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Why Are Mass Killings by White People in the US Almost Never Called Terrorism?

Sunday, September 18, 2016 By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview
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Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June, appears at a court hearing in Charleston, S.C., July 16, 2015. White mass killers with ideological motives are rarely called terrorists in the mass media. (Photo: Grace Beahm / Pool via The New York Times) Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June, appears at a court hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, July 16, 2015. White mass killers with ideological motives are rarely called terrorists in the mass media. (Photo: Grace Beahm / Pool via The New York Times)

Conservatives love to demonize Muslims and, all too often, so do liberals. Politicians, law enforcement and the media are complicit in blaming religion for war and violent crime -- but only when that religion is Islam. Human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar highlights these double standards and defends his faith in the book Scapegoats. Order the book today with a donation to Truthout!

The following is a Truthout interview with Arsalan Iftikhar, author of Scapegoats.

Mark Karlin: Can you explain how you came to choose the subtitle of your book Scapegoats: "How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms?"

Arsalan Iftikhar: Since Donald Trump has proven that Islamophobia is now an entrenched platform within the Republican Party today, we must realize that this growing anti-Muslim sentiment not only threatens the freedom of millions of law-abiding Americans; it also feeds directly into the recruitment narratives of extremist groups like ISIS (also known as Daesh), Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab who seek to destroy the "gray zone" of coexistence between Muslims and their Western societies.

Thus, in addition to condemning Islamophobia on a simple moral level as a repulsive form of religious xenophobia and racist bigotry, we must also frame the battle against Islamophobia as a national security threat to the United States as well since it again falls squarely into the recruitment narratives of extremist groups like ISIS and their idiotic followers around the world. 

In your introduction, you quote Glenn Greenwald: "Terrorism.... the word that means nothing, but justifies everything." How do you interpret that?

Arsalan Iftikhar. (Photo: Skyhorse Publishing)Arsalan Iftikhar. (Photo: Skyhorse Publishing)As I write in my book Scapegoats, my opinion is that the term "terrorism" has sadly been co-opted in the 21st century to only apply to crimes committed by olive-skinned Muslim men. For instance, there were over 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2015 and less than 1 percent of them were committed by Muslims; but it was the one committed by Muslims in San Bernardino that was immediately labeled an act of "terrorism."

Just one week before the December 2015 San Bernardino attacks, a white man named Robert Dear walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs (with a radical Christian ideology according to his ex-wife's court testimony) and killed several people in an act of mass murder. But that was never called Christian (or domestic) terrorism in our American media. Only six months before that episode, our nation witnessed a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof who walked into an African-American church and then proceeded to slaughter nine innocent African-American parishioners; including a South Carolina state senator whom he had asked for by name.

Now, if a white male possessing a race war ideology committing an act of mass murder against innocent Black folks is not considered an act of "terrorism" in our media airwaves, it is quite clear that the word "terrorism" has very little meaning any more.

How important is "The Sharia Bogeyman" in the perpetuation of Islamophobia?

Anyone who tells you that Sharia law is coming to take over America has never read the "supremacy clause" of the US Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) which states quite clearly that the "Constitution and the laws of the United States.... shall be the supreme law of the land" and that no other law (foreign or domestic) can pre-empt or supersede it.

Nope, not even Sharia law.

However, many Republican politicians and conservative commentators have successfully capitalized on the American public's general ignorance and fear of the unknown in perpetuating myths about Islam and Muslims in the United States today.

Your fourth chapter focuses on white terror, primarily in the United States. Isn't the US and Western European policy toward subjugation of Muslims in the Middle East in order to control regimes favorable to oil for the West a form of terrorism?

Like many terms in existence today, the word "terrorism" is a relative term which will mean a million different things to a million different people around the world. For instance, millions of people in Syria continuously witness daily acts of terrorism committed against their people by the political regime of Bashar al-Assad with no Western country effectively addressing the war crimes being committed in Syria on a daily basis. Similarly, many people in Pakistan view American drone warfare, which kills hundreds of innocent civilians, as an act of "terrorism" as well.

