PERCEPTIONS OF TERRORISM: POST 9/11
by Erin McIver
The Montreal Review, August, 2010
On September 11, 2001, the United States of America experienced a series of attacks carried out by nineteen airline hijackers. After an investigation, the Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda was accused of orchestrating the attack. Days later, George W. Bush spoke to Congress and the citizens of America and proclaimed, "Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there." This was the beginning of the War on Terror, a fight that the United States has been engaged in for the past nine years to prevent and eradicate terrorist organizations. Terrorism, however, is a word with no universal definition and a lot of stigma attached.
The United States has its own definition of terrorism that states, "The term 'terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience" (Title 22 of the United States Code). According to this definition the September 11th attacks were indeed an act of terrorism. Al-Qaeda is a group with no specific territory, which planned, in secret, the demolition of certain U.S. landmarks full of U.S. citizens as a message of aggression to western civilization. In addition to the Al-Qaeda attacks, there have been many more attacks brought forth upon the American people. These terrorist attacks, however, have not been recognized as such.
On June 10, 2009, James W. von Brunn opened fire at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C and killed one of the security guards working at the door. Once von Brunn was taken into custody, police found a large amount of explosives in his car. After an investigation, it was found that von Brunn was an outspoken white supremacist and Holocaust denier. Years prior to this attack, he had attempted to take several members of the Federal Reserve hostage using a sawed-off shotgun. Under the conditions the U.S. government has for identifying someone as a terrorist, von Brunn fits the criteria. This man strategically planned to attack several D.C. locations. He killed one citizen and his storage of explosives suggests he planned on hurting more. His prior aggression towards the government, as well as the attack on a national landmark, is proof of sending a message of displeasure to the U.S. government. However, James W. von Brunn was not considered a terrorist. He was American and white.
On March 4, 2010, John Patrick Bedell injured two security guards when he shot them at the Pentagon station entrance in Washington D.C. The guards returned fire and shot him in the head. He died shortly after. During the investigation that followed, it was discovered that he had more ammunition in his vehicle nearby. It was also found that he had a hatred for the federal government and suspected the September 11 th attacks had been orchestrated by the government. Bedell had stated online that he wished to expose them for their crimes. This motivation led him to drive cross-country to attack the Pentagon. John Patrick Bedell was not considered a terrorist. Like von Brunn, he was American and white.
On November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot and killed 13 people and injured 30. The attack took place on the Fort Hood military base where he worked as an army psychiatrist. The FBI had previously investigated him for his views on radical Islam, but found it unnecessary to continue the investigation. After news of his assault on his coworkers, many in the media labeled him a terrorist. He is an American, but he is Muslim.
All three of these attacks meet the requirements of terrorism listed out in the United States Code. The individuals who planned them were politically motivated and intended to send a message of dissatisfaction and hatred toward the U.S. government. Of the three, the only one who was accused of carrying out a terrorist act was Hasan, who happened to fit the profile of an Islamic extremist, just like those who participated in the September 11th attacks. Meanwhile, the two white men were considered to be armed militants. There is a trend of avoiding the terrorist label for those who fit the profile of the average American, despite the fact that their motivations were meant to invoke terror.
America has begun to racially profile terrorists, which in turn has an impact upon carrying out U.S. policy. The USA Patriot Act, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, was signed into law forty-three days after September 11th. It was considered very controversial due to the expansion of the federal government's rights. This act allows the government to monitor citizens for clues of terrorist activity. However, if the government refuses to label its average, American citizens who engage in politically motivated and violent activities as terrorists, what use does the act have?
The September 11th attacks were a tragedy that affected most Americans. It put terrorism on the national stage as a hot button issue. However, it also put a face on terrorism: one of Middle Eastern descent that practices Islam. It is important to remember that history has a way of repeating itself and as America is still trying to mend it's race relations, it should be wary of adding more negative stereotypes into its repertoire. It is time for policy makers to look at their definition of terrorism, blindly.
"CNN.com - Transcript of President Bush's Address - September 21, 2001." CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News . 21 Sept. 2001. Web. 02 June 2010.
"Guard Killed during Shooting at Holocaust Museum - CNN.com." CNN.com International - Breaking, World, Business, Sports, Entertainment and Video News . Web. 08 June 2010.
"John Patrick Bedell Dead: Pentagon Shooting Suspect Dies." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. 04 Mar. 2010. Web. 08 June 2010.
"Officials: Fort Hood Shootings Suspect Alive; 12 Dead - CNN.com." CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News . 07 Nov. 2009. Web. 08 June 2010.
Title 22, Section 2656f of the United States Code
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