By Julia Proshan ‘18
On October 31, in response to the terrorist attack in New York City, President Donald Trump tweeted, “In NYC, looks like another attack by a very sick and deranged person. Law enforcement is following this closely. NOT IN THE U.S.A.!” He also tweeted that the terrorist was a “deranged animal” and “should get the death penalty.” Conversely, on November 5, in response to the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, President Trump tweeted, “May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas.” In a press conference, the president referred to the shooter as a “deranged individual,” saying, “This is a mental health problem at the highest level.”
The president placed such great blame on the “terrorist,” but he barely mentioned the “shooter,” instead bringing attention to an American mental health crisis. The drastic difference between the responses represents a disturbing, widely-held bias across America: Muslims are inherently evil “terrorists,” while white “shooters” are simply mentally-ill people in need of help. This bias comes through when media outlets and politicians place terms on the violent tragedies American people constantly suffer. Why was the New York City tragedy a “terrorist attack” while the Sutherland Springs tragedy a “mass shooting?”
The most common answer is that the New York City attack was rooted in ideology while the Sutherland Springs attack was solely a person barging into a church with a gun. However, there are far more similarities than differences between the “two forms” of tragedies. In both instances, the perpetrator often has a motive. Additionally, the perpetrator is typically mentally unstable and aiming to convince people around the world that they are not safe in their day-to-day lives. As a result, many people enter a state of paranoia to the point where they do not feel safe running basic errands, such as grocery shopping. The reality is that every one of these tragedies is one of terror and that the decision to refer to one attack as “terrorist” and another as a “mass shooting” is merely a matter of racial prejudice.
Since 9/11, Islamophobia has been on the rise, as many have mistaken Islamic extremism as representative of the entire Muslim community. For example, following the New York City attack, alt-right political activist Laura Loomer tweeted a picture of a woman in a hijab, saying, “Muslims are out in full force at the scene of the NYC ISIS attack today rubbing it in everyone’s face. Aimlessly walking around in hijabs.” On the flip side, following the Sutherland Springs attack, there were no reports of average white men being targeted or accused of being killers.
In times like these, it is important to remember that terrorism has no religion. All those “mass shootings,” are terror attacks, too.