MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It has been clear for years that the US government and mass media's application of the word "terrorism" is highly subjective. If the US kills civilians in drone attacks it is, according to the White House, not terrorism; it's self-defense. If a white male gun enthusiast kills three Muslim students, it's not terrorism; it's a dispute over parking.
The examples of how violent acts committed by nation-states or white males are not terrorism are virtually endless. That doesn't just apply to the United States, of course. It is the prerogative of white eurocentric culture to attribute violent acts - even on a large scale - of members of the dominant classes to individual pathology rather than "terrorism." BuzzFlash at Truthout is hardly the first site to point out that Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 children and adults in Norway in 2011, is generally described as an extremist, radical or mass murderer, but not a terrorist. On the other hand, the term is often used automatically when a Muslim commits an act of violence.
Breivik's acts, however, actually mirror those of the killers in Paris and Copenhagen, who were immediately branded as terrorists because of their Islamic association. According to an article on the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) website, "At the time of the massacre, Breivik said his actions were 'cruel but necessary' to save Europe from Islam and multiculturalism." In short, he had an agenda to "terrorize" Norway and Europe based on his notions of Aryan supremacy. Yet, no government, to our knowledge, warned its citizens of the terrorist threat of Aryan supremacists after Breivik's carnage, even though he slaughtered nearly 80 people - mostly children at a camp on an island.
This double standard about who is labeled a terrorist and who is not is indicative of the malleable use of the term by Western nations in order to manipulate public opinion.
The wielding of the word "terrorism" as a government tool to instill fear in the public in order to achieve military, economic and empire-based objectives was discussed yesterday in a BuzzFlash commentary.
That strategy of bypassing reason to stir up a primal fear doesn't only apply to violent acts committed by non-Western people; it also applies to political dissidents. Within the US, for example, persons advocating nonviolently for animal rights are now officially terrorists by law if they trespass, destroy any property or negatively impact the profits of companies making money off of abusing animals. No act of violence need occur for an advocate for animals to be transformed, by federal law, into a "terrorist," according to a recent article in The Guardian:
Two animal rights activists who have served prison terms for releasing mink and foxes from fur farms in the US midwest are facing federal charges that could see them sentenced to a further 10 years and branded for life as terrorists.
The two activists, Kevin Johnson, 27, and Tyler Lang, 25, will appear in a federal district court in Chicago on Thursday to plead for the federal charges to be dismissed. Lawyers for the defendants will argue that the counts, brought under an obscure 2006 law, are an inappropriate use of the concept of terrorism that threatens to stop free speech across the animal rights movement.
The hearing marks the first time that the law, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), will be legally challenged as a violation of the US constitution.
Congress passed the AETA eight years ago under heavy lobbying from the pharmaceutical, fur and farming industries. Under its terms, anyone who damages the property or the profit line of an animal business and who uses "interstate commerce" such as a cellphone or the internet to carry out the action can be convicted of terrorism even though no violence is involved.
This law - AETA - epitomizes the meaninglessness of the government and mass media's use of the word terrorism. Remember all those militia members who were ready to fire on federal agents and the police to keep them from arresting the racist, deadbeat Cliven Bundy? Did the White House or the head of the FBI call these armed white men "terrorists"? No, the federal and local police forces backed down. If the gun guys ready to fire on law enforcement agents had been Muslim, there would likely have been hysterical alarm over a massive "terrorist" threat, and the militia members would have been militarily attacked. If they had been animal rights activists – whose aim is to free animals, not shoot people - they would also have been likely to be branded "terrorists." As for Bundy, a 2014 Associated Press headline says it all about his stance as a terrorist: "Cliven Bundy: God Told Me To Fight 'Civil War' Against Feds."
The word "terrorism" is itself a public relations weapon. Who gets branded a terrorist and who doesn't is a decision made within a political and cultural context. And in the case of animal rights activists, it's also a question of profit and loss.
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