"Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking, 'Who attacked our country?'. The evidence we have gathered all points towards a loosely affiliated group of terrorist organisations."
- George W. Bush, 2001
In April of this year, two pressure cooker bombs went off in Boston. As soon as reports were released, many people started, under muttered breaths, to say the word 'terrorist', or 'terror attacks', or - even more amazingly - were able to pin-point the exact colour and beliefs of the person or persons they supposed were responsible. Of course, as we all know, a few days later we found out that the two men suspected of the bombings were in fact white, and our fears of any possible terrorism that might have occurred were assuaged. As we all know, people with white skin simply aren't capable of bringing about terror, so it seemed we all got off terror-free.
Three years earlier, in 2010, a man named Raoul Moat shot three people over the course of three days and sparked a manhunt across the north of England. People in the area obviously felt less than safe, what with a crazed, armed man being on the loose. It wasn't news across the whole world, and the people in the area seemed resigned to the fact that they weren't even terrified by the whole ordeal. After all, he was a white man.
Today when I came out of the cinema and was picked up by my Father, I was told instantly that there had been news of a 'terrorist attack'. Instantly in my mind I had a vision of what had occurred - presumably, an Islamic fundamentalist had strapped a bomb to his chest and committed another underground train full of people to an early grave. I was only half right, of course, but it was my instant reaction that bothered me a few minutes later, when I realised what had happened inside my head.
When I asked him, my Father said that the last instance of a white man being called a terrorist was during the IRA bombings in the eighties. He was right, of course, about a nation being held in fear by the potential of being killed indiscriminately on their way to or from work - and that, we decided, was the definition of terrorism. That was a certain solidarity to start with, knowing what the word meant. The question was, how had I jumped to such an easy conclusion?
In a 2010 report into hate crimes against Islamic people in our country, researchers wrote that "anti-Muslim violence in the UK is predicated on the rhetoric and practice of the 'war on terror' that George Bush and Tony Blair launched against 'an evil ideology' in the aftermath of 9/11." The rise in Islamophobia in my mind is rightly attributed to Bush's speech after the bombings. I don't know about other people, but after growing up through the war in the Middle East, I read the word 'terror' in my head with a ghostily familiar Texas drawl.
Whilst the murder committed today fits all the predications of an extremist Islamic attack, what worried me about it more than anything is that by it being a murder committed under those circumstances, it became a terror attack. We were meant to be terrified by it. Simply by using one word, Bush and Blair's propaganda of times gone by was given a new edge, a fresh revamp, and we were kicked into being reminded that 'Terrorists are still among us'.
I am unaware of what terrifies me more. Am I more terrified by the fact that racism can be encouraged by the use of this one word? Or am I more terrified that people are so... well, dumb, that by having the word 'terrorism' thrown at them they can jump into action. In the report mentioned above, an incident was described in which a woman wearing a burqa was punched in the face by a random man in the street and declared a terrorist. And indeed, after today's murder, anti-Muslim protesters fled to the scene in order to shout racist rhetoric, chug beer, and sing songs underlining their hatred and ignorance.
What do I want people to get out of this article? Well, I hope it encourages moderation in the use of the word terrorist. I hope it helps people realise how one word can change their mind on a topic. But more importantly, I want people to know that if you blindly call something terrorism in front of me, I will vomit on you.