores the troubling development of bringing Middle East violence onto our streets.

Whether violence is committed by groups or individuals, our job as leaders in the Muslim and Jewish communities is to diminish, not exacerbate, hatred, rather than jumping on opportunities to score more political points against one another at the expense of human relations.

I can understand the hysteria surrounding the Middle East conflict. Public policy-making is not the place for allowing that hysteria to influence serious decisions.

A violent crime that takes the life of innocent people is bad enough. But to be so adamant about and outraged over the labeling of the crime does not serve anyone’s interest.

To the valiant spokespeople who want to promote the war on terrorism in their selective application of terrorism: Be careful for what you wish, because you might get it, and then you will have to recoil to your corners when the double-edged sword of the terrorism debate swings the other way.

Salam al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles.

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