Do You Have to be a Muslim to be a Terrorist?

Would a Muslim receive tougher terrorism sentencing than anybody else?

The question might seem outlandish but the differing court verdicts of terrorism cases, between a Muslim and those of other beliefs, emphasize the inconsistencies in legal judgements.

This kind of double standard has angered the British Muslim community. It’s now holding credible weight. The Lufthansa’s Germanwings airliner tragedy being a case in point. The investigation’s prosecutor, Brice Robin, dismissed the notion of terrorism, quoting: ‘There is no indication of any kind of terrorist background’. In other words, when a person’s background ticks all the boxes is it terrorism.

This logic is deeply flawed. The co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s suicide mission that killed him and the rest of the 150 passengers shared the same intent as the 9/11 killings, yet the media stopped short of reporting terrorism. No doubt, a Muslim name would have swung it.

Cynics would argue Lubitz didn’t have any motives for terrorism. No political agenda. No extreme ideology. No radicalisation. Even with such motives the refusal to accept a conflicting perspective to the media’s imprint of who is a terrorist is the root issue obscuring sound judgments.

Consider the case of Ryan McGee, a British soldier, who avoided a terrorism conviction in November 2014. He’s serving just two years in prison. McGee had a political agenda. He had an extreme ideology, and he was certainly radicalised.

McGee, an English Defence League (EDL) supporter, wrote of murdering immigrants and praised Adolf Hitler. His murderous intent was supported by his homemade nail bomb in a jar, containing screws and glass to cause widespread harm, and possible deaths. But the Jury was resolute in dismissing terrorism charges.

If the Jury looked to the psychological effects that go with being a soldier, as its last stand, then this too was flimsy. McGee was a British soldier serving in Germany at the time of his arrest.

This criss-cross thinking has a lot to do with how the Government determines terror cases, just as much as propaganda reporting. Take Nigel Wilson, who is due to appear in court in April. He’s accused of flying a drone over the Houses of Parliament, the Queen Victoria memorial and several football stadiums. Remarkably, the alleged 17 offences refer specifically to the Air Navigation Order 2009 act, which governs the regulations for flying a drone. Not a single terrorism charge was bought up.

The sceptics would point to recent UK cases, rubbishing claims of preferential treatment, such as the Hana Khan trial. The naivety of sending money to a Turkish fighter in Syria for promises of marriage turned into a sham after discovering Hana Khan was dumped in favour of another woman. The judge was satisfied that Khan was duped and posed no threat, and gave her a 21-month suspended sentence. But in truth, such outcomes are limited to isolated cases.

Until there is a sincere willingness and effort to overcome prejudices and stereotypes in approaching terrorism, just like any other criminal case, by concentrating on the facts in an un-bias way, then the inequality in trial sentencing will continue.

Ridwan Sheikh, is a contributor to Muslim issues and has a background in grassroots activism in UK terrorism. He holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism from London School of Journalism. He has also visited Israel and occupied Palestine, and has written about the region.