Column, 482 words

Muslims Aren’t Cornering the Terrorism Market

Emily Schwartz GrecoWilliam A. Collins

When Rolling Stone ran a sexy photo of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev on its cover, it sparked backlash and boycotts. Countless magazine vendors, including 7-Eleven shops, refused to sell a product that seemed to make terrorism look hot.

This publicity wave may ultimately boost Rolling Stone‘s bottom line. Any news is good news when it comes to marketing, right? And it’s also obscuring a more important question than whether it’s OK to run flattering photos of terrorists: What exactly constitutes terrorism?

Too often, the term terrorism is preferred when the perpetrators are Muslim.

ESGCollins-Terrorism-Abir Abdullah

Abir Abdullah/Flickr

When the Newtown and Aurora shootings turned out to be the work of local, disturbed, young men who didn’t happen to be Muslims, they weren’t deemed terrorists. But the local, disturbed, young men almost certainly responsible for Boston’s carnage were Muslim. That qualified them as you-know-whats.

The Tsarnaev brothers instantly became an example of the links between terrorism and Islam. The ensuing media blitz of the cruel attack that killed three and injured more than 260 people stoked that stereotype.

Meanwhile, what about that deadly explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant? It occurred just two days after the April 15 Boston Marathon attack, and got far less news coverage. The primary suspects for the blast that killed 15, injured 200, damaged or destroyed 360 homes, and flattened a public school are corporate negligence and under-regulation.

It’s a complicated story, but West Fertilizer, which belongs to Texan magnate Donald Adair, stored vast amounts of dangerous chemicals at a plant in the heart of a small community. It broke the law by failing to disclose this hazard. When the government did notice the company’s lack of a “security plan” and other signs of negligence, it imposed minor fines. Clearly, Adair required more than a few slaps on the wrist to stop endangering workers and residents in West Texas.

And what about that factory fire in Bangladesh? The owner of Rana Plaza, the building where 1,129 garment workers perished, is in jail.

But what about the people who ran the sweatshops that were torched? What about the U.S. companies that sell the clothing manufactured there with exploited and cheap labor? What about the customers who snap up bargains when they go shopping — just about everyone in America? Who is responsible?

We could try looking in the mirror. Or take a trip to Bentonville.

Most of the companies selling the clothes that were made in the factories that burned down have promised to do something. The U.S. government and European Union are taking some steps. But details, follow-up, and inspection remain someone else’s department.

And whether you’re talking about the disasters that befell those garment workers in a Dhaka suburb or the people of West, Texas, one thing’s for sure: The mainstream media definitely didn’t label any of the capitalists responsible as terrorists.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org

  • Jim Howland

    I agree that our media are stuck on “terrorist = Muslim,” and I agree that those who profit from the deaths of poor garment workers and the destruction of a town in Texas are among the poorest excuses for human beings. But it’s not wise to try to stick the “terrorist” label on them, is it? The word has a definition, which includes the use of violence to advance a political agenda. If we start saying that all bad people are terrorists, or all people whose ideological, um, pathologies lead them to ignore the suffering their greed causes to others, then the word loses its meaning and becomes useless.

    Maybe it’d be better to make the argument that capitalism rewards sociopaths.