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Terrorism is a serious business and attributing the label wantonly to any act of violence makes a mockery of the term

Frank Furedi
Frank Furedi

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

Terrorism is a serious business and attributing the label wantonly to any act of violence makes a mockery of the term
I wince when I read when someone wants to promiscuously brand any group they don’t like ‘terrorists’. The recent calls to expand it to include the misogynist ‘incel’ movement are a perfect example of the term’s devaluation.

Incels, are ‘involuntary celibates’ who blame feminists and women for their sad, sexless predicament. Some have lashed out against their lack of sexual and cultural status, while others have murdered women in Canada and the United States.

This week, Alek Minassian, a self-described incel, was convicted of killing 10 people and injuring 16 others in his 2018 van attack in Toronto. Minassian’s depraved act of violence was motivated by his hatred of women, but does that mean that this mass murderer is a terrorist?

Law enforcement agencies in Canada are certainly leaning in this direction. Last year they announced terrorism charges against a 17-year-old boy from Toronto for the murder of a woman at a massage parlour. The police claim that the boy was motivated by incel extremism. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police justified this decision on the grounds that incels are an ‘ideologically motivated violent extremist’ movement.

Acts of murderous violence against women have been perpetrated throughout the ages. But it is only now that some wish to rebrand these criminal acts as ‘terrorism’. It is not just violent acts committed by incels that are interpreted through this prism now. In the United States and the UK, there is a growing tendency to apply the recently invented term of ‘domestic terrorism’ to acts of violence.

In the United States, there is a move afoot to enact laws that will criminalise violence committed by right-wing activists as an act of terrorism. One commentator wrote of a “yawning gap in the existing law,” which is theabsence of standalone statute that criminalises domestic terrorism.”

In recent years, the campaign for new laws targeting domestic terrorism is frequently justified on the grounds that it is far more dangerous than the threat posed by Islamic jihadists. A headline from the New York Times – ‘As Domestic Terrorists Outpace Jihadists, New U.S. Law is Debated’ – sums up this approach. Anyone reading this article is likely to conclude that the jihadists are no longer much of a threat. It cites experts who assert that the threat from white supremacist extremists is high while those from Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and related groups is low.

A relaxed tone about Islamic terrorism is conveyed by Matt Stied when he reports that ‘Domestic terrorism Is Still a greater Threat Than Islamic Terrorism’. A similar story is frequently communicated in the British media. ‘Fastest-growing UK terrorist threat is from far right, say police’, reports the Guardian.

Those ‘misguided’ individuals who still worry about jihadist inspired terrorism rather than about the activities of the far right are likely to be denounced as racist or suffering from Islamophobia. Drawing attention to the “white face of domestic terrorism,” one commentator claimed that “Islamophobia distorts the reality of terrorist violence in America.” The implication of this statement is clear – only an Islamophobe would fail to see the real threat posed by white supremacist violence.

The expansive use of the terrorism label in Anglo-American societies is intimately linked to the politicisation of identity and the cultural conflict surrounding it. Consequently, it is not enough to condemn violent behaviour by men, it becomes essential to associate that violence with male identity and invent the political category of ‘male violence against women’. The association of terrorism with incel violence is really another step in the moral condemnation of this identity.

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The politics of culture also permeates the competitive claims surrounding white versus Islamic terrorists. Frequently, when an act of terrorism is committed in the name of Allah, observers in the media express their concern that this episode will be exploited by Islamophobes. It is unlikely that commentators discussing right-wing violence in Washington are likely to worry about this event being exploited by anti-right-wing activists.

In effect, the project of expanding the use of the label ‘terrorist’ coexists with the claim that society is far too hasty in applying it to acts of violence committed by Muslims. One consequence of this selective and distorted application of the terrorist label is that it underestimates the real threat facing society.

Most normal people who saw the scenes of chaos surrounding the bombing of the Manchester Arena or heard about a jihadist beheading are likely to experience these events as more of a threat than that emanating from white supremacists. That’s because they live in the real world. All extremist violence is to be condemned and ruthlessly punished. But those who equate the recent riots in Washington, DC with the destruction of the World Trade Centre are in desperate need of a reality check.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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