What does it really mean to be a terrorist in America?

Posted on December 13, 2016 by


It isn’t breakthrough news to hear that the United States will once again have the most mass shootings occur in the world. 2016 alone has already had 660 deaths and 1,704 injuries to date, according to the mass shooting tracker. 2016 is now also recognized for having the deadliest mass shooting in U.S history with a record breaking death toll of 49 lives along with 50 injuries. This occurred on June 12th of this year when Omar Saddiqui Mateen opened fire on Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. (2) This isn’t the only mass shooting that the United States is notorious for, however. The U.S has had some of the worst mass killings occur this decade, such as the Aurora movie theater shooting, Sandy Hook shooting, and the Charleston church shooting. While many shootings have been orchestrated by an array of different people with different backgrounds, only some of these attackers are labeled as terrorists. With that being said, what does it really mean to be a terrorist in America?

Double Standards in Media

According to federal law, “terrorism” refers to any violent or dangerous crime that “appears to be intended” to either 1.) intimidate or coerce a civilian population, 2.) influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, 3.) affect government conduct by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. By that definition, why is it that when you google images of a terrorist, all pictures presented are people of middle eastern descent? This brings up the question of what kind of acts qualify as terrorism. Let’s take the Orlando shooting, for example. As mentioned above, the shooting was committed just over 6 months ago by Omar Saddiqui Mateen. According to TIME, before going into Pulse nightclub, it was reported that Mateen called 911 to swear his allegiance to ISIS. After, he opened fire and killed and injured 100 people. When this was headlining in the news, it was described by almost all sources such as CNN, The Guardian, and Fox News as a terror attack perpetrated by a terrorist. Similar attacks such as the San Bernardino shooting and Ohio State University knife attack in which were allegedly committed in the name of ISIS are also being labeled as terror attacks by the same news sources. While these are correct accusations, when compared to other mass shootings committed outside of the name of Islam, they seem to be labeled differently.

Let’s look at some examples. When you search “sandy hook shooting” on google, the label “terror attack” is not mentioned in any titles of headlining articles. Instead it is just referred to as a mass shooting. This seems to repeat with other mass killings committed by non-Muslims as well. More specifically, the people who commit these atrocities are not being labeled as terrorists, either. James Holmes, the mass murderer who took 12 lives and injured 70 others at a movie premiere in Aurora, is commonly referred to as just that; a mass murderer. Wikipedia even describes Holmes as a, “whole lot of crazy.” Another example can be seen with Robert Lewis Dear who killed 3 people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs last fall. What Holmes and Dear have in common is that both were speculated to be “mentally unstable” and both plead non-guilty to insanity. While in a lot of cases the mental health of the perpetrator is questioned and looked into, this is often disregarded when crimes are committed by Muslim-Americans, which comes across as a double standard. If you refer back to the federal government’s definition for “terrorism,” the acts that both Holmes and Dear committed fit the definition. So why is it that the acts that Muslims commit are so quick to be called terrorist attacks?

This may go back to when the U.S faced the largest terrorist attack since Pearl Harbor; the 9/11 attack. The negative stigma around Islam as a religion has spiked since 2001 when the attack occurred, largely due to the fact that this was many American’s first experience with Islam as a religion. Since then, Islamophobia has only increased, according to Mic Network.

How people react to the Islamophobia in media

According to the Huffington post, Islamophobic attacks increased by 1,700% in 2001. Prior to 9/11, there had only been 28 Islamophobic hate crimes. By 2002 it had jumped to 481. However, the way that political leaders speak of Muslims to this day does not help their case, either. After the Orlando shooting, recently elected president Donald Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” which resulted in a plethora of different responses, some praising him while others condemned him for being insensitive during a time of mourning. Donald Trump has also suggested banning Muslims from entering the country, according to CNN. Trump has even gone as far as suggesting Muslim-Americans to register with a government database or be required to carry special identification cards, stated by the same source. While it is still to be determined whether Trump will enforce these ideas or not, the point is that these suggestions will only further divide and isolate Muslim-Americans from the rest of the population, which could potentially lead to a higher rate of Islamophobic hate crimes and even a higher recruitment into ISIS.

So let’s take a look at the statistics. How many of these crimes are actually committed by Muslims? According to the FBI, 94% of terrorist attacks were carried out by non-Muslims from 1980-2005. When actually broken down, CNN reports that out of all mass killings, roughly 15% are committed by African Americans, 9% by Asian Americans, 5% by Latinos, 4% by Native Americans, and 63% by White Americans. So if this is the case, why is it that such a small percentage of attacks caused by Muslims lead them to be labeled as terrorists? Even despite the statistics that show how rarely crimes are committed by Muslim-Americans, it’s quite clear that media gives full coverage to these acts for long periods of time. Yet when white-Americans do the same thing, they are covered much less and the news story is recycled through in a much shorter span. For example, the San Bernardino shooting is still frequently brought up to this date yet it happening over a year ago. The Charleston church shooting was only covered in media for a few weeks and is rarely remembered despite happening around the same time as the San Bernardino attack and being one of the deadliest hate crimes against African Americans in decades.


In the past decade, the rise of ISIS has brought about more and more radical attacks which in turn has tarnished the stigma around Islam. While ISIS may be made of radical Muslims, that does not mean that all Muslims are radical. In fact, most attacks committed by ISIS are carried out in the mid-east against other Muslims. Based on the statistics provided, there is clear evidence that very few mass killings are actually inflicted by Muslims. Yet due to unfair news reporting, Islamophobia will unfortunately continue to only rise among Americans unless something is changed. Radical Islam should still be taken seriously, but the broadcasting among all mass killings despite who committed them should be treated equally. This may help ensure a decrease to bias which has been negatively influencing people’s perceptions and judgments.

Written by Brianna Price

Work Cited

By: “Mass Shooting Tracker.” Mass Shooting Tracker. Mass Shooting Tracker, 2016. Web.  https://www.massshootingtracker.org/data/2016

By: Malsin, Jared. “What to Know About ISIS’ Role in the Orlando Shooting.” Time. Time, 12 June 2016. Web. http://time.com/4365507/orlando-shooting-isis-claims-responsibility-terror/

By: CNN Staff. “Orlando Terror Attack: What We Know.” CNN. Cable News Network, 14 June 2016. Web.  http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/12/us/orlando-shooting-what-we-know/

By: Guardian Staff. “Orlando Terror Attack | US News | The Guardian.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, June 2016. Web. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/orlando-terror-attack

By: Associated Press. “Magic Honor Victims of Pulse Orlando Terror Attack.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 27 Oct. 2016. Web.  http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2016/10/27/magic-honor-victims-pulse-orlando-terror-attack.html

By: “James Holmes (mass Murderer).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Holmes_(mass_murderer)

By: Mukhopadhyay, Samhita. “Islamophobia in America Is Worse on 9/11/2016 than It Was on 9/11/2001.” Mic. N.p., 10 Sept. 2016. Web. https://mic.com/articles/153864/islamophobia-in-america-is-worse-on-9-11-2016-than-it-was-on-9-11-2001#.1S7HMsplK

By: Rose, Steve. “Since 9/11, Racism and Islamophobia Remain Intertwined.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 11 Nov. 2013. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/steve-rose/911-racism-islamophobia_b_3908411.html

By: Wright, David. “Trump: Muslim Ban ‘just a Suggestion'” CNN. Cable News Network, 12 May 2016. Web. http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/12/politics/donald-trump-muslim-ban/

By: “Terrorism 2002/2005.” FBI. FBI, 21 May 2010. Web. https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005

By: Ford, Dana. “Who Commits Mass Shootings?” CNN. Cable News Network, 24 June 2015. Web. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/27/us/mass-shootings/

By: “18 USC Ch. 113B: TERRORISM.” 18 USC Ch. 113B: TERRORISM. N.p., n.d. http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=%2Fprelim%40title18%2Fpart1%2Fchapter113B&edition=prelim

Posted in: Islam