Remember that fun word game Mad Libs we used to play as kids? It wasn’t so much a game as it was an exercise that got us to practice our parts of speech creating silly little stories. Want to try it again now, for old time’s sake? Here goes.
“We as a nation have sat back and watched a _(expletive adjective) _president destroy this country and if you cannot take off the blindfold, your children and grandchildren will be under _(authoritarian legislation)_. It is time for us as a ___(name of religion)__ nation and an __(language)__- speaking nation to rise up and speak out and fight for our freedom. Stated in the __(title of religious text)__ , if we turn our back on __(Middle Eastern country)__, __(important religious icon)__ will turn his back on us. The bottom line is __(followers of a particular religion)__ are taught that __(name of country)__ is the problem. But the truth is the ___(adherents of a certain religion)__are __(deity of choice)__’s chosen people. Until we turn our country back to __(deity of choice)__,the terror is just beginning. It is time to lash out against any leader that shows weakness in this time of terror.”
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Bellicose. Depending on the words and phrases you inserted, this could likely pass for some radical Islamic propaganda. It could be, but it isn’t. This is actually the response a white Christian American gave to one of his and my Facebook friends after that friend posted her disgust over Donald Drumpf’s self-aggrandized bloviating in response to last week’s massacre in Orlando.
It pains me to consider it, but we’ve become a nation of terrorists – and I’m not talking about the Islamic kind. The text above is no different from that of a radical Muslim pledging allegiance to ISIS, or a radical Israeli declaring his hatred for Palestinians, or a radical evangelical Christian waving the Bible in one hand and an AR-15 in the other. If this were a Middle Eastern individual’s Facebook post, it would be all over the news, and right-wing pundits would be screaming from the rafters about our “terrorist-sympathizer president who refuses to utter the phrase ‘Islamic extremism.'”
But since it isn’t a Muslim individual, but a Christian, there is nothing. It goes unnoticed, or even worse, encouraged. It’s possible I missed it, but when Dylann Roof opened fire on a prayer service at the AME Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina last year, and Robert Lewis Dear attacked the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado this past November, did the media dub them “terrorists”? Did it question their possible religious motives?
I recall the media going right to “mental health” access as the talking point du jour. That’s because in America there is a special dispensation for Caucasians who commit terrorist acts. In America, “terrorism” is reserved for brown-skinned people of Middle-Eastern descent, regardless of where they were born. White Christian extremists are just “disturbed.” Like my favorite comedian George Carlin once quipped, “Israeli murderers are called ‘commandos’; Arab commandos are called ‘terrorists’.”
To keep things in perspective, we need to define “right-wing extremism.” Mother Jones defines it as “individuals or groups associated with white supremacist, anti-government, sovereign citizen, patriot, militia, or other ideologies that target specific religious, ethnic, or other minority groups.” According to Global Research, “Non-Muslims Carried Out More than 90% of All Terrorist Attacks in America“ from 1980 to 2005. Granted, that study is sixteen years old, but according to a story in the New York Times last June, not much has changed demographically. In a piece titled “Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. since 9/11”, non-Muslim anti-government groups and hate groups like those espousing neo-Nazi ideologies committed more acts of terror than jihadists. According to Washington think tank New America Foundation, since 2002, there have been 18 “far right-wing” attacks, those not committed by self-described jihadists, claiming 48 lives. Jihadists claimed 45 lives in exactly half the number of attacks. With the 49 people recently gunned down in Orlando, though, that number is now 94.
Those who look at these statistics and claim clearly jihadism is more of a threat since it claimed more lives to date are missing the point. It shouldn’t be about who dies and how many. It should be –must be – about frequency.
Yes, jihadism in the name of ISIS, al-Qaeda, or anything else, is indeed a threat, and we are addressing it, as we must continue to do. But just as “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, a terrorist by any other name is still a terrorist, regardless of whether he opens fire on an LGBT nightclub, his co-workers, a Planned Parenthood facility, Sikh temple, or Wal-Mart parking lot. It does not matter whether he opens fire in the name of Jesus or Allah.
Let’s stop hiding behind religion and start addressing the root causes of these crimes: intolerance, anger, desperation, and access to firearms. A day after Senate republicans voted down yet another sensible piece of gun legislation because of fear the NRA would primary them, we are on track to continue the violence. Moreover, with those republicans choosing to support the NRA and Donald Drumpf – even though they claim to despise him – they are simultaneously choosing to abet terrorists. With a failure to curtail access to weapons of war, Senate republicans are arming terrorists, whether they be Christian, Muslim, or anything else.
We hurt in this country. We hate in this country. Religion can be a unifying force, though, a means toward healing in an increasingly chaotic world. Millions of people find solace in their church, temple, and mosque communities, and we must never do anything to harm the benevolence upon which religion – all religions – are truly based. I’m not Muslim, but I’ve read the The Quoran, and Islam is not a religion of hate. I’ve also read the the Bible – all of it, not just select passages – and it, too, is not a religion of hate. True, people have and probably always will carry their extreme views too far, and unfortunately, religion is often a scapegoat for those views. We may never seen an end to violence, but we can at least stop blaming religion for it.