Yesterday’s “protest” by armed Islamophobes at a Dallas-area mosque was one of many incidents of anti-Muslim sentiment to occur in the last week alone–including the fire-bombing of a mosque in California. The demonstration comes directly after a previous event by the same group at a nearby mosque in Irving, Texas which drew national attention. It was clear on Saturday that the group added a few members since their previous event. Their numbers now totaled nearly 20–an increase that’s possibly due to the increased attention the media gives to those with guns.
Rain fell as the event began. Across the street from the armed demonstration stood dozens of peace protesters. There were a diverse range of signs, from religious messages, “‘Love thy neighbor’ – Jesus,” to peace messages, “Texans for love and peace,” to the very direct, “terrorists use guns.” It should be pointed out that there could have been many, many more protesters on this side of the street. A bad decision by leadership leading up to the Richardson event led to a much larger, simultaneous protest on the other side of Dallas in which hundreds rallied for peace and tolerance. What could have been a dramatic contrast captured by the media, where supporters of peace drowned out fear and intimidation by the armed demonstrators, turned into a story of relative parity among support for and against patrolling peaceful places of worship with automatic weapons; the much larger protest became a mere footnote in the major media coverage of the day.
The reason for this shift to a new location was reportedly due to the mosque’s request that no counter-demonstration take place to confront the armed demonstrators. This request, if true, would be no surprise. The mosque is a major institution. Long ago, Gandhi wrote his famous law referring to how major institutions respond to protest: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” It isn’t surprising to see such a request from mosque leadership and many community leaders fell victim to comfortable piety. But this event was much bigger than a mosque and much bigger than being comfortable. The strategic importance of being at that particular location was without doubt.
Still others felt that our presence legitimized the demonstration. They felt that a mosque is no place for a demonstration of any kind. They fell into metaphors about trees falling in forests with nobody to hear it. This is ridiculous, as the media coverage of the first armed demonstration in Irving, which received international attention, clearly demonstrated.
At various points during the Richardson demonstration a dialogue opened between the two competing groups. A local activist engaged the armed men across the street with a religious message. But the police were orchestrating the situation: at one point, a protester stood behind the line of armed demonstrators during their photo-op and held up the sign, “terrorists use guns.” This prompted police to ask him to leave.
The message of the armed protesters was one of general Islamophobia. One of their only signs read, “say no to Syrian refugees.” Another was more detailed, “not hate just facts: 1% of Muslims wage ‘jihad'; 51% of American Muslims support jihad–this mosque is one supporter.” When engaged, the armed men dismissed the idea that the vast majority of Muslims do not engage in terrorism by simply stating that “we’re not here for those people.”
It is, of course, unclear what the Richardson mosque has to do with terrorism. That is unless you’re generally afflicted with what’s commonly known as “Islamophobia”–the Richardson mosque is, obviously, an Islamic institution. It’s a classic case of correlation instead of causation.
From the beginning, the standard use of the term “terrorism” by itself almost precludes the notion that other, non-Muslim groups might act out in similar, violent ways. Even in the case of a mass murder motivated by a political ideology, some crimes are more “worthy” of the term than others in media discourse. When 22-year-old white male Elliot Rodgers murdered 6 people in May of 2014 near the University of California Santa Barbara due to his intense hatred of women for “rejecting” him in the past, the media refrained from declaring it an act of terrorism. When 21-year-old white male Dylan Roof murdered 9 people during Bible study in June of 2015–and evidence emerged on the very first day showing that he was a devout white supremacist trying “to start a civil war”–the media had difficulty classifying it as an act of terrorism. Even when a sophisticated bomb was planted by a white supremacist at an MLK-Day parade in early 2011, it received little media coverage.
The effect is the same when it’s the violence of the state. When some Iranians shout “death to America,” widely considered to be in response to the CIA-engineered coup in 1953 that left Iran with a bloody dictatorship for over two decades, it’s “terrorism.” In contrast, when leading papers of the United States–a country with a history of bloody intervention in the Middle East–threaten war with Iran, it’s considered “counter-terrorism.” When Iran supplies Hezbollah, a group affiliated with the Lebanese Government, it’s “terrorism.” In contrast, when the US supplies Israel with enormous military armaments while they slaughtered roughly 2,000 Palestinian civilians during the summer of 2014, it’s “counter-terrorism.” Even when the U.S. directly engages in terrorism, such as the Iraq War of 2003 that was engineered under entirely false pretexts and lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, or the current targeted assassination–“drone”–program, it’s always in “self-defense”–“counter-terrorism.”
Even when acts like the recent Planned Parenthood shooting are considered terrorism, as the incident often was, the media never interviews other “members” of the “group” to ask them to “apologize” for their crimes; in this case, they didn’t ask Republicans guilty of “anti-Planned-Parenthood” rhetoric to “apologize.” This is in stark contrast to the mood towards Muslims after the terrorist attacks in Paris last month that left 130 dead. In an unbelievable, must-see CNN interview after the Paris attacks, two CNN hosts repeatedly asked French Muslim civil rights activist Yasser Louati to take responsibility for the attacks in Paris because he was a Muslim.
To prove causation and not just correlation, Islamaphobes often bog down in hand-wavy arguments, usually reciting quotes from Islamic scripture said to highlight Muslims’ unique susceptibility to violence and hate. This is where you will typically find New Atheists like Sam Harris and his adherents. The fact that the U.S. interventions abroad have blazed a trail of extremism is simply dismissed as “white guilt” by Harris.
The real causes of terrorism have long been discussed, but rarely make it into the mainstream discussion. It’s a bit like drug cartels in poorer countries of Latin America. When your economy is in shambles, perhaps after a U.S. invasion like that of Iraq in 2003, disenfranchised individuals find their living and social positions within extremist organizations. What’s happened in the Middle East in the last few decades, and with ISIS, is really the Islamization of extremism. What we’re seeing now is the reclamation of extremism, a “whitening” of extremism, by the armed demonstrators in Richardson and Irving.