You are a regular media guest. What is your perspective on US mass corporate media coverage of the Muslim faith as distinguished from a relatively small group of Islamic terrorists?

Truthout Progressive Pick


Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms

Why do pundits and politicians blame Islam? "The Muslim Guy" sets the record straight.

Click here now to get the book!


In over 15 years of experience as a global media commentator, one of the main things that I have learned about media meta-narratives is that our American media is quite different in its coverage of Islam and Muslims than its foreign counterparts in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

For instance, when I appear on foreign media outlets like BBC World News or Al-Jazeera English, I feel like we can have nuanced conversations about complex issues without any sort of predetermined outcome to my interviews. On American cable news discussions though, it has become quite clear that there is often a simplistic binary approach to discussing Islam and Muslims in a sensationalistic combative manner with little nuance whatsoever.

What do you mean in your last chapter when you declare, "We are all scapegoats."

As many people know, the title of my book Scapegoats is actually a Biblical term which has been around since time immemorial and I chose this title very deliberately to illustrate the fact that every major demographic group of people in history has been scapegoated in the past and another new group will be the scapegoats of tomorrow.

Whether it is the abhorrent historical legacy of slavery, anti-Semitism, homophobia or anti-female misogyny, we should also accept that Islamophobia has now become another modern chapter in accepted forms of Western collective scapegoating where we tend to place all the blame of the world's problems on one singular minority demographic group in existence today.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Mark Karlin

Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout. He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for 10 years before joining Truthout in 2010. BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles (ranging from the failed "war on drugs" to reviews relating to political art) for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout's Progressive Picks of the Week. Before linking with Truthout, Karlin conducted interviews with cultural figures, political progressives and innovative advocates on a weekly basis for 10 years. He authored many columns about the lies propagated to launch the Iraq War.

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Why Are Mass Killings by White People in the US Almost Never Called Terrorism?

Sunday, September 18, 2016 By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June, appears at a court hearing in Charleston, S.C., July 16, 2015. White mass killers with ideological motives are rarely called terrorists in the mass media. (Photo: Grace Beahm / Pool via The New York Times) Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June, appears at a court hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, July 16, 2015. White mass killers with ideological motives are rarely called terrorists in the mass media. (Photo: Grace Beahm / Pool via The New York Times)

Conservatives love to demonize Muslims and, all too often, so do liberals. Politicians, law enforcement and the media are complicit in blaming religion for war and violent crime -- but only when that religion is Islam. Human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar highlights these double standards and defends his faith in the book Scapegoats. Order the book today with a donation to Truthout!

The following is a Truthout interview with Arsalan Iftikhar, author of Scapegoats.

Mark Karlin: Can you explain how you came to choose the subtitle of your book Scapegoats: "How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms?"

Arsalan Iftikhar: Since Donald Trump has proven that Islamophobia is now an entrenched platform within the Republican Party today, we must realize that this growing anti-Muslim sentiment not only threatens the freedom of millions of law-abiding Americans; it also feeds directly into the recruitment narratives of extremist groups like ISIS (also known as Daesh), Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab who seek to destroy the "gray zone" of coexistence between Muslims and their Western societies.

Thus, in addition to condemning Islamophobia on a simple moral level as a repulsive form of religious xenophobia and racist bigotry, we must also frame the battle against Islamophobia as a national security threat to the United States as well since it again falls squarely into the recruitment narratives of extremist groups like ISIS and their idiotic followers around the world. 

In your introduction, you quote Glenn Greenwald: "Terrorism.... the word that means nothing, but justifies everything." How do you interpret that?

