FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk

The frightful and bloody hours of Friday night and Saturday morning in Munich and Kabul – despite the 3,000 miles that separate the two cities – provided a highly instructive lesson in the semantics of horror and hypocrisy. I despair of that generic old hate-word, “terror”. It long ago became the punctuation mark and signature tune of every facile politician, policeman, journalist and think tank crank in the world.

Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Or terrorist, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist.

But from time to time, we trip up on this killer cliché, just as we did at the weekend. Here’s how it went. When first we heard that three armed men had gone on a “shooting spree” in Munich, the German cops and the lads and lassies of the BBC, CNN and Fox News fingered the “terror” lever. The Munich constabulary, we were informed, feared this was a “terrorist act”.  The local police, the BBC told us, were engaged in an “anti-terror manhunt”.

And we knew what that meant: the three men were believed to be Muslims and therefore “terrorists”, and thus suspected of being members of (or at least inspired by) Isis.

Then it turned out that the three men were in fact only one man – a man who was obsessed with mass killing. He was born in Germany (albeit partly Iranian in origin). And all of a sudden, in every British media and on CNN, the “anti-terror manhunt” became a hunt for a lone “shooter”.

One UK newspaper used the word “shooter” 14 times in a few paragraphs.  Somehow, “shooter” doesn’t sound as dangerous as “terrorist”, though the effect of his actions was most assuredly the same. “Shooter” is a code word. It meant: this particular mass killer is not a Muslim.

Now to Kabul, where Isis – yes, the real horrific Sunni Muslim Isis of fearful legend – sent suicide bombers into thousands of Shia Muslims who were protesting on Saturday morning at what appears to have been a pretty routine bit of official discrimination.

The Afghan government had declined to route a new power line through the minority Hazara (Shia) district of the country – a smaller electric cable connection had failed to satisfy the crowds – and had warned the Shia men and women to cancel their protest. The crowds, many of them middle-class young men and women from the capital, ignored this ominous warning and turned up near the presidential palace to pitch tents upon which they had written in Dari “justice and light” and “death to discrimination”.

But death came to them instead, in the form of two Isis men – one of them apparently pushing an ice-cream cart – whose explosives literally blew apart 80 of the Shia Muslims and wounded at another 260.

In a city in which elements of the Afghan government are sometimes called the Taliban government, and in which an Afghan version of the Sunni Muslim Islamic State is popularly supposed to reside like a bacillus within those same factions, it wasn’t long before the activists who organised the demonstration began to suspect that the authorities themselves were behind the massacre. Of course, we in the West did not hear this version of events. Reports from Kabul concentrated instead on those who denied or claimed the atrocity. The horrid Islamist Taliban denied it. The horrid Islamist Isis said they did it. And thus all reports centred on the Isis claim of responsibility.

But wait. Not a single report, not one newscast, referred to the Kabul slaughter as an act of “terror”. The Afghan government did. But we did not. We referred to the “suicide bombers” and the “attackers” in much the same way that we referred to the “shooter” in Munich.

Now this is very odd. How come a Muslim can be a terrorist in Europe but a mere “attacker” in south-west Asia? Because in Kabul the killers were not attacking Westerners? Or because they were attacking their fellow Muslims, albeit of the Shia Muslim variety?

I suspect both answers are correct. I can find no other reason for this weird semantic game. For just as the terrorist identity faded away in Munich the moment Ali Sonboly turned out to have more interest in the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik than the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of Mosul, so the real Isis murderers in Kabul completely avoided the stigma of being called terrorists in any shape or form.

This nonsensical nomenclature is going to be further warped – be sure of this – as more and more of the European victims of the attacks in EU nations turn out to be Muslims themselves. The large number of Muslims killed by Isis in Nice was noticed, but scarcely headlined. The four young Turks shot down by Ali Sonboly were subsumed into the story as an almost routine part of what is now, alas, the routine of mass killing in Europe as well as in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The identity of Muslims in Europe is therefore fudged if they are victims but of vital political importance if they are killers. But in Kabul, where both victims and murderers were Muslim, their mutual crisis of religious identity is of no interest in the West; the bloodbath is described in anaemic terms. The two attackers “attacked” and the “attacked” were left with 80 dead – more like a football match than a war of terror.

It all comes down to the same thing in the end. If Muslims attack us, they are terrorists. If non-Muslims attack us, they are shooters. If Muslims attack other Muslims, they are attackers.

Scissor out this paragraph and keep it beside you when the killers next let loose – and you’ll be able to work out who the bad guys are before the cops tell you.

More articles by:

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail