When Is Terrorism Not Terrorism To America? 


I find my White American students – even the very bright ones – totally confused, the moment I ask them if White police brutality against Black people in America amounts to terrorism. Most White students attribute the killings of black people by White police as undesirable, accidental, or simply due to bad judgment by the proverbial “bad cops”. Mostly Black students impute the killings to racism, and state-sponsored terrorism. Some of them even think White policemen who kill Black people for no genuine reasons or justifications are actually crypto-KKK activists in police uniform.

The truth might be in between the two extreme opinions. Various reports indicate, presently the KKK or Ku Klux Klan has three to six thousand active members in America. Although from any definition of terrorism, the KKK is a terrorist organization par excellence, there are strong reservations and taboos among White American politicians, intellectuals, government officials, and common people that never allow an open and candid discussion in the US about the prevalence and even growing surge of White extremism in the country. They always try to prove the KKK and discriminations against the Black people only happened in the past.

However, historically America has never been a land of the free and brave. Neither the slave owners nor their slaves were ever free; the former was bonded to their greed, hate, and power, the latter to their miserable fate, determined by their White masters.  Apparently, the end of slavery in 1865, and the grant of civil rights to the Black people a century later (1964) made every American equal in every sphere of life. This is, however, not true. Ron Paul, a former US Presidential Candidate in 2008 and 2012, calls his country “the empire of lies”, and affirms:

Truth is treason in the empire of lies…. There is an alternative to national bankruptcy, a bigger police state, trillion-dollar wars, and a government that draws ever more parasitically on the productive energies of the American people.

Many White Americans are proud, conceited, and complacent. They think the country of theirs is the best, and also “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”. Many of them don’t believe Americans ever killed millions of innocent people, from Hiroshima to Hanoi, Baghdad to Benghazi, and Kabul to Waziristan; and ever resorted to state-terrorism in Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere since the end of World War II. They also deny America has ever been an empire.

The overwhelming majority of Americans – excepting a handful conscientious people like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Cornel West – don’t believe their most important ally in the Middle East, Israel has ever terrorized and killed Palestinians, especially in the West Bank, Gaza, and in the refugee camps of Jordan and Lebanon. Americans love to use the Israeli euphemism “defensive retaliatory action against Palestinian terrorists” for Israeli state-terrorism, mostly against unarmed Palestinian women and children.

What’s pertinent to understanding the nature of the American Empire is its fundamental difference with major empires in the past, British, French, Spanish, and Dutch. Unlike empires in general, which monopolise markets, plunder wealth, and exploit cheap labour of the colonies, the American Empire mainly exploit its own people.  What Bernie Sanders is telling today, Reagan’s Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts explained earlier: “Washington’s empire extracts resources from the American people for the benefit of the few powerful interest groups that rule America. The military-security complex, Wall Street, agri-business and the Israel Lobby use the government to extract resources from Americans to serve their profits and power…. That is how the American Empire functions.”

America’s state-terrorism at home and abroad is integral to its neo-imperialist design. Having different names and forms, excuses and exigencies, American state-terrorism starts with unnecessary invasions of countries in resource rich or strategically important countries, with a view to changing or coercing into submission of unfriendly regimes in those countries. Again, the invasions – during the last seven decades – got the stamps of legitimacy (through the compliant UN, and the US Congress) as just wars for democracy, freedom, and human rights.

Racism by default or design is the mother of America’s state-terrorism. We believe those who resort to racism, or deny its existence, also indulge in terrorism. Racism is pure, unadulterated terrorism. It involves discrimination against certain people only because of racial differences, with a view to subjugating others to plunder their wealth, or making them render cheap/slave labour to the subjugators. Since racism involves coercion, threat, intimidation, and even actual violence or terror against non-White people, we must re-define racism as terrorism. Then again, thanks to the Civil Rights of 1964, racism has become subtle, but has not disappeared at all.

Many White Americans consider racism only existed in the past. They believe the ongoing killings of Black people by White police officers are either accidental, or due to bad judgment of the concerned police officers. Despite the denial by White American police, lawmakers, jury, judges, and prosecutors that they have never been racially prejudiced against any Black person, the frequent denial of justice to Black victims of racial attacks, killing, rape, and torture, especially by White police officers, tell altogether different stories.

American bias against Muslims is so well entrenched that even six years before 9/11, on 19 April 1995 when two White Americans – Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols – bombed a government building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, American media and analysts jumped to the conclusion that Muslims were behind the terror attack. Interestingly, after the police had tracked down the original terrorists, American media, analysts, and intellectuals imputed the attack to some mentally disturbed, deranged young men. They, however, never give any Muslim terrorist – from the Shoe Bomber to the Underwear Bomber, from Major Nidal Hassan to the Boston, St. Bernardino, and Orlando killers – the privilege of getting branded not as terrorists but as “mentally deranged or disturbed” individuals.

I cite another example of when terrorism is not terrorism in America. The US administration and White Americans in general conveniently denied there had been any terrorist attack on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Austin, Texas that killed the terrorist and an IRS employee. On 18 February 2010, one Andrew Joseph Stack deliberately crashed his single-engine plane into an IRS Building, killing himself and an IRS employee. Only two US lawmakers from Austin considered the incident an act of domestic terrorism, and a USA Today headline used the expression “a chilling echo of terrorism”. One wonders, how would White America reacted had Muslims been involved in the Oklahoma City Bombing, or the suicide attack on the IRS Building in Texas!

Meanwhile, the simmering anger of Black Americans against White police brutality is a disturbing development. Black activists are decrying the lack of any justice and security for Black Americans. On an average, White police officers annually kill more than 100 unarmed Black people in America. While White police are killing Black people at an alarming rate – with no valid reasons, and almost with total impunity – instead of classifying these killings as terroristic, White supremacists are asking the Government to declare the movement called Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization.

One analyst has pointed out, besides “interpersonal racism”, there is also “systemic, structurally racist policies” in America, having bearings on the “class conflict between the police and the poorest” [Charles M. Blow, “Blood on Your Hands, Too”, NYT, July 14, 2016]. The combination of race and class has all the potential to turn terroristic.

Black Lives Matter (started in 2013) is posing a new challenge to White supremacists. On Thursday 7 July 2016, Micah Johnson, a Black lone wolf terrorist killed five White police officers in Dallas, apparently in retaliation against the killing of two Black suspects by White policemen in Minnesota and Louisiana, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The police later found at the killer’s house explosives and bomb making manual as well. Yet for some strange reasons, neither the Obama Administration nor American media ever used the “T” word to classify the attack as domestic terrorism.

One isn’t sure as to how the selective use of the “T” word will do any good to anybody! One wonders, if White America’s prejudice against Black Americans, Muslims, and Afro-Asian-Latin American countries will ever disappear, and America will pay heed to the ideals of freedom and human rights, guaranteed by its own founding fathers in the 18th century! Unfortunately, America is on the path to “permanent war”, and has become a hostage to its own arrogance, and greed of the “one percent”, which Bernie Sanders has pointed out as the single biggest obstacle to just peace, within and beyond America.

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University in the US. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email: [email protected]

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