Arsalan Iftikhar. (Photo: Skyhorse Publishing)Arsalan Iftikhar. (Photo: Skyhorse Publishing)As I write in my book Scapegoats, my opinion is that the term "terrorism" has sadly been co-opted in the 21st century to only apply to crimes committed by olive-skinned Muslim men. For instance, there were over 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2015 and less than 1 percent of them were committed by Muslims; but it was the one committed by Muslims in San Bernardino that was immediately labeled an act of "terrorism."

Just one week before the December 2015 San Bernardino attacks, a white man named Robert Dear walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs (with a radical Christian ideology according to his ex-wife's court testimony) and killed several people in an act of mass murder. But that was never called Christian (or domestic) terrorism in our American media. Only six months before that episode, our nation witnessed a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof who walked into an African-American church and then proceeded to slaughter nine innocent African-American parishioners; including a South Carolina state senator whom he had asked for by name.

Now, if a white male possessing a race war ideology committing an act of mass murder against innocent Black folks is not considered an act of "terrorism" in our media airwaves, it is quite clear that the word "terrorism" has very little meaning any more.

How important is "The Sharia Bogeyman" in the perpetuation of Islamophobia?

Anyone who tells you that Sharia law is coming to take over America has never read the "supremacy clause" of the US Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) which states quite clearly that the "Constitution and the laws of the United States.... shall be the supreme law of the land" and that no other law (foreign or domestic) can pre-empt or supersede it.

Nope, not even Sharia law.

However, many Republican politicians and conservative commentators have successfully capitalized on the American public's general ignorance and fear of the unknown in perpetuating myths about Islam and Muslims in the United States today.

Your fourth chapter focuses on white terror, primarily in the United States. Isn't the US and Western European policy toward subjugation of Muslims in the Middle East in order to control regimes favorable to oil for the West a form of terrorism?

Like many terms in existence today, the word "terrorism" is a relative term which will mean a million different things to a million different people around the world. For instance, millions of people in Syria continuously witness daily acts of terrorism committed against their people by the political regime of Bashar al-Assad with no Western country effectively addressing the war crimes being committed in Syria on a daily basis. Similarly, many people in Pakistan view American drone warfare, which kills hundreds of innocent civilians, as an act of "terrorism" as well.

You are a regular media guest. What is your perspective on US mass corporate media coverage of the Muslim faith as distinguished from a relatively small group of Islamic terrorists?

Truthout Progressive Pick


Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms

Why do pundits and politicians blame Islam? "The Muslim Guy" sets the record straight.

Click here now to get the book!


In over 15 years of experience as a global media commentator, one of the main things that I have learned about media meta-narratives is that our American media is quite different in its coverage of Islam and Muslims than its foreign counterparts in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

For instance, when I appear on foreign media outlets like BBC World News or Al-Jazeera English, I feel like we can have nuanced conversations about complex issues without any sort of predetermined outcome to my interviews. On American cable news discussions though, it has become quite clear that there is often a simplistic binary approach to discussing Islam and Muslims in a sensationalistic combative manner with little nuance whatsoever.

What do you mean in your last chapter when you declare, "We are all scapegoats."

As many people know, the title of my book Scapegoats is actually a Biblical term which has been around since time immemorial and I chose this title very deliberately to illustrate the fact that every major demographic group of people in history has been scapegoated in the past and another new group will be the scapegoats of tomorrow.

Whether it is the abhorrent historical legacy of slavery, anti-Semitism, homophobia or anti-female misogyny, we should also accept that Islamophobia has now become another modern chapter in accepted forms of Western collective scapegoating where we tend to place all the blame of the world's problems on one singular minority demographic group in existence today.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Mark Karlin

Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout. He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for 10 years before joining Truthout in 2010. BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles (ranging from the failed "war on drugs" to reviews relating to political art) for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout's Progressive Picks of the Week. Before linking with Truthout, Karlin conducted interviews with cultural figures, political progressives and innovative advocates on a weekly basis for 10 years. He authored many columns about the lies propagated to launch the Iraq War.