- A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims:‘four commercial aircraft were hijacked by terrorists’‘a suspected terrorist’
- [mass noun] The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims:‘the fight against terrorism’‘international terrorism’
- Oxford English Dictionary
I see no mention in either of these definitions of any specific racial, religious, or national identity. Indeed, the word first came into use during "The Terror", from September 5, 1793 to July 28, 1794. This was a part of the French Revolution which saw two rival factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, struggle for control. During this time there were mass executions of "enemies of the revolution". Some 250,000 counter revolutionaries and another 200,000 republicans. Madame Guillotine was very busy.
In recent years, however, governments have worked very hard to equate "terrorist" with those they do not like. The activities of genuinely abhorrent groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS have made this job simpler, there is no doubt. Muslims have been closely tied with terrorism. But so have indigenous people protesting the devastation of sacred lands.
These carefully constructed stereotypes, Terrorist = Muslim or Terrorist = Environmentalist, have done significant damage to society and caused many innocent people to suffer. Not just in Canada and the United States, but around Europe as well. So, why do governments make these rash pronouncements? Simply, they further certain agendas. For example, when a man described as a recently converted radicalised Muslim hit and killed a soldier in Montreal, then-Prime Minister Harper was very quick to declare it "terrorism". Police shot and killed Martin Couture-Rouleau after he rolled his car some distance away. An example of the coverage can be found here and if you go to the comments, you can see how quickly the hatred, not just for this individual, but for Muslims in general, was expressed.
Two days later, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed a guard stationed at the war memorial, then ran into the Parliament building where he was shot many times by a variety of law enforcement personnel. Zehaf- Bibeau had a long history of mental illness and drug abuse. Much later, a selfie recording was released showing him in his car prior to the incident, muttering a lot of incoherent things about Allah and the west's role in destabilising the Middle East. So, if he wasn't Muslim, if he had ranted about space aliens instead, he would not have been called a terrorist. He would just have been called psychotic. Here's the thing. People with extreme substance abuse, people with certain kinds of untreated mental illness, can experience psychotic breaks from reality. And these can be influenced by whatever they are ingesting media-wise. If they are playing a lot of video games, people might translate to the monsters in the game they play. If they are watching horror movies, they may be seeing axe-murderers everywhere. If they are ingesting propaganda from a hate group, whether it is ISIS or an alt-right skinhead group, that will have an impact on their mindset and behaviour. Vulnerable people can be subject to extreme outside influences. A discussion of this can be watched here. The CPC government milked this crisis for all they could. And they wasted no time in bringing in the contentious Bill C-51 which gave Canada's spy agencies sweeping powers and eliminated oversight on its activities.
But then, there is the case of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody. After a lengthy trial, a judge found that this drug-addicted and vulnerable couple was entrapped by the the RCMP. Seems the police pushed them into planning an attack on the BC Legislature. Even took them out shopping for the components to make bombs, and paid for those items.
The rumblings about terrorism had begun earlier, as Harper ramped up his campaign to have a war. He really, really wanted to be a war-time PM. You can watch the weird, creepy look of glee on Harper's face as the vote to deploy troops passed. We were bombarded with images of terrorists and told to be afraid. Very afraid. That nice Middle Eastern couple that runs the convenience store? They could be sleeper agents, lulling the community into a false sense of security until they get the signal from ISIS to blow up the local school. That young woman with the head-scarf on the bus? What is she hiding under her modest clothing? Probably a vest loaded with explosives. You see, the government only needs to suggest there is an identifiable threat and the waves of paranoia sweep outward. Middle Eastern people are bullied in the street. Mosques are targeted with graffiti, fire bombs, and pig's heads. And, eventually bullets.
This is the thing. If only brown people, or people who are known to be Islamic, are labelled terrorists when they go off their nut and do something terrible, it breeds hatred. When a white guy, like Dylann Roof goes off and shoots a bunch of black people in a prayer meeting, it isn't called terrorism. At worst, it is called a hate crime.
When a white dude, like Alexandre Bissonnette, walks into a Quebec City mosque and opens fire, killing 6 and seriously injuring many more, he is not charged with terrorism. No, he is charged with 6 counts of murder and 5 counts of attempted murder. Why? Prime Minister Trudeau called it terrorism. And has been criticised for doing so. Why? Because he is not brown? Because his name isn't Middle Eastern? Because, instead of having links to ISIS, he has links to the American alt-right? Because Donald Trump was his hero and he was emulating what he heard on American media?
ISIS is a violent, despicable, hateful Terrorist group. But so is the KKK. And they are allowed to have meetings and rallies and marches and even advertise them. Why? Because they're really just a bunch of "good ole boys"? They lynched people. They propagate hatred. They embrace a twisted view of the world that says white people are superior. That a person's skin colour is indicative of their value as a human being.
The Westboro Baptist church is a hate group. They attempt to terrorise people because of, among other things, sexual orientation. Skinheads and Neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups are all hate groups. Terrorists by definition, depending on their activities. Are they illegal in Canada or the US? Why not?
Terrorism is not tied to any specific race or religion. It is a behaviour that is exhibited by many races and religions. We have been subjected to dog-whistle politics far too long. Either we start calling all the same behaviour terrorism, regardless of the ethnicity or religion of the perpetrator, or we stop using the term. It used to be called "hate crime". But I suppose that is not nearly as galvanising a term to drum up fear and support among the privileged white voters. No, hate crimes only strike terror into the hearts of those communities that are targeted. Not useful at all for pushing through draconian spying legislation and overwhelming police powers. Not useful for terrifying voters into supporting the party that says it will protect them.
Only when we begin to acknowledge that hatred and labelling based on ethnicity is wrong, counter-productive, can we begin to heal. Only when we realise that elected leaders can sometimes try to manipulate our emotions for their own ends, can we call them on it. In Canada, the tipping point came when the CPC introduced a Barbaric Cultural Practices Snitch Line as part of their re-election platform. Fortunately, enough Canadians were repulsed by this blatant display of racism to turf the CPC in 2015. But we must remain vigilant. The US has elected possibly the most vitriolic and divisive President in it's 200+ year history and his evil, hateful pronouncements are having repercussions here in Canada. Candidates running for leadership of the CPC to replace Harper echo Trump's message of mistrust and division and hatred. We must not go down that road. Terrorism is not Muslim or Environmentalist or First Nations. It is hateful violent action directed against a certain group. Whomever perpetrates it. If we cannot stomach calling white offenders terrorists, we better stop using that word altogether, because if we differentiate, we are all guilty of racism.